By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Thursday, Jan, 12 is the first full moon for 2017. At the Slate Valley Farm, Pat Imbimbo and his daughter Gina will mark the moment by beginning to tap their maple trees for the sap that will produce their syrup for this year.
The logic of when to tap and for how long is based somewhat on science and somewhat on knowledge gained through experience. Look up “when to tap maple trees” on the Internet and you’ll quickly discover that:
• Sap flows when daytime temperatures are above freezing, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and night temperatures are below freezing.
• The fluctuation in day and night temperatures creates a pressure in a tree that encourages sap to flow.
• The best sap for making syrup usually comes early in the sap-flowing season.
Typically, maple sap flows between mid-February and mid-March. But in a world ruled by frequent year-to-year shifts in the weather cycle, the flow might start much earlier. It might run quite a bit later.
Tapping is rooted to some extent in Native American traditions, with some believing that the art of syrup making was one that tribal members taught European settlers in the initial years of contact. According to the University of Vermont at Montpelier’s History of Maple website, written accounts of tapping trees for sap date back to 1557. The practice of boiling sap to reduce the water content necessary to make blocks of maple sugar was in full force by the 1700s, and was shared by the indigenous Americans and colonial settlers alike. Syrup making came into being around the Civil War.
Slate Valley, which is featured in the Jan. 12-18 edition of Saratoga Today, aims to make about 600 gallons of syrup this year. This means gathering a lot of sap as it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup. Timing is critical in this respect because once the trees start blooming the sap ceases to flow.
Gina, of Slate Valley, notes that her father has long followed the tradition of putting the taps in the trees on the first full moon in 2017. “We’ve always followed that tradition,” she says. “I wait for him to tell me it’s time, and I put the taps on the trees.”
With that in mind, Slate Valley and other maple syrup makers are prepared for the magic moment when the temperatures hit the “sweet spot” of being above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night. That’s when the taps are opened to collect the sap as it begins its annual flow.