February 7 - February 13
Discover nature this week as freezing nights and thawing days cause maple sap to flow best.
The Maple tree is found throughout Missouri, and its leaf was the inspiration for the Canadian flag. This species varies in its leaf shapes and lobe spaces.
School children are best at identifying maple trees, as nearly every Missouri child has at one time pretended the seed pods were helicopters as they spiral down to the ground in the swirling wind.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, maple trees have a few different contributions to the human diet. The tree fruit, similar to green peas, is edible and available from April to June, and the inner bark was used by Native Americans for making bread. But now, in mid February, it is the right time to harvest the tree’s sap for making maple syrup.
It is best to do some research before drilling into a maple tree for sap, to ensure you have chosen the right tree and can complete the harvest without damaging the tree. Jan Phillips, author of Wild Edibles of Missouri, described her harvesting process, which begins by drilling a 4-inch hole and attaching large cans covered with plastic to keep out dust and insects. She and a friend collected 150 gallons of sap, which they later boiled down to four gallons of syrup.
Families who try harvesting sap and making maple syrup can take advantage of the opportunity to learn about photosynthesis, transpiration, and the water cycle throughout the process. But the fun of making maple syrup is the satisfaction that comes from a direct connection to the land and the sense of accomplishment that results from a meal or treat that is truly made from scratch.