Source: Sherman Publications

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Sweet results after slow start to sap run

by David Fleet

April 06, 2011

Even with the right mix of warm days coupled with cold nights, Jim and Faith Aseltine still say Mother Nature decides when their hundreds of sugar maple trees relinquish sweet sap.

"If it's too cold or too warm during the day, the sap just stops running," said Jim, 80, who has been tapping sugar maple trees on his rural township farm for about 45 years.

For the past four decades, the Aseltines fire up the sugar shack stocked with neatly split firewood, ready the wood-fired maple syrup evaporator, and head to acres of rolling forest land surrounding the farm.

This year Jim and some volunteers started tapping roughly 185 sugar trees the first day of March. By the first few days of April, about 750 gallons were gathered.

"In 2009, we produced 74 gallons of syrup, about 3,700 gallons of sap. Last year, it was only 18 gallons of syrup. It's all about the weather."

Residents have been tapping maple trees on the township woodlot for more than a century.

"The Cumming and Powell families were here long before we started tapping," Jim said. "Few of the real old trees are here, though—it takes about 35 to 40 years for a sugar maple to become a decent producer of sap. Also, the maple trees need to be about 14 inches in diameter and have a bushy top—that helps send more food to the roots."

Utilizing the traditional spile or tap, Jim thrives on a Michigan tradition—coaxing about 350 maple trees, scattered about 20 acres of rolling ground, to yield sap.

Etched in pencil on the rustic bare wooden walls of the Aseltines' sugar shack are the number of gallons, ranging from a low of 12 gallons to a high of 78 gallons, of maple syrup produced each year—an indication of the unpredictablity of the sugaring business.

"There's just no telling whether it will be a good year or not," said Jim. "It's all up to God."