Maple Syruping at the Danson Farm

Jar of Maple SyrupWe have been experiencing a winter that never ends. It’s mid-April and today is snowy, icy and just plain gross. Yesterday was half-way decent in comparison. Sick of hibernating, I thought it would be fun to head north to Uncle Russ and Aunt Sue’s farm in Rush City to partake in maple syruping activities. Maple sap runs best when overnight temperatures are below freezing and the daytime highs are in the 30s to mid-40s. We finally had that combo Friday (4/12); contrast that to last year when we hit 80° in March and the temperatures were so warm the sap season was skunked.

I called Saturday morning and Sue said the sap started running Friday; it apparently ran well, yielding 130 gallons. They were cooking down that batch – it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup – and were planning to collect more sap later in the afternoon. When I arrived around 1:00 pm, my great uncle Bobby was hand-carving a custom tap insertion tool while he babysat the boiling sap. During the 7-hour cooking time, someone always has to be present to feed the fire and make sure there’s enough sap in the evaporator basin so the liquid doesn’t scorch.   

Around 2:00 we headed out for the woods, just a few hundred yards north through the former dairy pasture and across a small creek. Russ drove the tractor, with two 55-gallon barrels strapped into the bucket, while Sue, Bobby and I took the Polaris Ranger. The last time I did this back in 2009, the barrels were strapped in the back of the Ranger, and someone had to climb up and down to dump the sap into the barrels. My legs were sore for days. I was so happy to see the process improvements they had come up with for this year’s harvest.

Sue, Bobby and I walked around to each of the 148 taps while Russ followed behind with the tractor. At each tap we had to remove the lid from the five-gallon pail, shake off the melted snow, remove the pail from the tap and pour the contents into a five-gallon collection bucket. Some trees put forth a mere inch of sap, and some had dumped up to two or three gallons. After a few trees, we’d dump the contents of our collection buckets into the 55-gallon barrels and move on. It took us about a half hour to collect 110 gallons of the water-like sap that contains 2.5% sugar.

We put the Ranger into 4WD and drove through a couple mud holes as we returned to the sugar shack. I lowered a sump pump into the first barrel and Russ plugged in the electricity to transfer the sap to the second floor, where it was filtered and placed into a bulk tank. A gravity feed line transported the sugary water to the ground floor, and it was fed into the wood-heated basin at a rate that could keep up with the 10-12 gallons of water that evaporates every hour.

By the time the batch was done cooking and condensing, the sugar content was up to 66%. The final product filled a five-gallon pail, which will yield about 40 pints of pure maple syrup. You could rightfully call it liquid gold, considering the costly overhead and sweat equity that goes into making each pint (cost of the land, tractor, Ranger, sugar shack, taps, buckets, barrels, bulk tank, custom-built stove, firewood, filters, jars, lids and other accessories). I will savor every drop. In fact, to enjoy this homemade pure maple syrup my favorite way, I even made some homemade buttermilk biscuits today. Priceless!

Sap cooker

Sap cooker – Bobby’s homemade wood stove











Maple taps — some of the 148 buckets hanging on the maple trees










Uncle Russ lowered the bucket so Sue could dump her collected sap into the 55-gallon barrel










The finished product; it took 200 gallons of sap to fill this five-gallon bucket















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