Bruce and Brad Peters of Buck Mountain Maple Syrup in Crown Point are ready to start tapping trees with the help of their mascot, Marlee.
One of the many signs that winter is at its end is the warm February sun pushing the temperature above freezing.
For the Peters family this time of year means getting out in the woods and tapping maple trees for their business, Buck Mountain Maple Syrup in Crown Point.
The Peters brothers, Bruce, Eric, Brad and Jason, began tapping about 150 trees for syrup in 2008 around their own houses, making about 20 gallons of syrup to supply their families for the year.
In 2011, Bruce was talking to his uncle from Norwood, who’d been making maple syrup for over 30 years and persuaded him to look into expanding their operation.
Since then, they’ve taken their uncle’s advice and today tap about 1,000 trees. Last year they gathered 21,000 gallons of sap, making 430 gallons of syrup.
“About 2-3 percent of sap is actually sugar; on average it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup,” said Brad.
Last year was a good year for Buck Mountain Maple Syrup, but the Peters brothers expect this year’s early sap to be even better because of the cold winter and the recent fresh snow.
“We’re dependent upon the weather just like any other crop,” said Brad.
In cold climates, maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter. The starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped by boring holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap. The sap is heated to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup behind.
The Peters’ operation uses a reverse-osmosis machine to take a portion of water out of the sap before it’s boiled, increasing processing efficiency. Syrup boiled too long will eventually crystallize and under-boiled syrup will be watery, and will quickly spoil. The finished syrup has a density of 66°.
“All of our lines are pitched for gravity, but it works off a vacuum system,” said Bruce.
“Sap will run naturally out of a tap but using a vacuum will suck the sap from the tree allowing for more collection.”
This year they’re tapping trees later than they did the previous year because of the temperature.
“Last year we were tapping in January because the days warmed up above freezing that early,” said Brad.
When tapping a tree multiple years, the Peters brothers recommend moving the tap about six inches away and higher or lower than the previous spot. This allows the tree to heal properly and restricts disease to the tree.
When the maple trees start to bud in March, the taps are pulled and a bleach solution is run through the pex lines to minimize bacteria.
“One of the biggest problems we’ve had is squirrels chewing holes in our plastic lines,” said Bruce. “Other than that, we’ve learned from our mistakes just like any other business and feel we have a fantastic local product to offer people.”
They’re hoping to be boiling sap soon.
Buck Mountain Maple Syrup is available at Gunnison’s Orchard or by contacting them directly through their Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/BuckMountainMapleSyrup.