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Thứ Năm, 12 tháng 3, 2015

Minnesota maple syrup producers do prep work before busy period when sap runs - Minneapolis Star Tribune

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ST. JOSEPH, Minn. — Tom Carlson ran a bare hand along a length of the blue tubing that wove through the woods, suspended like a 5,000-foot string art project.

Once the sap starts flowing, those gravity driven vacuum lines will deliver it from tree tap to pump house. In an average year, Wildwood Ranch Maple Syrup produces about 225 gallons of maple syrup from about 11,000 gallons of sap collected on 40 acres.

On this 15-degree Saturday in late February, Tom and Shelly Carlson checked the lines for damage and made repairs. She guided their dog, Scout, who pulled a sled full of extra tubing, replacement taps and tools.

"You run your fingers over the tubes and you can feel if there's a little nick," Shelly told the St. Cloud Times ( ).

Using a tubing tool they call Roy — which cuts the line, grips each end and connects the ends to a hollow plastic "bridge" — they replaced segments where squirrels had left ratchet marks and deer had gnawed the lines. Molar chews, they call them. Heavy duty vinyl electrical tape took care of woodpeckers' perfectly round, nail-sized holes in the main lines.

Shelly unspooled a 7-foot length of blue tubing to replace a particularly long stretch of chew marks — it's like gum to the deer, Tom said — and cut one of two tap lines to a midsize maple. She leaned into the tubing, pulling it straight while Tom removed one of the tap lines and connected the new segments.

The plastic was less flexible as the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.

With the sap run weeks away, they'd already put in 22 hours — three days on the north line, one day on the south — and expected to put in another five to get the lines ready.

These are the leaks they can see; others will become apparent when the sap starts flowing.

Some of the lines run shoulder height; others nearly skim the snow's surface.

Shelly's father, the late Wally Honer, started making maple syrup in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s he'd converted to the vacuum system. The Carlsons took over in 1999.

They're among about 150 to 175 members of the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers' Association. Shelly is the current treasurer. Association President Stu Peterson said it's impossible to know how many maple producers exist in Minnesota; many are hobbyists who don't join the association.

Minnesota is at the far northwest of the maple syrup production range, which makes an oval around the Great Lakes. Stearns County lies at the western edge of Minnesota's maple hardwood forest.

The Carlson's sugarbush became Kraemer Lake-Wildwood County Park in 2007; maple syrup operations were allowed to continue. Hikers must step over the blue tubing in a few spots; until the sap run, the main lines are tied back where they intersect cross-country ski trails.

But there's typically not much activity in the park during the run, anywhere from March 20 through the second week in April on an average year. The woods are gray and white on this February day. There's not enough snow to ski and it's a bit brisk for a walk.

A stand of young maples, trunks no thicker than a Campbell's soup can, grow on a relatively open rise where years ago the family harvested basswood to rebuild a horse barn and construct the sugar shack. Future tap-size trees made it worth running a line to an enormous maple at the top of the hill.

This time of year is when the Carlsons assess trees' health. They'll look for dead branches, consider the canopy's spread, check how previous years' taps are healing. A healthy tree should heal in about a year.

They'll place up to three taps per tree, spacing them far enough from recent taps to avoid dead wood. This year, the Carlsons expect to reduce the number of taps from 1,100 to 1,000. The decision is based on research that shows two taps produce as much sap as three taps per tree on a vacuum system.

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