As the cold winter starts to loose its icy gripe it is time to start thinking about Maple Fest. In late February, when the days start getting warmer and the nights are still cool the sweet sap of the sugar maple tree starts to flow.

The making of maple syrup goes back to before the Europeans came to this land; it was first started by the Aboriginal people. They would celebrate the first full moon of spring, called the "sugar moon" with a "maple dance".

It was a great celebration for it meant that it was time to start tapping the trees and collecting the sap for the sweet syrup it would produce. The Aboriginals were quick to recognize the value of this sweet treat for its source of energy and nutrition, plus it gave a great taste to many of their foods.

When the first European settlers came to this land the Aboriginals shared this information with them and even taught them which trees were best and how to tap them. Over the years the method of tapping the trees has been improved from the "V" cuts first made to the plastic tubes now inserted into the bark of the tree.

Today the harvest of maple syrup is a viable industry in Canada which produces 75% of the worlds output. Quebec produces approximately 3/4 of this market, but Nova Scotia has a huge potential as only 10% of its useful trees are being tapped.

The sugar maple has proven to be the best trees to tap, they have the highest sugar content, but the red maple and black maple tree also offer a desirable sap to use. In some cases the sap of the big leaf maple has also been used with good results.

In cold climates the maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before winter. This starch is converted to sugar which rises up in the sap of the tree in the spring.

In mid to late February these trees have a little hole drilled into the trunk and a little plastic tube is inserted which captures the running sap. This sap is gathered and taken to an evaporator where it is boiled at 140 degrees Celsius to evaporate away the water leaving concentrated syrup. It takes an average of 40 litres of sap to produce 1 litre of maple syrup. The maple syrup is then graded on its density and translucency and shipped around the world.

Maple syrup operations open in mid-March until mid-April which is considered Maple Fest time. This is when the operation is in full swing and some producers will open their facilities to visitors.

Many events can be planned for this time like sleigh rides out into the woods to see the trees tapped and the sap collected, or visit the "sugar shack" to see the operations there.

Community meals are held featuring the fresh maple syrup served with pancakes, waffles or French toast. Or maybe it will be a meal of maple beans with homemade brown bread being served.

A big children's favourite is the making of "taffy on the snow" where the maple syrup is dropped down on fresh snow where it hardens and makes great taffy. While at a Maple Fest make sure to pick up your supply of this great tasting maple syrup.

The Milfort annual Maple Fest is held in the Milfort Community Hall usually in mid-April, check the local papers or events calendars for details.