Back in December 2015, we offered a workshop on beginning maple-syrup production. There were two families in our county already making maple syrup on a small scale, and there had been folks across the border in Letcher County doing that for years. We had 30 people at the workshop, and several went home afterwards, ordered taps and collected buckets. A number of first-time maple-makers installed anywhere from 10 to 160 taps/buckets in January 2016.
Myself and a half dozen volunteers from our local Master Naturalist chapter installed our first 46 taps as a demonstration at the Powell River Project Research & Education Center that winter. We used icing buckets gathered from a local deli. We also made some mistakes, collecting our first 20 gallons of sap in recycled, five-gallon dill pickle buckets. The aroma of dill pickles doesn’t come out of those buckets, no matter how much you wash them.
In 2017, a couple of those families transitioned from buckets to maple lines, and we made the same transition at our Powell River Project demonstration site. By my estimate, there were over 500 taps in the county, and Wise County maple syrup was being sold through farmers’ markets, on-the-farm sales and other venues.
Come January 2018, I expect the number of taps in Wise County to surpass 1000. While that’s considered a small number, even when looking at taps on a single farm, it’s encouraging to see that growth.
I like the possibilities of maple syrup for farm families. January to early March can be a somewhat slower income time, so having a few red and sugar maples tapped can help level that out. Even the weed-ish boxelders (which are technically a maple) yield a high-value syrup. Furthermore, black walnut, sycamore and birch can be tapped. (Although I’ve never tapped sycamore trees, I’ve read that the syrup has a faint butterscotch flavor.)
A “Get Started in Syrup Production” workshop will be held in Wise County on November 30, and then Letcher County Extension in Whitesburg will be having their 2nd annual Kentucky-Virginia Maple School on Saturday, December 9. For information on either of those, please contact me.