Maple syrup production is possible on the Prairies.
Also known as box elder, the Manitoba maple produces sap that can be boiled down to make an excellent-tasting syrup.
Manitoba maples are commonly found along riverbeds, in native woodlots, shelterbelts around farmyards and in towns as ornamental shade trees. They should be at least 20 centimetres in diameter before being tapped.
Trees should be tapped in late February to early March to ensure the first flow of sap is collected. To tap a tree, select a spot at chest height in an area that contains sound wood void of knotholes or dead branches. Drill a 7Ú16-inch hole approximately five centimetres deep into the wood, slanting slightly upward to facilitate sap flow.
A tap, also referred to as spout, spile or spigot, should be inserted and tapped lightly into the hole. A bucket is then attached to the spout to collect the sap. Buckets should be covered to keep out debris.
Sap flow from maple trees occurs on warm days following nights when the temperature drops below freezing. Sap does not flow every day and can occur for a few days or extend to three weeks or longer.
Sap should be collected and boiled down as soon as possible. Allowing the sap to become too warm before boiling results in a dark, off-flavored syrup. Sap collection should stop when the buds start to swell.
Syrup production is essentially a case of evaporating most of the water out of the sap, leaving behind the sugars and maple flavor. The amount of sap required to produce a litre of syrup depends on sugar concentration, which in Manitoba maples varies from one to three percent or more. At a concentration of two percent, 43 litres of sap is required to produce one litre of finished syrup.
Sap becomes syrup when the sugar concentration reaches 66 percent. It may take up to a full day to boil the sap to make syrup. Boiling should be done outside or in a well-ventilated area to allow large amounts of steam to escape.
The average Manitoba maple will yield 15-20 litres of sap in one season.
Ultimately, syrup yields will depend on environmental conditions.
For more information, contact the PFRA Shelterbelt Centre in Indian Head, Sask., at 306-695-2284 or www.agr.ca/pfra/shelterbelt.htm.