As maple syrup season gets underway in different regions across Ontario, a Toronto neighbourhood is coming together to expand its network of residents who are tapping private maple trees to collect sap.
“I like the idea because it’s really about connections. One of the things about our neighbourhood that I really like is there are a lot of big trees, so we feel somewhat in touch with nature,” John Keating, chair of the Regal Heights Residents’ Association (RHHA), told Global News.
“Doing something like this, which you normally think of as being out in the bush, somewhere out of the city, connects you better with nature. It’s also a connection with the past.
“I like to say that rather than the 100-mile diet, I’m on the 100-foot diet — although it’s probably not even that far.”
Keating moved into his home, near Oakwood Avenue and Davenport Road, and said one of the first things he did was plant a sugar maple tree. More than 15 years later after the tree became a foot in diameter, he said he began tapping his tree.
“It just seemed like a fun thing to do … it’s surprisingly easy,” he said.
But it turns out he wasn’t the only one who thought this.
After speaking with a couple of neighbours, they decided to start a network of volunteers who wanted to collect syrup. Last year, several residents participated and ended the season with a community “boildown” across from street from his home.
For 2020, the group sought to expand the project and began to approach others. In addition to their efforts, their area councillor, Ana Bailao, put an appeal on Twitter and asked for area residents to respond to the RHHA.
“This year we’re going a little bit bigger. We’ve got more people volunteering their trees,” Keating said.
“We have eight or nine trees we’re going to do this year. We’re going to have a big boildown late March or as late as the beginning of April.”
Keating, who installed a bucket on his backyard tree on Thursday, said the group is beginning a couple of weeks later than normal. The process for sap collection has stood the test of time and it is still relatively easy to do.
“You drill your holes, you put your spiles on. As soon as the weather starts getting freezing at night and above zero during the day, especially if it’s sunny, that’s when the sap starts to flow,” Keating said.
“It takes about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup. With some of the trees we’re going to be tapping this year (Sugar, Norway and Manitoba maple trees are among the varieties in Regal Heights), it can take 60 (litres).”
He said volunteers need to empty the buckets every two days (if weather conditions are favourable).
“We put the syrup in little bottles. We made up our own nice, little label. And we give it away for people who volunteer for various events, or special guests, or just anybody who wants some.”
Meanwhile, back in Regal Heights, Keating continued to reflect on the benefits of maple tree tapping. But in the end, he said it simply comes down to taste.
“I really like maple syrup — that’s probably one of the inspirations for doing this in the first place. And it’s a lot cheaper to make your own than to buy,” Keating said while laughing.
According to a 2018 City of Toronto tree canopy study, it was estimated approximately 21 per cent of the city’s trees are of a “maple origins.”
When it comes to rules surrounding the tapping of trees, it’s not illegal to do so on most private trees. However, officials don’t actively encourage tapping urban trees due to the potential for damage or disease. Tapping publicly-owned trees and trees designated as protected is prohibited under Toronto bylaws.
Keating’s tips for collecting sap
While there are plenty of videos and articles online, Keating had a few tips when it comes to the syrup process:
– Put the spile on the south side of the tree, sap moves quicker
– When the sap turns cloudy (which adds a bitter taste) or buds come on the tree, remove the spile
– Don’t drill immediately underneath previous year’s hole (which he said heals over), can cause trunk splitting
– Drill hole at slightly upward angle so sap can run easier