I can't wait for Spring! And it's close - just ask Sugarers at Lusscroft Farm in Wantage!
(Courtesy of The njherald dot com)
Sugarers at Lusscroft Farm began tasting the sweet success of tapping hundreds of sugar maples this weekend.
Beginning Saturday morning, volunteers began tapping the trees to collect the raw sap and boil it down to a rich, dark amber maple syrup.
"The concentration of sugar is so high right now you can taste it (in the sap)," said Danny Tassey, a volunteer from Wantage.
The first week of sugaring is always the sweetest, too.
Frank Hennion, Lusscroft's sugaring operations manager, said the sugar maples tend to release sap with the highest concentration of sugar in the first few days — "one week if you're lucky."
To make pure maple syrup, sugar maple sap is boiled down into syrup.
In the first days, Hennion said sugar makes up 2.5 percent of the sap, but in following weeks, the concentration is reduced to 1.9 percent.
"So now you're looking at a lot of boiling," Tassey said.
In a total of eight hours — four on Saturday, four on Sunday — the small group of dedicated sugarers set 300 taps in four sections of highly concentrated areas of sugar maples on Lusscroft's 565-acre farm. These areas are called sugar bushes.
Additionally, up to four taps can be put into each maple if it is large enough.
Hennion said it takes about 45 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.
Last year, Lusscroft volunteers collected 1,700 gallons of sap and were given an additional 1,500 gallons by another farm, producing a total of 55 gallons of syrup, Hennion said.
The products were then sold at the sugar house's two-day open house. Hennion said they were sold out by noon on the second day.
This season's open house will be held Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. One quart is $20, one pint is $12 and a half-pint is $7.
Once a privately owned farm, Lusscroft was later donated to the state as an agricultural research station and utilized by Rutgers University. The facility was then used as a 4-H outdoor camp, but closed in 1998 due to declining enrollment. Today, Lusscroft is managed by the state park service in cooperation with the state Agricultural Development Committee and the nonprofit, Lusscroft Heritage and Agricultural Association.
Hennion said the property was first tapped to produce maple syrup in 1919 and was again picked up for one season by Rutgers in 1995.
Then, five years ago, as a member of the Society of American Foresters, Hennion said he recognized the Heritage and Agricultural Association's desire to create more public activities to reinvigorate the farm and decided to reactivate the sugaring operation.
All proceeds from the operation are given back to the Lusscroft Heritage and Agricultural Association for maintenance and repairs at the facility.
When he heard about the volunteer opportunity, Tassey said he walked into the sugar house without any prior knowledge of the process and has been coming back ever since.
"It's educational, they need the help and I want to learn as much as I can about it so I can teach it to people who want to learn," Tassey said. "And, it's a lot of fun in general. It's a root connection with nature."