2016-03-09 / Gardening Tips / Columns

Gardening Tips: March 9, 2016

Maple Season
by Bob Beyfuss

I just watched an interesting You Tube video on making a small scale, reverse osmosis device. This video is one of many great videos on You Tube that have been produced by Cooperative Extension to educate rural landowners about a whole host of topics. You can learn about everything from making maple syrup to beekeeping to growing mushrooms or even growing ginseng by watching these videos. I am featured in at least three of them on ginseng.

Reverse osmosis is a process that is commonly used by largescale maple syrup producers in which water is passed through membranes under pressure, which filter out the sugar molecules that are in solution in maple sap. Maple sap is mostly water, with perhaps two or three percent of sugars dissolved in the water. In order to make it into maple syrup, most of the water must be removed and this is accomplished by boiling. Reverse osmosis concentrates the sugar content of the sap somewhat, so that less water must be boiled off to reach the final sugar concentration. Since it requires about 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup this process can save significant amounts of energy and fuel.

The You Tube video showed how a simple water filtration device and a shallow well water pump can be modified to make a small scale reverse osmosis machine that can reduce the volume of sap to be boiled by about 50 percent. It certainly might be worth investigating if you tap a dozen or a few dozen trees for your own consumption or to sell or barter with neighbors. Fuel oil will not remain at these low prices indefinitely and once this device is built, it will pay for itself in short order. Of course if you use your own firewood wood to boil the sap, it may not be worth your effort.

March has been called the “mud and maple month” and there are few outdoor diversions to be enjoyed this month. Ice fishing, skiing, snow shoeing snowmobiling, are all coming to an end and for most of these activities, they never even began this past winter. Many people are suffering from cabin fever that is often relieved by doing stuff like this. Many old people, like me, escape to Florida, not to hibernate, or wait to die, but to enjoy our waning years actually doing fun things. I really did enjoy the process of making maple syrup in my backyard for many years. I often celebrated my birthday, on the Ides of March, by sitting outside in a metal rocking chair, drinking beer and watching the wash tub boil with its fragrant aroma of maple and wood smoke. I sometimes cooked hot dogs in the boiling sap or toasted marshmallows on the fire. Maple cooked hotdogs are a tasty treat that few people have tried.

Nevertheless, I would not trade fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for boiling sap, but after watching the You Tube videos with our Cornell Maple Specialists, Steve Childs and Mike Farrell, who manages the maple syrup research facility in Lake Placid, I did feel a twinge of home sickness. It will pass, but I also will add some maple syrup to my morning coffee as I do every morning here and at home too. There are no sugar maple trees in Central to South Florida.

Next weekend there will be a host of maple related activities at many locations throughout New York. For more information you can call 518 622-9820.

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