DASSEL, COKATO, MN One of the first signs of spring is the tapping of sap from maple trees to make syrup.
Three local men and students at an area charter school have been “maple syruping” unusually early this year.
For sap to flow, trees need nights when temperatures drop below freezing, followed by a day when temperatures warm up rapidly in the morning.
A sweet deal in Cokato
Brothers-in-law Dan Bravinder and Randy Lundeen, both of Cokato, have been tapping maple trees locally for five years.
“This year is really early,” Bravinder commented. They started tapping trees Feb. 20. “The average date is March 20,” he added.
According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service website, Minnesota is one of 14 northern states and four Canadian provinces where maple syrup is produced.
There are four species of maple trees used for sap production: sugar maple, which has the sweetest sap; red maple, silver maple, and box elder.
Bravinder and Lundeen tap sugar maple trees. “The tapping season typically lasts 1.5 to three weeks,” Bravinder said.
Bravinder and Lundeen have 84 taps in this year. On an average day, they can collect 60 to 120 gallons of sap.
Once the sap is collected, it is put into an evaporator pan, which boils out the excess water. The evaporator pan sits on top of a fire box.
“We made our fire box from an old fuel oil tank,” Bravinder said. Wood is added as needed to keep the sap boiling.
“We boil about 10 gallons of sap an hour,” he added. Two 60-gallon batches of collected sap boiled down in a day yield about 4 gallons of maple syrup.
This ratio varies from year to year; some years, the sap contains more sugar, some less.
Bravinder noted, “It starts to turn into grade B syrup as the season goes along,” which their families prefer, although they don’t grade their syrup.
Tapping will continue until the trees start to produce more buds.
“If the trees don’t bud out, we may go out again,” he said. “If they get to the second bud stage, that’s no good.”
Trees by Dassel
Bravinder and Lundeen were taught the art of maple syruping by Paul Reddie of Buffalo.
Reddie taps 38 acres of maple trees near Dassel, and Reddie’s syrup is available for purchase at Dan and Becky’s Market of Cokato.
When Bravinder was asked why he and Lundeen learned how to tap trees, Bravinder chuckled and said, “It’s kind of a different thing and it’s fun doing it; we do it for our families.”
They harvest around 15 to 20 gallons of maple syrup each year and pass it out to their families.
Maple in Maple Lake
Syrup is also being made near Maple Lake at the Jane Goodall Environmental Science Academy, a Minnesota public charter school for students in grades six through 12.
As a science project, students learned about how temperature change affects the pressure in trees, which moves sap in maple trees, among other facts.
After identifying maple trees, and then tapping them, the students harvested 1.5 gallons of maple syrup from 17 trees.
“It was a great educational experience, and a great excuse to go outside,” student Josh Walters said. “We roasted marshmallows, and had early mornings and long afternoons.”
Afterward, students and staff enjoyed the harvested maple syrup on top of pancakes.