Syrup operation brings back sweet memories
By Chris Adams, Contributing Writer
Each winter when he was growing up in the southwestern Michigan town of Paw Paw, Steve Carr would go from maple tree to maple tree on the family farm collecting buckets of sap that would be made into syrup.
“I always wanted to get back into it,” said Steve, now a longtime Hoosier, having lived with his wife, Jane, on their 3D Valley Farm in Depauw for almost 40 years. “The biggest problem down here is the weather.”
Despite the challenges from the warmer temperatures, when the opportunity to purchase 34 acres of maple trees south of Hardinsburg presented itself five years ago, Steve and Jane jumped on it.
While the process of extracting the sap from the trees has modernized from when Steve was a boy, it’s basically the same, involving patience, hard work and, of course, the right weather.
“We need that freezing and thawing,” Steve said. “We need warm, sunny days, where the temperature is up in the mid-40s, and then we need freezing nights, where that temperature drops down below freezing. That way the sap goes up and down in that tree.”
The Carrs produced 600 gallons of maple syrup last season.
“Last year was just an exceptionally good year,” Steve said.
This year’s not starting off quite as good because there hasn’t been as much thawing and freezing due to warmer temperatures, but Steve remains optimistic that the season will be a good one.
“It’s early,” he said a few weeks ago. “We just kind of really got started here in January, and so we’ve got probably another four good weeks of maple syrup season. What happens is, when the trees start to bud out, the sap becomes a little bitter. So, that’s when we’ve got to quit.”
Walk the Carrs’ property and you’ll see a system of lines, similar to a subway. However, instead of taking passengers from one location to another, the lines transfer sap from the maple trees to three 1,500-gallon tanks.
In all, 2,000 taps were inserted into the trees this year, with each tree having two or three. Eight of the trees — the only ones that have gravity, instead of vacuum, lines — serve as test trees to see how well the sap is flowing.
“We started tapping this, it was the 18th of December, just before Christmas,” Steve said. “So, what we think is we can start tapping our trees a little earlier.”
The sap drips from the trees through 3/16-inch drop lines into a tube and then into a one-inch main line that leads to the three holding tanks at the lowest elevation point.
The vacuum pump pulling down the drips of sap runs 24 hours a day throughout the season. Steve said the goal is for it to pull the sap at a rate of 28 pounds per square inch.
While Steve would like to see the ratio at 40-to-1, it typically takes about 50 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. That means to produce the 600 gallons of syrup a year ago, approximately 30,000 gallons of sap was tapped from the trees.
“Everything that we produced from this woods last year we sold,” he said.
The collected sap is sent to a local producer, where it is boiled down and turned into syrup.
“Our maple syrup is about as all natural as what you can get,” Steve said.
In addition to the regular syrup, a bourbon barrel-aged variety is produced.
“We take a bourbon whiskey barrel and we age it, our regular maple syrup, in it, seven months, and then we have to reheat it, refilter it and then bottle it off,” Steve said.
The bourbon barrel-aged variety, which was added after the regular syrup, has proven popular, he said, noting customers have told him they like to use it as a rub on salmon when grilling.
“It was just another way for us to market our product,” Steve said.
Both varieties of maple syrup are sold at the New Albany Farmers Market, where the Carrs set up each Saturday, as well as at their 3D Valley Farm Store on their farm in Depauw and online.
Jane, who handles the mail orders, said that has been a good addition for the business, as they have shipped as far away as northern Indiana, South Carolina and even Hawaii.
Besides the syrup, the tree sap is used to make maple sugar, and Jane added they are thinking of producing a health drink from the sap.
The maple syrup production is just a part of the larger 3D Valley Farm operation that includes open-pasture, grass-fed Angus beef — all without hormones and antibiotics — and pork, along with free-range eggs.
The eggs are from 500 chickens on the old Berkshire Farm just down the road from the Carrs’ farm, where their daughter, Jo Ellen Harshey lives. With the days getting longer, Harshey said, it’s not unusual to gather more than 20 dozen eggs a day.
Harshey said the eggs are “very rich” and that people like the dark orange yolks and that they are free range and locally produced.
In addition to Harshey, the Carrs’ other two daughters, Morgan Moore and Leigh Carr Bovaird, are involved in the farm. While Moore, who lives nearby, is at the farm almost daily, Bovaird lives in Hawaii, but still participates in conversations about the farm’s direction.
While the maple syrup operation has brought back some good memories from his time growing up in Michigan, Steve said he also is excited to be able to share a part of his childhood with his daughters and grandchildren.
“But we didn’t do it this way,” he said of the vacuum pump. “We had the old buckets, and we used to go around to each tree and collect one bucket at a time, put it into a drum and then haul it in to get boiled down.”
For more information about 3D Valley Farm and its products, visit www.3dvalleyfarm.com or call 812-347-2846.