Maple-syrup season in Delaware County is short but sweet.
Both Preservation Parks of Delaware County and the Stratford Ecological Center recently wrapped up their collection and cooking of maple syrup, but not before offering area residents the opportunity to see how it's done -- and learn how they could do it themselves.
"Anybody can do it. You just need one big tree or maybe a few small trees," said Jeff Dickinson, director and farmer at Stratford, 3083 Liberty Road in Delaware.
"At our public programs, my demonstration is a lot around how people can do this at home, even on a small scale," Gallant Farm manager Gabe Ross said.
Dickinson taps 308 trees around the property at Stratford, cooking the sap down in a small sugar shack he helped build in the early 1990s.
The effort, he said, supports the center's mission to connect people to where their food comes from -- and also to "give kids, in particular, a look at something they might not otherwise experience."
Ross, who has been the manager since 2013 at Gallant Farm, 2150 Buttermilk Hill Road in Delaware, said his programs with Preservation Parks are an outgrowth of collection he does at home as a hobby -- although he does also tap the few trees at Gallant Farm that are mature enough.
Sharing his knowledge and experience in making syrup with the public, he offers historical perspective -- "for farmers during the Depression, syruping was a good offseason source of income," he said -- as well as information for prospective hobbyists.
"It's not rocket science, and families can definitely do this together," Ross said.
Weather conditions drive sap collection, both Ross and Dickinson said, although the need to schedule public programs in advance affects the process, as well.
"You need three days in a row with nights in the 20s and days in the 40s -- that freeze and thaw makes the sap run," Ross said.
Generally, mid-February and into March is the best time for tapping, he said.
"It's one of my favorite times of the year," Dickinson said. "It shakes off the winter doldrums and gets you back outside and physical. It can be a pretty time of year, too."
Both operations use traditional taps and buckets for collecting sap and open fires or stovetops to cook it down. Forty gallons of sap makes a gallon of syrup, Ross said.
He said he makes enough for use at home and at Preservation Parks functions for a calendar year.
Stratford's larger collection, Dickinson said, is sold throughout the year and used at programs such as the center's recent pancake breakfast.
In an average year, he can make 30 gallons of syrup, he said.
Last year's collection yielded 45 gallons, and this year is a record year for sap production, Dickinson said.