Sugaring at Everett Springs Farm: Our first maple syrup was boiled on a "hobo" arch that we constructed from reclaimed concrete blocks and parts of an old wood stove found abandoned in our woods by long-gone loggers. That first year, we made one gallon of syrup! But it was a fine batch and a good start. The next year, we upgraded to a drum arch borrowed from our kind neighbor and set the rig up under the overhanging roof of our woodshed. We made ten gallons of syrup in year two and again, it was beautifully light amber with a rich flavor. "These guys are gonna make it", our neighbors said when they had sampled our sweet.
Our sugaring dreams rested on Matt's shoulders. He was smitten by the sugar bug, determined now to bring syrup-making to the farm in a major way. Each night he fell asleep scheming, planning, and designing a sugar house. He studied literally every word that sugar makers posted on the internet, searching in particular for the most efficient way to set up the arch and evaporator. He talked sugaring with many of the local farmers, some with 150-year sugaring traditions, who depend on their annual syrup yield for supplemental income to keep their farms' bills paid. It was from that intense study and from the generous wisdom and inspiration of our neighbors the Taylors and the Woods, that our sugar house was born.
We broke ground on December 10th, an unusually warm winter's day in the Northeast Kingdom. Amazingly, we were able to pour a slab at this late date in the construction season. By then, we had already completed a design for the sugar house, compiled a framing list, and ordered doors and windows. Winter construction had its challenges - green timbers freeze, snow and ice make staging planks slippery, and numb fingers sting - but this Vermont winter was kinder than most and when our concrete slab had cured, sills were bolted on, and beams were hoisted onto plumb posts.
By mid-January, the roof was framed and boarded, ready for the corrugated metal. We installed siding, doors and windows by the end of February completing the shell. Time now for setting the new arch/evaporator and plumbing all of the tanks, sap lines and connections.
Fire-bricking the arch is no easy assignment. In addition to proper masonry cutting instruments, it takes skill and experience to blanket the entire inside of the burn chamber with these heat-tolerant bricks in a manner sufficiently tight to protect the stainless steel housing from the arch's furious heat. Matt is blessed with both the acquired skills and natural patience required and in two long days, the arch was ready for the pans to be set and the pipes and valves connected.
We built a platform for the stainless steel tank on the slope above the sugar house. The sap lines were strung from the hills above, across the pasture and into the big tank. We ran a test with water to correct potential leaks and assure good flow.
On the morning of March 10, exactly three months from the day we poured the sugar house slab, the first sap ran from the forest, dripped into the big tank, followed the line into the evaporator's float box, and finally into the evaporating pans. We fired the arch and by days end, we had our first batch!
The 2016 sugaring season was beyond our highest expectations. Sap ran steadily for four-plus weeks occasionally halting when day temperatures stayed below freezing. The sugar content of the sap tested just above 2% and our generous maple trees yielded well over a gallon of sap each day.
A new evaporator is a big investment and because this was our first season with it, we boiled with the utmost caution, running the flue pans a little deeper than optimal and slowing the process often to clean the "sugar sand" from the syrup pans. Last thing we wanted to do was to make a costly mistake with the our new equipment.
As the spring progresses, maple trees require different minerals and nutrients from the woods soil. When their buds begin to swell, the makeup of the sap shifts from primarily sugars to the trees' nutrient needs. "Buddy" syrup has an off taste and is fit only for Grade C (Commercial) syrup from which flavorings and candies are made. Swelling buds is a signal to pull taps, clean the sugar house and begin bottling the syrup, just in time, no doubt, for the other numerous Spring demands of an awakening farm.