One sign of spring in downtown Bloomington this week was the pair of sap buckets hanging from the trunk of the big maple tree on the grounds of the Monroe County History Center.
Volunteers with the Hinkle-Garton Farmstead have tapped the trees at the history center as part of their annual maple syrup project.
The farmstead, owned by Bloomington Restorations, Inc., is located out the east side of town, on 10th Street, past the 46 bypass, where 10th Street turns into State Road 45.
On Saturday, out on the farmstead, volunteer Jayne-Leigh Thomas was checking the sap buckets hanging from the 120-year-old maple trees that are growing on the grounds.
Thomas has been volunteering out at the farmstead with the syrup operation since 2014, she told The B Square.
Thomas compared tapping maple trees for their sap to the concept of donating blood for humans. “Sap is kind of like blood, because that sap is what’s needed to make the leaves in the trees. Now, a person can donate blood, and you’re going to be fine, but you don’t want to sit there and drain them, because then you would make the tree sick.”
She added, “You have to move the tap every year—you can’t tap the same spot.”
The overnight lows in the mid-20s followed by mid-30s on Saturday made for ideal conditions for sap flow.
Out at the farmstead, several trees were dumping their sap into blue bags, instead of the traditional metal buckets. Thomas noticed one bag that was a bit full—it needed to be emptied.
On Saturday, the sap was getting boiled down into syrup under the watchful eye of volunteer Bob Nowling.
The sap evaporator was not just a giant pot with a fire under it. To be sure, there was a big pot involved, but it was not directly over the fire. The pot had a livestock tank heater in it, to knock the chill off the sap before it trickled out of the spigot at the bottom of the pot into the evaporator itself.
From the spigot, the sap landed in the first of two pans, connected with copper tubes that were set up as a siphon to move the sap from the first pan to the second one.
A wood fire burned under the pans, which were nestled into the top of the evaporator. The contraption had begun life as a file cabinet purchased from Indiana University Surplus Stores.
The conversion from file cabinet to maple syrup evaporator was the work of syrup master Michael Bell. He used a barrel stove conversion kit to help adapt the filing system to sap boiling. Bell pointed out the fireplace brick liner on either side of the inside of the cabinet.
After he explained the setup to The B Square, Bell said, “I tell people the amount of energy it takes to convert water into steam is incredible.”
Nowling gave Bell a quick update on the day’s sap boiling, “We’re gaining on it!”
Saturday after next, on March 12, the farmstead’s maple syrup operation will be open to visitors as a part of Indiana Maple Syrup Weekend. The event includes 16 different locations—”sugar camps”—across the state of Indiana. Bloomington is the southernmost sugar camp.
Photos: Hinkle-Garton Farmstead (Feb. 26, 2022)