Backyard Community Sugarin’
(A Description of the Maple Mob and Its Doings)
November 28, 2007
Wayne’s Sugar House is a big backyard operation with friends
and visitors an essential ingredient in the sugarin’ process. The
Maple Mob, a collection of neighbors and friends, actually does
the work. About fifteen adults are very active, another thirty or
so pop in from time to time during the season to help, and a
whopping additional 135 are on the email list that I use to
announce work days during the off season and the actual work
and productivity of sugarin’ during the season. Also, between
30 and 50 kids pitch in each year to collect sap (all buckets, no
tubing) and haul wood.
When my wife and I purchased this house on a 1 1/2-acre lot in
North Amherst, MA, I knew I would be doing some sugarin’.
There are maple trees along the street, and the back of the
property is a portion of a stand of maples. Only about one third
of the maples are on my property, but the prospects for a
significant backyard operation improved when I found the
neighbors eager to have their trees tapped.
Our first year was 1996. We put out about 30 taps and made
about 13 gallons of syrup. We‘ve grown to 95 taps per year in a
total area of about 2 acres plus a dozen or so nearby road trees.
We produce 30 to 35 gallons of syrup. The high productivity
comes from lots of sap per tree. The sugar content of the sap
seems to be in a normal range of one to two percent, but we sure
do get a lot of sap.
Being able to commit one bay of a three car garage as a
permanent location for an evaporator makes it possible to have a
large evaporator without extensive yearly setup time. Even
more important, a second bay can be put into use during sugarin’
season. This provides a large comfortable space for boiling,
canning, and sitting around with friends and visitors.
The evaporator is pieced together from parts I could get cheap.
The arch is an abandoned 275-gallon oil storage tank, modified
by a local welder. The pans are a 2’x3’ used homemade welded
stainless steel unit and a 2’x2’ unit. The latter started out as an
abandoned galvanized homemade unit that I got from a friend
who had had it soldered up for her long, long ago. After a
couple of years of sugarin’, we tested our syrup for lead and got
a whopping 1300 parts per billion (ppb) result. The
recommended maximum is 350 ppb. We suspected the lead
solder in the small pan. After replacing it with the pricey new
pan, the lead content of our syrup dropped to 69 ppb.
We also have a nifty preheating system. I stumbled upon a
cheap 25’ length of copper tubing, and wrapped it around the
stove pipe. The top of the copper coil is connected to a reservoir
for sap up in the rafters. The bottom deposits the warmed sap
into our back pan. We pump the sap up to the reservoir and let
gravity and a very hot stove pipe do the rest.
We think the preheater improves our boiling efficiency by about
ten percent. The one time we measured, we got about ten quarts
of syrup for a ten-hour boil with the preheater in use. Another
boil without the preheater produced about nine quarts of syrup.
On the average we seem to make about one quart of syrup per
hour of boiling and burn about 1/40 cord of wood to do it.
All of our syrup is canned in glass jars. We like to see the
finished product, and we have the manpower to do it. The
manpower. Yes, that brings us back to the Maple Mob.
The Mob flourishes during the season, usually about February
15 to April 1. In addition to the actual work of sugarin’, we
have pot luck meals or call out for pizza, kids swing or play in
the snow in the yard, we make sugar on snow, and the big day of
the year is the Potluck and Old Time Music Jam. Music, eatin’
The Mob also does off-season work, mostly in the fall, when we
have work days to get the wood in. We use only “found” wood
that we can get for free – downed trees, slab pine from a nearby
custom saw mill, and whatever else we can get our hands on.
This involves lots of hauling, sawing, and splitting, which we tr
to do while the weather is still mild. We stay two years ahead.
By the time the snow flies each year we have about seven cords
of wood under cover. The work days usually include a lunch
break on our screened porch with a fireplace and milk and
cookies when the work is done for the day.
At the end of the season, we put aside one-third of the syrup to
sell to recover the cost of the evaporator and other equipment,
and the Mob shares the remainder of the bounty in proportion
(more or less) to the amount of work that each member did
during the year. I sometimes need to point out that one should
not do a cost benefit analysis on the work done versus the
amount of syrup you end up with. You have to enjoy sugarin’
for its own sake, not just for the sweet results. The rewards
must be worthwhile. Most of ‘em keep coming back!
More information and more photographs are at
Email me (email@example.com) if you would like to be added to the
Maple Mob email list.