116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Signs of spring in outdoors are coming
Wild Side column: Despite snow and ice, there are hints that warmer weather is on its way
The days lengthen. The birds sing. Groggy rodents emerge from their dens. And the sap flows in the maple trees.
These welcome mid-February occurrences signal the end of a season that for many of us lasts too long.
As I write this on Wednesday, we have gained 90 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice, and we’re adding more than three minutes each day. Without a calendar to remind them, the birds, skunks and trees have noticed, and so have I.
Like me, skunks don’t hibernate, but (also like me) they lie dormant waiting out the ice and snow, emerging from their torpor only after the worst of winter has passed.
It will be a while before the ice leaves the rivers and the frost leaves the ground and a bored retiree can put aside his detective novels in favor of fishing rods, shovels and hoes.
t will be even longer until new life turns the sepia landscape green.
In the meantime, with trees to check and maple sap to collect, I have an excellent reason to get out of the recliner and breathe fresh air among giant trees helping to harvest nature’s sweetest bounty.
I’m collecting sap for the first time at the invitation of friend and neighbor Dean Kress of Quasqueton. He has the equipment and expertise. I have the free time and a strong urge to get out of the house.
Sap flows in tree species other than maples, but few other species can be tapped to produce delicious food like maple syrup.
When daytime temperatures rise above freezing, pressure builds within the tree, forcing the sap upward from roots to crown. That pressure forces sap through tap holes drilled into the tree.
We started tapping trees a week ago and collected 20 gallons of sap in our first two days.
Maple sap, a clear liquid that looks and tastes like water, contains about 2 percent sugar — the result of carbohydrates produced and stored from photosynthesis the previous year. It also contains amino acids and other compounds that contribute to maple syrup’s distinctive flavor.
We take the collected sap to Jerry Franz of rural Independence, who boils it down to syrup for a share of the produce.
Jerry, who taps scores of maple trees himself, uses a reverse osmosis system to extract much of the water from the maple sap, which reduces the time, energy and labor required in the evaporation process.
The reverse osmosis increases the sugar content to about 8 percent at the start of the boiling, which compares with about 67 percent sugar content for the finished syrup.
The rising of the maple sap coincides with my own rising levels of energy and enthusiasm. It, with the singing of the birds, promises the arrival of spring and rekindles joy in the winter weary among us.