More snow is in the forecast but Iowa maple trees know spring is approaching. In late February, their sap starts to run and some consider it the sweet goodbye to cold weather. In northeast Iowa, two large festivals are held to gather the sap and to make it into maple syrup.
Rich Patterson, director of the Indian Creek Nature Center near Cedar Rapids, says surprisingly, this past summer’s drought should not impact sap production levels. “What we need are a series of cold 20-25-degree starry nights, followed by nice, warm 40-45-degree sunny days,” Patterson says.
“The trees will produce sap whether we’re in a drought cycle or whether we’re in a wet cycle.” Patterson says the weather immediately before the tapping of the trees is what’s most important. He says prime time is late February to mid-March.
“Traditionally, that is when Iowa’s weather is these warmish, 40ish degree days above freezing and cold below-frost nights, and the sap will flow as long as those conditions hold,” Patterson says. “It stops flowing, usually in late March, early April, when the night temperatures stop going below freezing.”
Indian Creek and the Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls hold a pancake breakfast to use the syrup after it’s collected. Last year, more than 2,000 people attended the festivals. This year’s event at both locations is the first weekend in March.