The Macneal family from Rebersburg, Pa., have been producing maple syrup for 50 years. Their production season kicked off on Thursday, March 7, 2013.
Maple producers, like the Macneals, wait for the right weather to tap maple trees and begin the collection and processing of syrup. Ideally, a very cold winter will put the maple trees into a dormant state. During this time, the sap is stored until the spring when it will flow from the roots of the tree to carry water and nutrients to the rest of the tree.
When winter begins to change to spring, maple syrup producers look for nights below freezing and days with temperatures between 38 and 44 degrees. The right combination of cold nights and warm days signal the correct time to tap the maple trees.
The warm days cause the tree to warm above freezing. When this happens, pressure builds up and causes the sap to flow out of the tree through tap holes. The maple producers collect the sap in a bucket. Once they collect enough, they either boil or evaporate the sap to remove the water, leaving the sugar. What remains is the maple syrup.
Andrew, Ben and Doug Macneal collect sap from 900 maple trees on their farm. From the trees, they are able to produce about 200 gallons of syrup in an average season, according to Ben.
"The hardest part of collecting the sap is trying not to check the same buckets someone else has already checked, or not checking a bucket at all," said Ben.
On this warm and sunny March afternoon, the buckets being collected by the Macneals were half to all the way full. The sap from each bucket is then poured into a temporary tank that is transported around the property by tractor.
The sap is pumped out of the temporary tank into a processing tank in a "sugar shack". The sugar shack is where the sap is evaporated and processed into syrup.
"The processing tank can hold 300 gallons of sap," said Ben.
After the maple syrup season is over, the Macneals are busy with their apple orchard. Pruning time starts in only a few weeks.