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Right in my Own Backyard - Sweet Harbinger of Spring - by Brandt Carter
posted: Mar. 09, 2023

Right in my Own Backyard header

Sweet Harbinger of Spring
Every year, usually sometime in March when the nights are still freezing and the days are becoming sunny, my huge sugar maple weeps, and icicles form on the branches. The tree is telling me of its hidden treasure; maple sap that can be made into golden syrup or creamy candy.
Maple syrup is not just a Vermont or Canadian product. The Indiana Maple Syrup Association ( lists 175 producers in 57 counties, with 8 in Marion County. These folks follow guidelines and regulations in producing and selling maple syrup products. You can often find them at our local farmers' markets.
You don't have to be a producer to make your own maple syrup at home. Every year my neighbors insert a spile (spigot) in their maple tree trunk and mount a bucket just below to collect sap. I know they don't make enough to sell because it takes 32 gallons of sap or more to produce a gallon of syrup. Nevertheless, you can manage to make enough syrup to enjoy on pancakes, waffles, or ice cream.
The internet, books, and organizational resources can help you get started. Basically the process involves tapping the tree on the trunk just beneath the largest number of branches. Collect the sap in covered buckets, and keep it in a cool place. To make syrup, fill a large pot about half full with sap. Bring it to a boil, slowly adding more sap every 20 to 25 minutes. With a sap thermometer, cook it until the syrup reaches 218 degrees F. Cool. Boiling to a higher temperature can produce candy. To finish the syrup, filter it through cheesecloth, pour into containers, and seal.
Considering all that goes into producing the sweet taste of maple syrup, it really is liquid gold. If all this seems like too much effort, do what I do: keep a sharp eye for sap to appear on the tree bark and then watch for the icicles to form on the branches after a cold night. Snap off a "maplesicle" and enjoy. This is a natural taste treat, right from my very own tree.

Brandt Carter, artist, herbalist, and naturalist, owns Backyard Birds at 2374 E. 54th Street. Visit her web site Email your bird questions to
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