Making Maple Syrup at Hilltop Farm
Sugar House Amishmen Modern Instruments Financial Arrangements Making Syrup The NEW Sugarhouse

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The Sugar Bush

We purchased our farm in 1959. Along with the farm came a dilapidated sugar house that had not been used for several years. However since our farm included about sixty acres of woods with many mature trees and a potentially functional sugar house, we decided to reactivate the maple syrup operation. It was necessary to purchase some new equipment which was not difficult to find.

The Amish
Our next job was to find some Amishmen to gather the sap and boil it down to make maple syrup. This was more difficult to do. However, after considerable searching, we found two Amish gentlemen, who with the help of their families, agreed to attempt this operation.

Unfortunately, these men had had very little experience in this type of operation which required more skill than either they or we thought. As a result, a large amount of syrup was made that was below standard and could not be sold. This was because the syrup was not boiled long enough to
reach the proper density.

Modern Instruments
We purchased modern instruments to test the syrup to make certain that it was the correct density. However, t
he Amish saw no need to use these "newfangled " gadgets so they tried to judge the density of the syrup in a very primitive manner the way their fathers did. With much persuasion, they reluctantly agreed to use the instrument that I had provided them. The density is measured by a hydrometer or a refractometer. Both of these instruments are very easy to use.

Financial ArrangementsIt is interesting that when we first started up the sugar house in 1950, a gallon of syrup sold for $6.50 a gallon and now sells for $35.00.The usual financial arrangement at that time was for the owner to supply all of equipment and the land with the maple trees so the men doing the work had no cash outlay. The final product (the maple syrup) was split 50:50. Now the split is 2/3 for the operators leaving 1/3 for the owner.

Making Syrup
The season for syrup making is usually in March, often extending into April. It starts after at thaw of several days and continues until the trees start to bud out. A difficult decision in making maple syrup is choosing the proper time to tap the trees. It can be a real gamble. If we tap too early, we risk having no thaw for a time, and a thaw is necessary for the sap to run. If we tap too late and spring comes early, the season is too short to make much syrup. In order for syrup to achieve a delicate taste, equipment must be clean, the sap gathered before it stands too long in the buckets and then it should be boiled off rapidly. There is nothing magic about the first run except that the buckets and evaporator have just been cleaned, the weather is usually cool and the operators are eager to get started and gather the sap promptly. Excellent syrup can be made at any time. Our current operator, Harley, has made superior syrup all through the season.

Our evaporator uses wood as it's heat source. Both the cutting of the wood and the gathering of the sap in the snow and the mud are backbreaking work. It takes on the average forty-five gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup.

The New Sugar House
The century old sugar house continued to deteriorate so that it looked like it might fall down at any moment. There was no choice but to build a new one. The new sugar house contains an evaporator 16 foot long and five foot wide. The evaporator boils the water out of the maple sap to make the maple sugar.

The sugar house also holds many cords of wood as many cords of wood are used each season. The Amish use horses to pull a wagon through the woods to gather the sap and then deliver the sap to the sugar house. Also there is a horse stall in the front of the sugar house to keep the horses out of the weather when they are resting between trips through the woods.

We are very proud of the new sugar house. It has large plate glass windows and is a showplace among sugar houses. It was built by an Amish crew. The head of the crew has sixteen children. as does the current operator. I asked the builder of the sugar house how he could support sixteen children. He thought a moment and then said, "I just work hard". Both the builder and the operator are fine intelligent gentlemen. I enjoy very much being with them.