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Discover Nature: Maple Sugaring

metal buckets hang from the side of maple trees in winter under spiles, or taps draining sap from the trees.
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 Missouri’s 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.

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