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North Philly's Super Sugars-3% and why it matters

Between Saturday and Thursday morning, we collected 135 gallons of sap from black, red, silver, and sugar maples in East Oak Lane and Germantown's Awbury Arboretum. More than 75% of the sap came from sugar maples that have massive crowns, are not crowded out by other trees and in most cases are 2-3 feet in diameter. These are mature, and healthy trees with the greatest stress, it seems to me, to be the horrible way in which PECO has "pruned" some of the trees.


Generally, a sugar maple's sap is about 2% sugar content which means you need approximately 40 (43 but who's counting) gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Making syrup is time and energy-intensive. There are tricks and best practices to reduce the energy used but overall it just takes time and energy to remove water from the sap. Yesterday, our sap was tested for sugar content at Stockton University, which received a USDA grant to study maple tapping in southern New Jersey and the surrounding area. The first 100 gallons tested at 2.5% sugar content and the 35-gallon portion tested at 3% sugar. The difference matters. If we were to assume that all the trees averaged 2% sugar content we would expect 135 gallons of sap to yield just a bit more than 3 gallons of syrup. However, with higher sugar % the boil at Stockton University will yield 4 gallons. More sugar in the sap means a corresponding saving of energy and time to produce the syrup.


So, yes, at least in this test North Philly maples, across 4 types of sugar-producing trees, are sweeter on average than average sugar maples. They are not "super sugars" but within the group of trees we have tapped there may be some supers that are upping this average considerably, which too, is a good thing.


Imagine if Philadephia was sustainably tapping its existing maple trees of which we have thousands (even more if we include Norways I would imagine although I am looking for a reliable source of this data). It would require thousands of people doing what only a handful of us have been doing in North Philadelphia. And imagine if when planting trees we incentivized, or just outright paid for planting non-invasive tappable maples (maybe birches too, birch beer anyone?). Further, imagine if we identified a number of areas to plant super sugar forests to produce maple syrup for Philadelphians to enjoy year-round. Wouldn't that be sweet?

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