The maple syrup is where the "Sugar" camp name comes into play. Syrup season usually starts about early to mid March and can last about 4 weeks. With that said, it can really start anytime the weather gets above freezing in the day and below freezing at night. Mother nature controls the entire process of the sap flow from the Maple trees so we are at her mercy. It can start, stop and start again over and over. The volume of sap from every tree is different as is the sugar content of the sap.
We have tapped up to 400 taps and made 38 gallons of pure maple syrup. The first question people ask is "what do you do with it all?" Much is given to the people that come and help, some is donated some as gifts and some sold trying to recover the costs. It is a lot of work but having pure maple syrup is an incredible reward. Enjoying the time together with all our friends in the woods and at the camp is a bonus.
In March 2018, the Hungry Beaver Sugar Camp was selected as the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers Association Producer of the quarter. A very nice and humbling honor considering so many more qualified people are involved in this fun hobby.
The maple syrup season at the camp just keeps expanding. Often times on weekends there are 20+ people there, often for a big pancake breakfast. Taking boiling hot pure maple syrup right out of the cookers, is pretty tasty! Basically the collecting and cooking process has turned into a party on the weekends. After a long cold winter, people are anxious to get outside again. From tapping to collecting, boiling, filtering, bottling and eating, everyone participates. Then everyone goes home with fresh pure maple syrup. It is a pretty 'sweet' deal!
The pictures below only provides a small sampling of the many activities that takes place during this very special time at the camp. The sweet smell of the sap cooking and the occasional tasting can only be done in person and is something everyone should experience! The kids that have become involved will have lifetime memories and that is one of the things that keeps me going. If it wasn't for all the help, we just couldn't or I'll say "wouldn't do it on this scale." Thankfully, enough friends know the entire process and have keys to the camp now so we don't need to be on hand the entire time (but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.) We were once in Mexico and I learned a crew of our friends had gone to the camp for the weekend, collected and cooked sap. It was great! Then again in 2020, I was stuck in Texas due to Covid and a group went out and did the entire process without me even ever getting home.
Syrup season takes a hard toll on the camp roads because of the mud and spring break-up. Each year, the primary roads need considerable maintenance after the season and get replanted with grasses and clovers. Like anything, there is always more to the equation that meets the eye.
To make sap collecting as easy as possible we have selected five areas to tap each of these areas either have a very high concentration of maple trees are are right off the existing roads to keep the sap collection tanks as close to the trees as possible.
The areas are:
1. Maple Valley 176 taps
2. Mid Maple 22 taps
3. West Maple 39 taps
4. Maple Heights 120 taps
5. Maple Groove 43 taps
In 2020 due to the Covid -19, I was unable to make it back to Minnesota for syrup season. Four of my buddies and their families proceeded to " Get-R-Done". They only ran operations for less than a week and produced 10 gallons of syrup before shutting it done due to restrictions on social distancing. They tapped, collected, cooked, filtered, bottled and cleaned! Great friends!!!
As for the choke cherry and apple syrup, the choke cherry is a early August process and apple mid to late September. In 2018 we completed 6 gallons of choke cherry syrup and 7 gallons of apple syrup. We even did some wild grape syrup. Everyone has their favorite flavor, but the maple is definitely the one that takes the most work!