Well, it’s officially cold now, and except for some stolen pockets of warmth, outside projects are about done for the year… unless you count shoveling as an outside project. I do not. Already, I am looking forward to spring. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want life to skip over the holidays (that would make me quite sad), but I love the spring and all that comes with it. For me, the spring begins with the maple syrup season.
As soon as it gets to February, I will be watching the temperatures like a hawk. Every burst of warmth brings hope that winter is breaking and the maple trees will start sending their sap up to their branches. Once the temperature is supposed to settle into above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night for more than a couple days, it is time for the taps to go into the trees, and the first major project of the new farming yearhas begun!
Last year we tapped a couple of trees to try making maple syrup, and this year we are going to tap quite a few more. If I recall correctly, we will have about thirty to forty taps this year— we already marked the trees, as it is much easier to identify them when they still have their leaves. Some of us will still be in Rochester, so we didn’t want to go crazy, but we did want to tap enough trees so that we could experiment on making a setup that could handle a large amount of sap. If all goes well, we are thinking of tapping several more trees the following year.
Most of you are probably aware that maple syrup is relatively expensive. That is because it takes a lot of work to make it. The producer must collect the sap daily and boil it down regularly. Boiling it down takes hours, as 40 gallons of sap boils down to about 1 gallon of maple syrup! However, it is hard to beat the taste of real maple syrup, and there is something special about seeing and tasting the fruit of your labor afterward.
There are a lot of positives in havingmaple syrup be one of our enterprises:
1) There are maple trees almost everywhere you look in upstate New York. Sugar maples make up a large portion of the deciduous trees in our region. We will have no trouble finding trees to tap.
2) It is a product that has a good return. It takes a lot of labor, but it doesn’t take a lot of money to start up, and it has the potential to bring in quite a bit of money.
3) It is at a time when there isn’t a whole lot of other stuff to do. Making maple syrup does take a lot of time, but it is early enough in the season that we don’t have a massive list of pressing tasks that needed to be done yesterday.
4) A lot can be done with the enterprise. Making maple syrup is just the tip of the iceberg. We can (and intend to) make maple candies, maple fudge, maple donuts, and maple soap. We can also have an event to go with it (i.e. pancake breakfast and/or allowing people to stop in while we make it and see the process, being able to buy the product they just saw made before their eyes).
5) Maple syrup is already something popular. It is not something that, when we market it, we have to persuade people that it is worth it. People know about maple syrup, and most people love it.
6) It has a long shelf-life. Unlike meat or produce, we don’t have to sell it as soon as it is ready. If we don’t sell it right away, we can always sell it later or keep it around to make something with it in the future.
As scary as this sounds, the maple syrup season will be upon us before we know it! I am looking forward to crunching out in the snow to collect the sap and spending hours boiling it down. It will mean the farm season is underway again, and spring is in the air.