LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — In some places, maple sugaring season can last for months. In Lancaster, it lasts for about three weeks between February and March. With consistently warmer weather in the forecast, the 2021 maple syrup season is coming to a close.
During maple sugaring season, sap begins to flow throughout maple trees, making it possible for people to collect the sap and turn it into sweet treats like syrup or candy. Below-freezing nights and warmer days are necessary to initiate this process.
“Basically what that does is it sets up movement of the sap from the roots underground where it’s safe from freezing up into the stem and the twigs of the tree,” explains Mary Ann Schlegel, park naturalist with the Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Thanks to this year’s consistently cold February, Schlegel says this season has been a pretty good one. She says last week especially was “phenomenal because we had really cold nights, we had nice warm days, and the sap was running like crazy. It was like a faucet.”
The sap that comes out of maple trees is mostly water, and the process of turning sap into syrup involves boiling it to remove that water. In fact, it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of syrup, explains Schlegel.
While maple syrup tastes sweet, clear maple sap usually doesn’t. “If you use your imagination you can maybe taste sugar,” says Schlegel. “With kids, they’re pretty good at tasting the sugar,” she jokes.
Lancaster County doesn’t have quite the right environmental conditions for large-scale maple syrup production — “People that make maple syrup on their own here typically use it for their own purposes,” says Schlegel — but she says that syrup produced in other areas of Pennsylvania may be purchased at local farmers markets.
There are several maple sugaring facilities and maple sugaring tours in other Pennsylvania counties, such as those listed in this article from abc27 media partner LNP/LancasterOnline.
The Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation has been holding maple sugaring programs for decades. Schlegel notes that the program leaders follow some important guidelines to avoid harming tapped trees. For example, they don’t tap a tree in the same place twice, and they only tap trees that are at least 10-12 inches in diameter.
This year, the department’s maple sugaring programs had a limited number of participants as a COVID-19 precaution, but Schlegel hopes that the events can run normally again next year. Other programs being held by the department can be found here.