Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sugar maples in sunshine; how sweet it is...

Steam rising from a sugar shack is a harbinger of spring, and a sweet celebration of the end of winter. Throughout Ohio's Beech-Maple forests sugar maple sap rises with the morning sun during February and March, when cold night temperatures rise above freezing during daytime.

The Camp Lazarus Sugar Shack.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia), with smooth gray bark, and sugar maple (Acer saccharum), with the red marker and sap bucket, both common on Camp Lazarus uplands, are indicators of Beech-Maple Forest.

The clangor of sugar maple sap dripping from tap-hole spiles into galvanized buckets, and the laughter and grins of hundreds of youngsters, announce the annual Sugar Maple Festival at venerable Camp Lazarus, in Delaware County, Ohio, just north of Winter Road along the west side of U.S. Route 23.

During the last weekend of February, through the first weekend of March, Boy Scouts of America volunteers, friends, families, visitors and community organizations join to celebrate the season and to introduce youth to the history and ecology of sugarbush at Camp Lazarus.

A three-tap sugar maple; about 150 years old, I'd say.

Professionals with Preservation Parks of Delaware County, and volunteers with The Boy Scouts of America, partnered to offer fun and environmental education for students and parents with the Sunbury Home School Educators, February 28.

Camp Lazarus sugar-makers Carl Russel, Bob Locci, and Bob Huddler invited youngsters into the sugar shack for a rare treat, the smell of wood smoke and sweet steam rising from the evaporator.

Camp Lazarus Boy Scouts of America volunteers introduce the sap evaporator.

Warmth and glow. The evaporator's hearth boils sap to syrup; its warmth and glow warms sugar-makers and youth from sole to Soul.

Preservation Parks' environmental educators; Jackie Brown, Education Coordinator, and Kim Banks, Naturalist, introduced the youngsters and their parents to the history of sugar-making, and the science of trees through the seasons. Your blogger volunteered as photographer and gopher for the morning.

Camp Lazarus is a high quality green space and watershed reserve amidst pervasive commercial development and suburbanization northward from Columbus, Ohio. The camp is a product of partnership, too. Preservation Parks of Delaware County purchased a conservation easement on Camp Lazarus to assure protections for quality watershed. The sale of the easement assured that B.S.A.'s Simon Kenton Council retains ownership of the camp, and preserves opportunities for youth, an 85-year tradition at Camp Lazarus. Today, comprehensive outdoor programing is offered through B.S.A. almost daily, and by Preservation Parks regularly.

Sugarbush--the manufacture of sugar products from tree sap, is a long tradition at Camp Lazarus. The Lazarus family (Lazarus Department Stores) donated the camp to B.S.A. in the mid-1920's when trees were already annually tapped on the property.

A sugar maple "tree cookie" saved from a harvested tree on Camp Lazarus preserves at least 101 years of tap scars within its 198 years of tree-rings. A "spile" is seen at upper right. Spiles are tapped into shallow drilled holes waist-high on trees to direct sap into buckets. Modern efficient sugarbush operations often use plastic bags, or even tubing to collect sap.

A walk through tapped trees, and a visit to the sugar shack made youngsters a part of the process. Next, off to the nature center for energetic introduction to energy flow through tree ecosystems, offered at appropriate depth, by naturalist Jackie Brown. Youngsters explored the nature center and checked-out sugar making equipment. They explored the history of sugarbush and the family economy of early pioneers gathering late winter calories from trees. Boys and girls tried-out a bucket yoke, carrying gallon jugs of water around to experience the kinds of chores their ancestors may have done during their youth.

Jackie Brown introduces energy flow through forest cycles in bite-size bits of information, weaved into an effective presentation for a mixed-age group of rambunctious home school youngsters.


michael said...

would i be able to tap a sugar maple tree that's the with of a power-line poll or is that to small or skinny to tap because i have about 7 to 8 of these tree in my yard and their all the same size an 2 were leaking black stuff out were a branch Brok off.

Tom Bain said...

Michael, thanks for the inquiry. Your answer depends on who you ask. You can put a single tap in trees at about one foot diameter, but they don't produce a lot of sap, so sugarbush operators may not include them in collection unless convenient. The black stuff is a fungus growing on the sap, or it's growing on honeydew secreted by aphids or scale insects. It is probably harmless.