Audubon expects to make more maple syrup than ever

SHARON, Conn. — Sharon Audubon will hold its annual Maple­Fest on Saturday, March 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will be able to watch as maple sap is collected from the trees and turned into delicious maple syrup.More efficient evaporatorScott Heth, Audubon’s director, said that the clear liquid sap is only about 3 percent sugar. An evaporation process is used to reduce the amount of liquid in the sap and increase the percentage of sugar, and turn it into amber-colored sugar. To improve that process, Audubon now has a new evaporator that Heth said “is much more efficient than the old one.” It was a gift of the Housatonic Audubon Society, the local Audubon chapter. Sharon Audubon is owned by the national Audubon organization.“Members of the local Audubon chapter recognize the importance of our educational programs in showing many people how maple syrup is made as well as in making syrup,” he said of the donation.Heth and Wendy Miller, Audubon’s education director in Sharon, said they usually draw enough sap to make about 60 gallons of syrup. With the new evaporator, they expect to produce 75 to 100 gallons this year.Audubon syrup will be available for purchase at the store in the main Audubon building.Heth said the maple syrup season has shifted over the last decades. “It used to go from Valentine’s Day until the end of March. Climate changes have shifted it so now it goes from Feb. 1 to late March.”The new evaporator is 2.5 by 8 feet. The old one was 2 by 6 feet. The larger evaporator will hold and boil more sap, more quickly. Made of stainless steel, the new evaporator will also stain less than the old one.Heth said the new evaporator, made in Canada, is basically custom made and cost about $16,000.Aside from the increased size of the evaporator, Heth said, “The arch [or fire box] is insulated and airtight, while the old one was not.” He explained this provides much more efficient burning of the wood used to keep the evaporator hot. There is also a blower, forcing an air draft to help the combustion of the wood, rather than just an open vent as in the old machinery. This causes the wood to burn more completely. The bottom line is that with the new evaporator system, Sharon Audubon will be able to produce more maple syrup more efficiently. They will be able to draw off small batches of maple syrup about every 45 minutes to one hour.More efficient tubingOn the Sharon Audubon property there are about 450 maple tree taps. As another aid to make syrup production more efficient, new tubing is being used to collect the sap. The new tubing is more resistant to ultra violet light, which provides for a better quality sap and increased production. Heth said the new tubing should last about 10 years, much longer than the previous tubing that was used.Another production enhancement is a small vacuum pump on one line of tubing. A line of tubing collects sap from many different trees and delivers it to a collection vat. The vacuum pump moves sap out of the collecting tubes more efficiently.Heth said there is about a mile of main-line tubing plus another two miles of lateral lines at Sharon Audubon. These carry the sap to three collection points. A tractor hauls a gathering tank to these three collection points to collect the sap. The gathering tanks are taken to the sugar shack, where the sap is drained into a holding tank.On one inside wall of the sugar shack are posters illustrating the process of making maple syrup. One poster says that “40” is the magic number in maple sugaring: 40 gallons of sap equals 1 gallon of maple syrup; to collect sap, daytime temperatures must be 40 degrees Fahrenheit; and a tree must be 40 years old and at least 10 inches in diameter before it can be tapped.The MapleFest entrance fee is $5 per adult and $3 per child. Fresh syrup will be sold in the Sharon Audubon Center Nature Store while supplies last. Depending on sap flow, the sugar shack should be open each weekend in March for visitors. Call ahead to see if Audubon staff will be boiling sap. Volunteers are also always needed to help make syrup.For more information, call 860-364-0520.

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