ASHLAND — Richard Guyette, an MU forestry professor, crunches through the snow as he leads students to collect sap from tapped maple trees in the woods.
Guyette has harvested sap and made maple syrup with Kevin Hosman, a senior research specialist at MU and manager of the Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center, for about 15 years.
In 2012, the pair began working with the MU Forestry Department, the School of Natural Resources and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources to get students involved in making maple syrup in Missouri. They tap trees and collect the sap, which is then boiled to make maple syrup, on the Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center a few miles east of Ashland.
Sap is collected according to the Vermont guidelines, Guyette said. This means in order to tap a tree, the tree must be at least 10 inches in diameter. If the tree is larger, they might put more than one tap in it. The amount of taps can increase to as many as four on one tree if it is large with a lot of leaf area and branches that are alive and healthy.
A 7/16th-inch hole is drilled into each tree, the taps – also called spiles – are inserted and buckets are hung on the taps. The tap is hammered into the sapwood of the tree, which allows the sap to flow from the tree into the bucket due to the freeze-thaw cycle. The cycle occurs in mid-to-late January and initiates the sap flow from the maple trees, according to Hosman.
With 170 gallons of sap, they are able to go from sap to syrup in a 24-hour period, Hosman said. The 24-hour process includes collecting the sap from the trees and boiling the sap in an evaporator. Guyette said the evaporator they use removes about 20 gallons of water per hour, and it takes about two hours to make a gallon of syrup.
“There is some social aspect to it, you know, when you are sitting around watching the sap boil a lot of conversation goes on, but it’s the final product that we are really striving for,” Hosman said.
There was a good freeze-thaw cycle this season. The cycle produced enough sap that the team could harvest and boil it to syrup about once a week. The recent snow delayed the process because the team could not access the buckets. Also, the buckets filled up with water, diluting the sap. Now that the weather is warming up, the freeze-thaw cycle is not as consistent. Because of this, Guyette and Hosman will not collect sap during the spring season.
“I like having the syrup to give away to people, but being a diabetic myself, I have to limit my chugging of syrup,” Guyette said.