"Almost full," says a young boy as he watches syrup flow into his jug.
Photos by Kathleen Hatt unless otherwise noted.
Without snow, the 2012 New Hampshire Maple Weekend could have been a real bust. However, Larry and Melissa Moore weren't about to let bare ground spoil their fun. They had plenty of maple syrup, and for the benefit of visitors they boiled some more. They replaced snowy activities with a guided walk through their Windswept Maples sugar orchard led by son Jeff, who recently graduated from Paul Smith's College with a degree in forestry. As usual, children were invited to help fill jugs of maple syrup. "After all," says Larry, "the whole point of sugaring is having fun."
The maple trees on Loudon Ridge are presumed to be the reason Moore's ancestors first came to Windswept Maples from Canterbury in 1780. With few exceptions, maple syrup has been made at Windswept Maples every year since. Moore recounts a family story that sometime in the 1860s, syrup boiling in the kitchen caused a fire that burned down the whole place. The family then moved to Lowell, Mass., to work in the textile mills until they saved enough money to rebuild.
Despite the lack of snow and the early sugar season, 2012 was the second biggest maple year ever for Windswept Maples. The year's 1,838 gallons of syrup was surpassed only by the 3,000 gallons produced in 2011. Compare that to 1941, when the family produced 1,000 gallons of syrup - all with buckets, of course.
A new orchard
The sugar bush accounts for about 40 of Windswept Maples' 270 acres. An additional 25 to 30 acres are leased. This includes a new operation being run by Jeff, who was approached by the landowner. Jeff worked at Cornell's research orchard at Lake Placid throughout his college years, and the landowner has a connection with Cornell. Jeff walked the landowner's boundaries and wrote the lease for a north and a south orchard. The north orchard, previously untapped, is mostly sugar maple and has an estimated 3,000 taps. The south sugar maple orchard, lightly tapped some 20 years ago, will run sap from an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 taps.
Located 5 miles from the primary Windswept Maples orchards, the new operation requires separate infrastructure. Equipment, including an Arrow reverse osmosis machine replaced in 2012 by a new MemProTec, will be housed in the landowner's old dairy barn. Electrical, pump-up and vacuum lines will be run across a field from the orchards to the barn.
Taps and lines
"Tapping is the most important step," says Moore. "We don't let just anybody drill trees anymore. Holes have to be in the right place and the right depth. We now also minimize the number of taps per tree." In 2012, Windswept Maples had 6,250 taps. For new taps, the Moores use Leader check valves and one-season spouts to prevent microbial contamination from sap in the tubing flowing backward into the tapholes. Fittings are from a number of manufacturers, including Darveau and Dominion & Grimm. Taps are always pulled promptly after the sap run to minimize damage to trees. This year averaged a quarter of a gallon of syrup per tap. The average is normally three-tenths of a gallon.
Maple Producer's Conference Scheduled
The 18th Annual Maple Producer's Winter Conference will be held January 4-5, 2013, at the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School in Verona, N.Y. The Friday Night Maple Auction continues this year. The deadline for registering maple equipment for the auction is December 15. The deadline for exhibitor and advertiser forms is November 15. For more information, contact Keith Schiebel at 315-829-2520, ext. 7462, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All taps at Windswept Maples are connected to lines. Four lines are vacuum, and one is gravity. In 2012, underground lines brought sap from 2,700 taps to the sugarhouse. Sap from the remaining taps was hauled. The Moores plan to install more lines in the future.
Even though it costs a little more, Moore prefers semirigid tubing because it is easier to work with. In addition, semirigid tubing will stay up through the windstorms that inevitably occur during sugaring season.
"We try to maintain 1 gallon [of] storage per tap," says Moore. Bulk tank capacity currently includes one 3,500-gallon tank at the sugarhouse and other tanks totaling 4,000 gallons in the woods.
Eye to eye, but Melissa Moore is never far from children's close encounters with farm animals.
Windswept Maples has used reverse osmosis machines since 1999. The first was an Alfa 500 manufactured by Darveau. In 2011, 190,000 gallons of sap swamped the system. A new MemProTec unit from Stephane Darveau in Sherbrooke, Que., purchased in part with federal energy grants, can handle up to 1,200 gallons per hour. As 2012 turned out, the new machine processed 120,000 gallons, less than the old machine did in 2011.
In 2012 it took 52 to 54 gallons of sap from both sugar and red maples to make 1 gallon of syrup. This is considerably less than Windswept Maples' all-time high of 72. "We try to take our concentrate to 11 percent," says Moore, who believes that his red maple sap is not quite as sweet as his sugar maple sap and that it does not run as much. "Soil type is more important in determining sweetness and flavor than whether the tree is red or sugar maple," he says. "Others sometimes claim syrup made with red maple sap tastes different from syrup made with sugar maple sap. I can't tell the difference."
Eighth-generation sugar maker Jeff Moore tends the evaporator during Maple Weekend, adding water as necessary for effect.
Sugaring and Maple Weekend
Maple products in the store at Windswept Maples Farm.
It's a New Hampshire tradition: Sugaring begins on town meeting day. However, as everyone knows, Mother Nature hasn't been playing by the rules in recent years, and sap run has started a month or so early. Since town meeting and sugaring are inextricably linked, "town meeting day has got to be moved up a month," says Moore. "We sure can't change the sugar maples!"
For years, the third weekend in March has been the time for New Hampshire maple producers to celebrate the approaching end of the sugaring season. It's a time when visitors flock to sugar shacks around the state to enjoy the sights and smells of sap boiling and to enjoy some maple syrup on snow. Not so for the 2012 season. Most of the sap from their 6,250 taps and their neighbor's 1,500 taps was boiled down well before Maple Weekend. The Moores, like others participating in the celebration, had to add water to the evaporator to produce the desired effect.
Windswept Maples' new MemProTec reverse osmosis machine processed 120,000 gallons in 2012.
Crowds were down, too. There are usually 25 to 30 minivans at a time parked near Windswept Maples' sugarhouse. This year, numbers were down, but not as far down as might have been expected. Baby animals are always a draw, and many families come to Windswept Maples every year to see them. New lambs and their mothers are kept in a warm pen in a barn, and calves are with their mothers in a pen outside. Children try to pet the cows and calves as Melissa supervises. Melissa, a school librarian when she is not working on the farm, also talks with visitors about Windswept Maples' unusual cattle, a three-way cross of Hereford, Angus and Gelbvieh.
Another draw for families is the experience of filling maple syrup jugs. A friend of the Moores, Paul Chudzicki, a child psychologist when he's not helping at the farm, facilitates this popular activity every year. He patiently cautions each child about the hot liquid and guides their hands as they operate the spigot.
Approximately half the syrup produced at Windswept Maples is sold in the farm's store. The rest is sold through online and phone sales. Maple product sales account for about 50 percent of farm income. Five New Hampshire restaurants, part of a national chain, buy Windswept Maples' syrup monthly. A sizeable amount of syrup is sold to other producers who run out. These days, says Moore, the majority of people who come to the farm store want dark syrup. On the open market, light syrup is still a little more expensive than dark, but in Windswept Maples' farm store they are the same price.
Also for sale in season at Windswept Maples' store are corn, tomatoes, beans, zucchini and other produce, accounting for 3 to 4 percent of farm income.
A little boy tightens the top of a maple syrup jug he filled.
Other Windswept Maples products include hay (35 to 40 percent of farm income), beef and lamb. Beef cattle at Windswept Maples generally number 60 to 65, and ewes (once registered Suffolks but now "just a farm mix") number 75. Lamb sales at Easter and in summer to ethnic groups make up 3 to 4 percent of farm income. Beef sales are a similar percentage.
The importance of gratitude
As Moore thinks about all the people who volunteer to help at the farm, especially with sugaring, he reflects on the importance of thanking them. "Here are people who come back year after year to help, and they do it all without pay," he says. "It's important to express gratitude to people who help - to visitors, to employees, to volunteers, to everyone. I can't understand not saying a simple thank you."
Thank you, Moore family, for sharing your story.
Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and editor and has been a frequent contributor to Farming since 1998. She lives in Henniker, N.H.