As temperatures freeze and thaw in late winter, one of the sweetest harvests awaits in the Missouri woods. This week on Discover Nature, tap a tree, and collect a treat.

Maple sugaring is a seasonal activity best done in late winter. Learn more on this week’s Discover Nature.

Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

The time honored tradition of harvesting sap to make maple syrup can be an easy way to get out and discover nature in the winter, while adding a fresh touch of sweetness to your next meal.

Freezing and thawing temperatures causes increased sap-flow in living trees. By drilling a small hole in the side of the tree, you can harvest its sap, and cook that down to make syrup.

You can tap most any deciduous tree this time of year, but sap from sugar maples contains the highest sugar content. A tap, or spile works like a spigot for taking sap from the tree and directing it into a bucket – you can buy them, or make them yourself.

With a bit that matches the size of your spile, drill a hole about 1.5 to two inches into the xylem, or water-carrying layer of wood on the tree. Hang your bucket on the end of your tap.

When the bucket is full, bring home your harvest and heat the raw sap. As water evaporates, sugar remains, and at about 219-degrees Fahrenheit, you’ve made maple syrup.

Run it through a cheesecloth or commercial filter to remove impurities, and then consider canning for a longer shelf life.

Learn more about maple sugaring with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) online activity guides>, and find places near you to get out and discover nature this week with the MDC online atlas.