Mapletree Farm’s Story
Original by Dean Wilber
Back in the 1940s, when I was 7 or 8, my parents and I often spent early spring weekends in Springfield, VT helping my great uncle Johnny gather sap and make maple syrup. At that time I was just big enough to drive the horses while the men gathered sap. Later on, I too gathered sap, lugged wood, fired the evaporator and by age fifteen I was running the evaporator at sugarhouses owned by my grandfather and cousin, and my uncle. Sugaring has been in my blood ever since.
Years later in the fall of 1973, when looking to buy some acreage, I spotted a row of crimson-leaved sugar maples on a property for sale in East Concord, NH. That property is now Mapletree Farm.
In 1975 during our first season, we put out 100-bucket taps and boiled on a 2′ x 6′ wood-fired evaporator set up outdoors. Despite the lack of a sugarhouse for shelter, 30 gallons of maple syrup were produced that first year. That first boil in March of 1975 started a neighborhood tradition, a spring ritual that has expanded to include tapping sugar maples up and down Oak Hill Road. We now tap trees belonging to ten of our neighbors.
Over the years a sugarhouse was been built and expanded, and expanded and expanded again, and now is equipped with lead-free, food grade, energy efficient equipment. We still use wood as fuel, which is cut here at the farm as part of the timber stand improvement work in our certified Tree Farm. From those first 100 taps we have grown to over 1000 taps with additional taps planned for the 2017 season. Now there are only 20 taps using lead-free buckets, while the remainder of the taps are connected by over six miles of food-grade tubing to either the sugarhouse or to one of fourteen various sized roadside tanks.
In 1981-82 we converted an old apple orchard to a young maple orchard. This is perhaps the only one of its kind in New Hampshire. A total of 200 pencil-sized maple whips were planted so that future generations may continue to enjoy this springtime tradition. Some of those maples are now 18″ in diameter and over 45′ tall
The 1990’s brought with it a new evaporator, a 2.5′ by 10′ wood fired Inferno, which recycled its own steam to preheat the incoming sap. In addition to boiling sap, this evaporator generated hot water that we used to clean equipment.
A reverse osmosis unit, or RO, was added to the operation in the mid-2000’s. The RO is used to concentrate sap and reduce the amount of time and wood spent boiling. Water removed in the reverse osmosis process is stored for cleaning as well.
The Lateral but Tee’d Together Tale
by Robert Saunders
Along about the same time that Dean and his family started hanging buckets in East Concord, Robert was growing up in southwestern Vermont, hanging around with his maternal grandfather and father boiling sap from 20-30 taps on a homemade evaporator in the backyard. 20 taps grew to 200 taps and the homemade evaporator was replaced by a larger homemade flat pan evaporator. More taps were added and with them, the incredibly late nights boiling eventually became too much and in the mid-80’s, the Saunders’ graduated to their first “real evaporator”, a wood-fired 3′ x 10′ Small Brothers lightning with raised flues. Robert worked in the woods with his father and brother hanging new tubing systems and gathering buckets, totaling 250 at the peak. Tubing taps continued to be added and at around 1,500, another evaporator upgrade was in order. A leader 4×14 with drop flue king pans fit the bill and it was a good thing, because the 1993 el niño weather pattern brought with it a phenomenal sugaring season in southwestern Vermont. Even with modern and efficient equipment, the 4X14 logged nearly 250 hours boiling in one season, yielding nearly 2,000 gallons of syrup from 3,200 taps. The Saunders operation continued to grow, peaking out at 20,000 taps being boiled through a 6X16 evaporator with a steamaway which was capable of processing over 700 gallons of sap per hour and making over 60 gallons of syrup per hour.
The following several seasons, Robert was away in college, first in North Carolina and then in Maine, returning to help out when his school schedule allowed. Eventually, Robert settled in New Hampshire in the early 2000’s, but as a NH transplant, Robert could never seem to shake the “bug” and he found himself continuously drawn back to maple and sugarhouses both during and outside of the season. Visiting many over the years.
A chance encounter in 2010 brought Robert to Mapletree Farm, where he and Dean got the chance to talk maple in depth. Over the years since, Robert and Dean have worked together in the woods, boiled a lot of sap in the “old” sugarhouse and shared with each other “little tricks”, sometimes very subtle, to make our syrup even better.
In recent years, Dean and Robert have formed a partnership plan to continue Mapletree Farm into the future. The plan, although an evolution unto itself, has included the recent sugarhouse construction project and some equipment replacements and upgrades.
In June 2017, following several years of dreaming and sketching, a load of hemlock timbers were delivered. These timbers would become the timberframe addition for the new sugarhouse. After about a month of “evening” timberframing, the timbers were ready to be stood up. In July 2017, concrete was poured for Mapletree Farm’s new sugarhouse. Shortly afterward, the timberframe was erected and the old sugarhouse was relocated and married upto the new section. Rafters, sheeting and siding followed, closing in the structure just in time for winter to really hit. Progress continued through the bitter cold of winter, with electrical, plumbing, insulation and interior finishes. The new evaporator, a 3′ x 9′ Leader Inferno with Max Pans, was delivered in very early 2018, none too soon. Many hours later, thank you to friends and family to extra help, and the sugarhouse came together just in time for the annual March 23-24 open house weekend. We like to joke that we were still making sawdust on Friday before, which was a little bit too close for Dean’s comfort.
Needless to say, we really don’t sit idle at Mapletree Farm. There seems to always be something that can be cleaned, mended or improved upon. We are always looking for ways to make improvements and make for a more memorable experience for our customers. Come pay us a visit, during any season of the year, to see the only planted sugarbush in New Hampshire that is in production along with our modern food-grade equipment, and displays of sugaring antiques and memorabilia. It is best to call first, as we don’t always keep regular hours, but we trust you will find it worthwhile when you too discover Concord’s Best Kept Maple Secret