Sap running heralds spring’s approach
WHITE GATE, Va. — Virginia is on the very southern edge of the seasonal activity of making maple syrup, however it is creating a place for the sweet treat producers and promoters attest.
David Chupp, a local resident, and Dr. Tom Hammett, a Virginia Tech professor of sustainable biology, are enthusiastic members of the area’s maple syrup community.
Chupp usually taps his maple trees to make the syrup but this year he said he passed up on syrup making to devote his time to his year-round business, crafting furniture.
Hammett, is working to find people interested in making maple syrup and teaching them how to make and market it. He works with all specialty crops and non-timber forest products.
“It takes 60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup,” Chupp said.
Chupp, whose home and forest are on the northern side of Big Walker Mountain pointed out an elaborate tubing system he has developed in his forest where red maples are located that carries sap from the tapped trees to a 1,400-gallon plastic storage tank lower on the boulder strewn mountain side.
Chupp demonstrated how to tap a tree on a recent bright warm day that followed a night when temperatures dipped below freezing. This made the sap flow better, Chupp said. The warm sun draws the sap upward from the cold roots. He said that if several days of warm weather occurs the cold ground will draw it back down and make it harder to collect. When the trees begin to bud, he said, the sap will turn bitter, bringing the tapping to an end.
Syrup making in Virginia’s Giles County on the West Virginia border and in other southwestern Virginia counties is not known far and wide. Highland County further northeast is known as the syrup making leader in the state.
Syrup makers tend to live in the higher elevation areas of the state.
On Mt. Rogers, the state’s highest peak, a maple syrup festival is a traditional fund raising event for the Mt. Rogers Volunteer Fire Department and the rescue squad.
Hammett said he is working to identify and help existing producers and then seeking ways to increase their production and find new customers, adding that black walnut, sycamore and birch trees can also be tapped for sap to make syrup.
Hammett conducts workshops across the state and meets with people who want to learn about the processes and potential as a business.
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