One of nature's special treats offers lessons in science, math

Tapping maple trees to extract that clear, life-sustaining liquid that turns to golden syrup, students in the Hospitality Careers program learned not only about an ageless tradition, but also some of the science and math it involves.

Trekking into the woodlot on the perimeter of BOCES’ main campus on Glenwood Road, students assisted science integrationist Jennifer Leip in selecting the right trees and then performing the tasks of drilling and tapping them in such a way as to entice the sun-warmed trees into releasing some of their rising sap. The trees were first measured to ensure they were large enough to be good candidates for tapping; a diameter of 10 to 12 inches being the minimum. Holes approximately two inches deep were then drilled at a slight angle before the metal taps (called spiles) were inserted and snugged into place with gentle assistance from a hammer. Last, a collection bucket was attached to a hook connected to the base of the spile.

Then the wait begins.

The class will regularly monitor the buckets and collect the sap, which they will boil down to separate most of the water and condense the sugar into a thick, sweet syrup. With each trip to collect sap, students will apply their math skills to calculate the harvest: approximately 10 gallons of sap producing about a quart of the final product.

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More about maple syrup production:

Generally, sap starts to flow between mid-February and mid-March. The exact time of year depends on where you live and weather conditions. Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. The rising temperature creates pressure in the tree generating the sap flow. This is basically a transfer of the sap from the tree above the ground and the root system below the ground. The sap generally flows for 4 to 6 weeks, with the best sap produced early in the sap-flowing season. A tree should be at least 10-12 inches in diameter, measured at 4 1/2 feet above the ground. Trees between 10 and 20 inches in diameter should have no more than one tap per tree. A second tap may be added to trees between 20 and 25 inches in diameter. Trees over 25 inches in diameter can sustain three taps. No tree should ever have more than three taps. The shape and size of the crown are also important. Trees with large crowns extending down towards theground are usually the best sap producers. Sap becomes finished maple syrup when it reaches 66-67 percent sugar content and 7.1 degrees F above the temperature of boiling water.

The average yield for a tap hole is from five to 15 gallons. However, under favorable conditions, a single tap hole can produce as much as 40 to 80 gallons of sap in a single year. It takes about 10 gallons of sap to produce one quart of syrup.

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Broome-Tioga BOCES   435 Glenwood Road Binghamton, NY 13905 Phone: (607) 763-3300