2017-03-09 / Life in Leelanau

Syrup season well underway

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


SUSAN ODOM of Hillside Homestead near Suttons Bay said sunny skies with temperatures in the 40s brings on the flow of maple sap and make for great conditions for her to take a “selfie” with one of her chickens. SUSAN ODOM of Hillside Homestead near Suttons Bay said sunny skies with temperatures in the 40s brings on the flow of maple sap and make for great conditions for her to take a “selfie” with one of her chickens. Unseasonable warm temperatures brought on what could be the earliest sap season in recent history.

But a cool down last week — and about eight inches of snow — closed the sap spigot, reducing flow to a trickle and extending the maple syrup season.

“We started tapping on Feb. 25 and started boiling Feb. 27,” said Dana Boomer, whose family owns Still Point Farm in Kasson Township. “It is one of the earliest starts to the season that we’ve had. Usually, it’s the first week of March before we even start tapping, much less boiling.”

From Feb. 17 through 23, the average high in Maple City was 54.5 degrees. Low temps dipped below freezing on only two nights during the week-long period, signaling the arrival of spring.


DANA BOOMER is responsible for keeping two wood-fueled and one diesel evaporators burning during the spring syrup-making season. DANA BOOMER is responsible for keeping two wood-fueled and one diesel evaporators burning during the spring syrup-making season. It was also a cue for the Boomers to head to the sugar bush and tap their 1,100 maple trees.

“It takes us about three days,” Boomer said. “It definitely made it easier for tapping because no snowshoes were needed.”

Sap flows through miles of plastic tubing and is eventually pumped from the sugar bush — a forest stand used for maple syrup — to a 1,100-gallon tank in the sugar shack, a large pole barn on the farm.

The rate of flow Monday resembled that of water you’d drink from a backyard hose. But sap on the Boomer farm was flowing from just one of two pumps.

“When two pumps are going it fills up pretty fast,” she said.


DANA BOOMER is very busy this time of year when sap starts flowing from some 1,100 maple trees tapped at her family farm — Still Point Farm in Kasson Township. DANA BOOMER is very busy this time of year when sap starts flowing from some 1,100 maple trees tapped at her family farm — Still Point Farm in Kasson Township. Sap is then fed into three evaporators — two fueled with wood and the other with diesel — to slowly evaporate water to leave a sweet, amber liquid.

The time needed to convert sap into syrup depends on sugar content, which like wine fruit, is measured in brix. The higher the brix, the lower the water content, and less time needed to boil.

“Usually, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup,” she said. “But if it’s lower in sugar, it could be 45 to 50 gallons.”

March came in like a lion last Wednesday, March 1, taking daily high temperatures down to the 20s. The low recorded on Saturday at the National Weather Service volunteer weather station in Maple City was minus 1.

The coldness slowed sap, giving Boomer a bit of a breather, which she doesn’t mind.

“It makes things a little easier because you have time to clean up and get everything power washed before the next run,” Boomer said.

While the winter weather weary didn’t much care for the eight inches of snow that came with spring’s retreat, the change was welcomed by syrup producers.

“The lack of snow pack could have allowed the woods to warm up more quickly and shorten the season,” she said. “The snow we’ve gotten will help with this issue.”

Sustained warm weather can bring on bud development, which marks the end of the season. Sap harvested after tree bud out can produce a lesser quality syrup, with a slightly bitter taste.

“They call that ‘baker syrup’ because the only way you can use it is baking,” Boomer said.

But you’ll find none of that among the bottles of Still Point Farm’s syrup sold at the farm, located on M-72 about two miles west of Co. Rd. 669. The syrup is also available at some local retailers and at county farmer’s markets.

“We usually average between 400 and 500 gallons of syrup per year,” Boomer said. “We’re crossing our fingers on if the weather will let us hit that number this year.”

Leelanau producers are not alone in hoping for a better season for sap. A Wall Street Journal story published Monday told how maple syrup producers in Pennsylvania have so far only produced 50 percent of last year’s crop.

On the east side of the Peninsula, Susan Odom has ventured into her fourth year of producing made syrup at Hillside Homestead farmstay inn located in Suttons Bay Township.

During the first run of the season her 13 taps yielded 39.5 gallons of sap that she cooked on her wood-burning stove in a turn-of-the-century kitchen. It yielded about two quarts.

Odom, a food historian, explained that before refined sugar became available, maple syrup was widely used by Americans as a sweetener in foods.

“But when refined sugar became available, people pushed maple syrup to the side,” she said. “They wanted it to impress and it looked cleaner than brown sugar because it was white.”

With more and more Americans wanting to eat less processed foods, pure maple syrup is once again in favor.

Odom serves her own syrup to guests on pancakes, and uses the sweet liquid to cure bacon.

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