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Discover Nature: Maple Sugaring

Two young girls place a metal bucket under a spile, or tap that drains sap from a maple tree to be turned into maple syrup.
The time-honored tradition of harvesting sap to make maple syrup can be an easy way to get out and discover nature in the winter, while adding a fresh touch of sweetness to your next meal.

As temperatures freeze and thaw in late winter, one of the sweetest harvests awaits in the Missouri woods.  This week on Discover Nature, tap a tree, and collect a treat.


Freezing and thawing temperatures cause increased sap-flow in living trees. By drilling a small hole in the side of the tree, you can harvest its sap, and cook that down to make syrup. 


You can tap most any deciduous tree this time of year, but sap from sugar maples contains the highest sugar content.  A tap, or “spile” works like a spigot for taking sap from the tree and directing it into a bucket – you can buy them, or make them yourself.  


With a bit that matches the size of your spile, drill a hole about 1.5 to 2 inches into the xylem, or water-carrying layer of wood on the tree.  Hang your bucket on the end of your tap.


When the bucket is full, bring home your harvest and heat the raw sap.  As water evaporates, sugar remains, and at about 219-degrees Fahrenheit, you’ve made maple syrup!  


Run it through a cheesecloth or commercial filter to remove impurities, and then consider canning for a longer shelf life.  


Learn more about maple sugaring with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) online activity guide, and find places near you to get out and discover nature this week with MDC’s online atlas


Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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