Maple sugaring time
BY TOM FONTANA
Among the many signs that spring is here is the sweet taste of fresh, pure maple syrup poured over a stack of hotcakes.
Large crowds of maple tasters flocked to Loch’s Maple Farm in Springville for this past weekend’s open house.
Visitors were treated to tours of the sap house (also known as the ‘sugar shack’). On Saturday, Randy Loch offered a step-by-step explanation of maple sugar processing to large groups of adults and children packed into the sap house.
“For sap to flow from our maple trees requires a combination of warm days and cold nights,” Loch explained. “That freeze/thaw usually starts to happen around Valentine’s Day and lasts to about the end of March. In our 32 years of tapping the trees, the latest we collected sap was April 8.”
He said he and his crew (mostly family members) were out in the woods a little earlier this year, on Jan. 28, adding 30,000 feet of new plastic tubing from the taps to the sap house.
Using a log cross section of a maple tree, Loch showed where and how a tap goes into a tree. “A year from now, the scar from the tap will still be in the tree,” he said, “so we’ll tap another spot. The tap doesn’t damage the tree, and eventually will heal over so the same spot can be tapped again. This year, we tapped a little over 5,000 trees.”
Once the sap flows into the 400 gallon storage tank in the sap house, water is removed from the sap through the process of boiling and evaporation.
“About 50 gallons of water needs to be boiled out to make one gallon of syrup,” Randy said. “The sap gets sweeter and sweeter as it’s boiled, and nothing is added to it.”
Keeping the boiler fired up by stoking the burner from a wood pile was Jordan Clark, a ninth-grade student at Elk Lake.
The 14-year-old has also worked his own small maple sugaring operation at his home in Dimock for the last six years.
In addition to maple syrup and maple sugar candy, other products produced by the Lochs include maple jelly, maple coffee, maple vinegar, maple cotton candy, maple caramel corn, and maple lip balm.
“The lip balm is popular with marathon runners,” Randy said. “It has no alcohol in it, so it’s not absorbed into the skin, and they say it’s the only lip balm that lasts from start to finish.”
Outside the sap house, Shane Kleiner, who teaches maple sugaring, environmental management and field biology at Keystone College, demonstrated how a tree is tapped. He enlisted the assistance of a volunteer from the crowd, Devlin Nagle, 14, of Brackney.
“We use a hand drill to make the hole in the tree for the tap,” Kleiner explained as he handed the tool to Nagle.
He then showed how the hole is drilled angled up so the sap can flow down out of the tree. After cleaning out the small, two-inch hole with a stick, Kleiner gave the plastic tap to his young volunteer who pounded it into the hole with a hammer, then hung a pail from to collect the sap.
“Now you’re an official maple sugarer,” Kleiner declared.
The demonstration also served as a field trip for 18 of Kleiner’s Keystone students who accompanied him Saturday morning.
Loch’s wife, Jamie, offered a demonstration of the fiber processing operation, where for the last six years she has been transforming animal furs and wool for the production of clothing, craft items and rugs.
“People bring their raw products here for me to process,” she said. “I’ve got a two-year back log.”
A van shuttled visitors up and down from a parking lot below the steep hill that led to the open house, and no one seemed to leave without a bag of maple cotton candy, a maple hot dog, or a sweet maple smile on their face.