For Bob and Mary Jakeman, this is the busiest, and stickiest, time of the year.
Last weekend marked the beginning of sugaring-off season on the Jakemans’ 1,000-tap maple farm just outside of Woodstock. The watery maple sap will be collected through a plastic pipeline and end up in a sugar shanty, where it will be boiled, graded and eventually bottled.
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The third-generation farm has been operating since 1876, the year Alexander Graham Bell got his patent for the telephone. “Our children are now slowly taking it over,” Mary Jakeman says.
While the syrup produced by Jakeman’s Maple Syrup will likely end up on top of pancakes, scientists from National Research Council Canada have other ideas for the gooey stuff.
It turns out that a form of bacteria called alcaligenes latus also has a sweet tooth, and behaves particularly ravenously when exposed to maple sap and syrup. NRC researchers found that the bacteria transform the sugars in the sap into a family of natural polymers that can be used to make plastic-like materials that are biodegradable — everything from “green” food packaging to drug-delivery films that dissolve harmlessly in the body.
Canada’s 10,300 maple farms account for 86 per cent of global production last year. In Quebec, only one-third of the 110 million tapped trees have been are being drained for their sap.