Here on the Stony Point Center Farm, I’m beginning to see March, more so than any other, as a month of transition. The most obvious transition is that of winter to spring which coincides with the change of what I call “last season” to “this season.” March has brought the first temperatures over 40 and even 50 degrees that we have experienced in months, although many nights are still quite frigid. As the snow slowly melts during these “warm” and sunny days, our gardens are transitioning from pristine sheets of snow and ice to the rich browns of soil and the faded greens and tans of our fall cover crops. The landscape of our hoop houses and greenhouse has also changed during March. We have harvested nearly all of the fall and winter crops; our greenhouse is now filling up with seedlings that will be transplanted in the upcoming months and two of our hoop houses were planted with almost 2,000 young spinach plants only yesterday.
As we have observed and ushered in these changes in the past few weeks, what really defines the month of March on Stony Point Center’s farm can be summed up in three words: maple syrup season. Maple sap flows best when temperatures drop below freezing at night and climb above freezing during the day, and our weather during the month of March has followed that pattern almost every day. We tapped a total of 11 sugar and Norway maples on campus on March 3rd and we have been collecting sap ever since. To date, we’ve collected over 150 gallons of sap from those 11 trees.
Our major step forward in maple syrup production this year has been our method for boiling the sap down into syrup. The generally accepted sap to syrup ratio is 40:1, meaning that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. Last year we boiled all the sap in the Gilmor kitchen on the gas stove which was terribly inefficient and probably quite expensive. This year, Tyler, from our maintenance department, helped us build a wood-burning sap boiler out of an old 55-gallon steel barrel, some scrap metal, and three commercial steam table trays. It’s quite a contraption (as you can see from the picture) and it boils sap like a dream. What used to take us a day and a half or more in the kitchen can now be done outdoors over the fire in about 8 hours.
We’re still using the Gilmor Sloane kitchen to finish the process on the stove where we can more easily monitor the temperature in the critical moments when all the boiled-down sap officially becomes syrup. In the kitchen we filter, bottle, and (of course) taste the syrup. And it is sweet and delicious! We’ve actually found that our sap to syrup ratio is closer to 30:1 than 40:1 which means that the sap coming from Stony Point Center’s maple trees has high sugar content. In fact, the sap itself is so delicious that many of us have been drinking it raw or using it to brew coffee or tea for a sweet treat.
Much like last year, our maple syrup production has been a community effort. Members of the Community of Living Traditions have been a part of every step in the process, from gathering together for what has become an annual tradition of walking the property to tap the trees, to collecting sap (often multiple times per day), to helping with the boiling and bottling. It’s been a fun process and a blessing to share it with such a wonderful group of people.