Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Michigan Tech News: The Sugarbush Diaries: 73 Taps, 500 Gallons, 12 Dozen Bottles of Made-in-Alberta Deliciousness

By Cyndi Perkins, Michigan Tech Web Writer
Posted Apr. 19, 2017, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted in part with permission


Michigan Tech Instructor Tara Bal is pictured here with the wood-fired evaporator used to bring sap to its optimal boiling temperature. Bal, whose PhD work centers on sugar maples, and who remembers syrup-making from growing up in a tightknit Amish community, didn't like to see it sitting there unused at the Ford Forestry Center in Alberta. She wrote a development grant for a non-traditional online course, which includes a fieldwork component and has the added benefit of introducing students to forestry and biology, including how tree physiology relates to sap flow. (Photo © and courtesy Cyndi Perkins)

Plonk. Plonk. Plonk. The sap drips hitting the bottom of galvanized buckets in Preacher Park are louder than the raindrops on an April weekend at Michigan Tech's Ford Forestry Center.

The buckets aren't full yet (at time of this writing). But across US-41, Tara Bal's maple syrup management and culture class is collecting from the sugarbush maples that line the streets of Alberta Village. The trees look a little like hospital patients receiving IV drips. Some bear rectangular blue sacks; you can see the clear liquid inside. Flexible, thin blue tubing protrudes from the tap holes on others, snaking down into white plastic buckets.

Students also learn a second boiling method: In the Native American tradition, Jamie Opsahl uses heated rocks to bring sap to the boiling point in a hollowed-out maple log. (Photo © and courtesy Cyndi Perkins)

But tapping doesn't hurt the trees, says Bal, a research assistant professor in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science (SFRES) -- you can pinpoint her location by following the smoke billowing above the Sugar Shack, out back of the research, education and conference center's dining hall and dorms. ... Ford Forestry Center, the planned community of Alberta built by Henry Ford, is graced with fine maple specimens. How long has syrup been made here?

"As long as Ford was here, and before that, the Anishinabe," says Bal....

Click here for the full article on Michigan Tech News. This article also received attention in Lake Superior Magazine's June/July 2017 issue.

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