Gold In The Trees

by Bruce Mays

Two years ago, my neighbor and ] devised a system that yields three gallons of maple syrup every year from a total investment of under 12 dollars. If we can do it, anyone can. Boiling your own maple syrup is surprisingly easy. And when that syrup is free, boiled during the first hint of spring in your own backyard, you know you're living well.

Sugar sap is manufactured by maple leaves all summer long, then stored for the winter in the roots. The following year, that sugar supplies a ready-made energy reserve to the growing tree until new leaves are able to photosynthesize their own. During the first thaws of spring, the roots must move that sap through the trunk to the branches. Only if conditions are right, only if the sap is racing like an elevator between the roots and branches, can the tree be bled. Warm, sunny days draw the sap from the earth. Freezing nights pull it back down. That combination is essential; any other locks the sap motionless in one spot or another. In the South, or by late spring, there are no freezing nights that will gather the sap to the roots. But don't despair. If you live in sugar country and the season is right, there is no mistaking it. Morning ice will cover the bark, and by afternoon," the branches will sweat with glistening sap.

The first step in sugar production involves drilling holes through the bark. A general rule of thumb calls for the holes to be drilled no closer than one foot apart in a waist-hign circumference around the trunk. Each year the holes should be shifted three inches one side or the other, making sure no new holes are above or below the old. Since sap flows only through the newest growth directly beneath the bark, the holes should be angled upward no deeper than three inches toward the center of the tree. Tap primarily the southern face: sunlight coaxes a quicker flow. The standard drill bit

T4fi inch; hardware store taps are made with that size in mind.

A tap is nothing more than a stiff pipe plugged into the hole that funnels the sap out of the tree. Any tubular, soft piece of wood will do. My own yard abounds with one-inch diameter sumac trees. Once the branches have been cut into six-inch lengths, it is a simple matter -am a red-hot straight iron through the spongy pith. All that remains is to whittle one end of tl^ shaft to a taper d drive the tapered end into the tap hole like a bung into a barrel of wine. The sumac will swell with the first run of sap, sealing the tap tightly against each hole. Professional buckets are made of

The top shaft should be tapered tit one end and driven into the tree at art angle. It is best to have a covered collection can.

galvanized steel, come complete with a hood to keep out unwanted rain and snow, are very handsome, and cost $4 each. For that price, I can empty ugly homemade buckets every time it rains or snows. A friend of my neighbor's gave him three dozen unused number ten tin cans—for free. Any large container will do, of course. The tin cans were simply the most convenient for us. I have seen plastic gallon milk jugs and unused paint-stirring cans used with great success. By punching a hoie on each side near the top and looping a length of wire between them, we produced three dozen collecting buckets in less than an hour, Ancl when we hung the buckets from our homemade taps, the fit was extraordinary. Forty-nine-cent taps stick out only about an inch from the bark; our homemade variety extends five inches from the trunk, far enough to direct sap into the very center of each bucket. By carving a small notch near the end of each tap, the collecting cans were safe from even the strongest breezes.

Our total investment so far was nothing. By the second week of March, our taps carried clear sap in a stream, filling each two-quart can within hours. And if you hate the thought of all that boiling, stop there—maple sap in place of water makes the most exquisite tea and coffee you've ever tasted.

If you do boil it, there are a few considerations to prepare for before you begin. If you have a job during the week, you will probably want to boil only on the weekends. That means storing your daily collections for at least six days. Twenty-gallon trash cans with plastic liners are about as large a storage container as ycu want to get and still be able to move thein easily.

Now, however, you must keep the sap cold during the week. Left by itself, on a warm day, collected sap soon clouds to a bacterial soup. The easiest solution is to keep the trash cans in daylong shade. Each night, a skim of ice will form to protect the sap during the following day. And when warm weather still threatened to melt the ice and spoil the sap, we simply froze some fresh sap overnight in milk cartons and floated the chunks of ice in the cans. As long as even a small ice cube remained until dark we knew we were safe.

After eight days of collecting we were ready to boil. Once again, we were in a potentially expensive situation. From every 40 gallons of sap, 39 gallons of water must be evaporated. That takes a tremendous amount of heat. The only realistic way for a home maple boiler to produce syrup is to cook the sap over an outdoor wood fire. Our three gallons of syrup demanded about two cords of wood.

Four years ago, I used an old ten-gallon lobster pot for the actual boiling. For someone with only a few maple trees, this is fine. But remember, it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup, and the evaporation rate of that excess water is a direct product of the size of the pot. Water will evaporate only from a surface in contact with the air; no amount of heat can alter that fundamental rule. Anyone planning to produce more than a pint of syrup in less than a lifetime of boiling will be forced to use a professional evaporator. We were, and now I know we were right.

From every 40 gallons of sap, 39 gallons of water must be boiled off. Three gallons of sap call for about two cords of wood.

Don't let the word professional scare you. It means simply a very large pan. The smallest of them, like ours, is about five feet long by three feet wide and ten inches deep. That, is enough to hold 50 gallons of sap and presents an evaporating surface of 15 square feet—a twenty-fold improvement over my lobster pot. Fancier, more expensive evaporators have baffled compartments to route the finished syrup away from the new sap, inlet spigots and outlet faucets, and mysterious coils winding along the bottom. But beyond all that finery is still the simple physics of a larger evaporating surface. My neighbor found our small, used pan in a local newspaper for $10. Five dollars each, and we had made our last expenditure.

It remains only to get the fire underneath the pan. In our case, that meant piling used bricks in a three-sided structure 18 inches high, making sure that the edges of the evaporator pan would sit snugly on the inner brick wall. I suppose the bricks should be cross-stacked for maximum strength, but by the time we set the pan, leveled it out, poured in the sap, and stoked two cords of wood, our neat rectangle was something of a shambles anyway. The real trick is to concentrate as much of the heat uniformly onto the pan while still allowing enough air into the blaze to keep it burning hot. That meant removing a stray brick for ventilation here and there, sticking an old stove pipe from the back end as a chimney, maybe sealing the gap between the evaporator and the bricks with mud. Generally, though, it meant just watching the fire at all times to balance its needs.

There are some things to be remembered during your boiling day. If the boil slows, the evaporation rate decreases. Too much heat in one spot tends to melt the solder holding the pan seams together. You have to work on the furnace a little to prevent those annoyances. We slanted a dug pit towards the rear of our rectangle and tried to keep most of the burning wood near the bottom. The heat then tends to climb up the slope towards the mouth of the furnace and disperse somewhat evenly across the bottom of the pan.

Be sure to add fresh sap steadily throughout the boiling. Too much cold sap all at one time will quench your good boil and slow tire evaporation rate. Each time new sap is added, a scum will rise to the top. Skim these impurities from the broth with a slotted spoon.

Finally, the sap will taste distinctly mapley. Since our three gallons of syrup made a dangerously shallow layer in the pan, we found it prudent to remove the syrup from the fire when it was obviously brown and sticky-sweet, but still too thin for good syrup. This meant boiling the last few gallons in pots on the kitchen stove, but that way you can watch the syrup more carefully as it thickens. Books will tell you to dip in candy thermometers, or to measure the specific gravity and weigh the sugar content. At that point, the usual rolling boil is replaced by a kind of brown foam that sudses above the syrup. Syrup at just the right stage will cling to the spoon like thin taffy as it cools.

Your new syrup should be poured through muslin or felt at least once to pick up stray flecks of ash left by the fire. If you're planning to store the syrup for longer than a few months, be sure to fill each container right to the top while still hot and cap it immediately. When the syrup cools, it will hold the cap down with vacuum and never spoil. Pint or quart mason jars are perfect for this, but old bottles or food jars—anything with a sealing lid—can be used. If the syrup ever does cloud, simply boil it again and rebottle it. In a cool spot it should keep for years.

By the end of the day everyone is exhausted. Last year we began at six in the morning and were still sitting in a freezing drizzle at eleven o'clock that night. In between, a half ton of sap was poured by cupfuls into the steaming evaporator, the fire was tended, new sap was collected, and spare wood split.

And yet every winter I am restless for sugaring season. By late February, I swear I can smell the sweet air from other boilers. There is something very special about this first outdoor project of the year, something very satisfying about using your hands and brains to produce such an indecently delicious syrup.


gmummut kcmtiutoiis

Groundnuts, peanuts for example, have fibrous cellulose shells which need to be removed prior to consumption. The task requires a rubbing-stripping action and a method for cleaning. Most hand-operated decorticators do not do this and so require a separate winnowing step.

sources of manual decorticating equipment

Handy Groundnut Decorticator

Built from steel and cast iron, the Handy is simple to operate and easily transported. Nuts are placed in a receptacle and the operating handle moves forward and backward, rubbing the nuts against spiked rustlers and the shelling grid. Kernels are not separated from the shells after decortication with this device.

Harrap Wilkinson, Ltd. 5 North Phoebe Street Salford M5 4EA, U.K.

R. Hunt and Company Groundnut Decorticator

The distance between the galvanized, heavy mesh screen and the rubbing bars on this unit can be adjusted to accommodate a variety of sizes of nuts. Four different sizes of screen are available for this hand-operated sheller.

R. Hunt & Co., Ltd. Atlas Works, Earls Colne Colchester, Essex C06 2EP, U.K.

CeCoCo Model 300D Peanut Sheller

In this model, revolving beaters shell the peanuts, and kernels are separated from the shells by a screen and fan. Output is 40 to 50 kilograms per hour, and kernel breakage is 2 to S percent.


P.O. Box 8, Ibaraki City Osaka Pref. 567, Japan

Groundnut Sheller

A hand-operated groundnut sheller is available from:

Ubungo Farm Implements

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Hand-Operated Groundnut Decorticator

For more information write to:

Dandekar Brothers Sangli

Maharashtra, India

Hindsons Treadle Power Groundnut Decorticator M/s. Hindsons Pvt., Ltd.

Hindsons Groundnut Shelter

This is a foot-operated, portable device designed to quickly separate nuts from their shells. The balanced flywheel eases operation, and the blower separates shells from the nuts. Maximum output of the unit is 441 pounds per 8-hour day.

M/s. Hindsons Private, Ltd. The Lower Mall Patiala, India

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25 of Grandpas Top Tips

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