Sticking with the sweetener the forest gave us
We cannot believe that it is already March!! But here it is, days of 40 to 50 degrees and nights dropping down to the 20s and teens, days are getting longer, and we are beginning to start a few of our seedlings here at the farm. But what does March 1st really mean? Maple syrup season! Now don’t get us wrong, some years we tap our maple trees before March 1st, depending on temperatures and weather conditions. Sometimes we will tap as early as the middle of February, but the unofficial start of maple season to us is March 1st, but the only thing that we are truly sure of is that once the maple sap starts running it sends us running! Into a 3-to-4-week frenzy of visiting sap barrels, checking sap lines,
stoking fires in the evaporator and bringing that once semisweet sap to a delicious 221-degree syrup and bottling to sell at the farm stand. We just wanted to give you all a little peek into how we operate at Levesque’s farm and talk about equipment and techniques that we use along with touching on a couple of pieces of information that we think you folks might find interesting.
First, let's talk about trees. Maine is filled with different kinds of maple trees, we have Red
Maple, Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, and Moose maple just to name a few, and from what we have heard from our patrons and other acquaintances that have not done maple syrup before is that you can only tap Sugar maples right? The answer to this is no, while Sugar maples do consistently have the highest sugar content in their sap, studies by both the University of Maine and the University of Vermont, not to mention some first-hand tasting of our own, has shown that Red Maples commonly will have sugar content equal to or greater than Sugar maples. However, with these highs also comes the lows with the
Red maples. While some Red Maples will stand toe to toe with sugar content in Sugar maples, some red maples will have less than half the sugar content in their sap. On that note, do not tap Silver Maples or Moose Maples - it just won't end up going that well for you.
Now, what are we looking for out of our trees to be considered a good maple producer with
good sugar content? The tree should be of good health (always check for mushrooms, woodpecker holes, dead or dying limbs) and with a large full canopy that gets morning light. The faster the tree heats up, the quicker the sap will start running. The trunk of the tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter to be large enough for 1 tap, a 24-inch tree can have 2 taps and a large tree of 30+ inches can have 3 taps. We suggest never putting more than 3 taps in a tree. A healthy tree will produce sap that has a sugar content between 2-3%, sometimes that content will go up to 5% which would be exceptional. With only 2-3% sugar coming out of a tree you might be asking yourself, what percentage of sugar is my Maple syrup? And exactly how much sap did it take to make it? Well, the answers are 66% sugar to the first question and 40 gallons to the second question. However, as the year goes on and the spring draws nearer the sugar content and maple sap will begin to decrease which leads to a higher ratio of sap to syrup. As stated previously, the first run of sap will produce a 40 to 1 ratio of sap to syrup, and on a good year it can be around 35 to 1 but come the end of the year when the sugar content is at its worst you will see ratios of 80 to 1 or sometimes as bad as 100 to 1 sap to syrup. Just some quick math, if you want to produce 10 gallons of syrup and your average ratio is 65 to 1, you will need to collect around 650 gallons of sap, or 130 five-gallon buckets. How is it collected you might ask? Well, as of 3 years ago we began using pipelines here at Levesque’s and we must say it is much better than hauling 5-gallon buckets through the snow! We use a 5/16 pipe that zigs and zags between our trees at a consistent downward slope till it reaches our 55-gallon collection drums. On a single 5/16 line you can only use 20 taps, any more than 20 will cause a suction and not allow the sap to flow. On an average year we will use upward of a mile of these lines, that can be reused for up to 3 years, and we will use about 150 taps. On a good day of sap flow, we will collect upwards 200 gallons of sap to process. The process of turning the sap to syrup is a bit of a monotonous one. We have an 8’x2’ wood fired evaporator that will boil up to 20 gallons of sap per hour, so some more quick math, after a good sap day you're looking at a 10 hour day the next day to boil the sap. We use the big evaporator to get our sap to reach between 214 and 215 degrees, at which point we will draw off roughly 3-5 gallons of sap that has been boiled to a sugar content around 40 percent and then transfer it to our propane finishing pan. You may ask why the transfer? Consistency, as much as we appreciate a good wood fire and all the heavy lifting our wood fired evaporator does, we cannot shut the heat off at the perfect time like we can with propane. In the propane finisher we will let our sap get to about 221 degrees before we start to test for syrup density. The density we are looking for is 66 to 68 on the brix scale, where 1 brix is 1% sugar 66 to 68% sugar is the perfect density for syrup to not allow mold growth due to abundance of water. At 221 we will draw off a small amount of syrup into a float cup and drop a calibrated glass hydrometer into the cup, the hydrometer will float in the syrup showing a brix reading on the scale in the hydrometer,
between that reading and knowing the temperature of your syrup and some quick math (or looking up a chart online) you will be able to tell your exact brix of your syrup. At 66 brix it is out of the finisher and into bottles and ready for sale!
Well folks there it is, a quick synopsis of the sap season on the farm. We didn't cover everything, but then again, we didn't want to keep you reading till April either. We hope you enjoyed it and will talk to you in April where things are going to really start humming on the farm so stay tuned for some
The applications window for CSA membership for our 2023 season opens March 15, 2023. Click on the link below to read more about it and to sign up.
This month we intend to finish the final touches on the greenhouse that we started construction on last fall. For the most part, electrical wiring, furnace installation, and a few other odds and ends are all that’s left! The sawmill has been busy! We have been sawing out lumber for several upcoming projects, chief of which is the expansion to the farm stand.
We have started repairing some of our existing greenhouses! Every season, our greenhouses take a lot of wear and tear, so every few years we need to go through and replace plastic, doors, vents, anything that isn’t working as expected.
As the above article indicated, its sap season! The evaporator has been boiling away as we continue to produce some delicious Maple Syrup!
Seeds have been started, only a few varieties so far, but some of our seedlings are already up and
growing. Hopefully they will be in the ground before we know it!
"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the
earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my
righteousness will never fail.” Isaiah 51:6
“Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you
will answer me..” Psalm 86:6-7
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him
who is true. And we are in him who is true — even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal
life.” 1 John 5:20
Baked Potato Soup
• 4 large russet potatoes, equal to 2 lbs.
• 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
• 6 slices thick cut bacon
• 1 large yellow onion
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 Tablespoon butter
• 1⁄4 cup flour
• 3 1⁄2 cups Chicken broth
• 2 cups half and half
• 3⁄4 cup sour cream
• 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
• 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
• 1/8 cup chives, finely diced
• Cut the bacon into 1-inch squares with kitchen shears. Cook in a large pot over low heat,
rotating occasionally. They’ll overlap at first but will shrink down as they cook. Remove and set
aside once crisp. Leave 2 Tablespoons of drippings in the pot.
• While the bacon cooks, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Add to a stock pot
and cover the potatoes with 1 inch of water. Add the salt and boil gently for 20 minutes or until
very fork tender. Drain, then gently mash. Set aside.
• Add the diced onion to the pot with the bacon drippings and cook until softened, about 5
• Add garlic and butter and cook 1 more minute.
• Whisk in flour, use a silicone spatula to stir as the flour cooks for 1 full minute to remove the
raw flour taste.
• Add the chicken broth. Use a silicone spatula to loosen any bacon remnants from the bottom of
the pot, this will add flavor.
• Slowly add the half and half. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
• Stir in the potatoes, then mix in the sour cream, and pepper.
• Remove from heat. If desired, blend with an immersion blender or transfer it to a blender in
batches. (I prefer to do this for a creamier and smoother consistency.)
• Gradually sprinkle with shredded cheese and stir until combined. Make sure the base of the
soup isn’t too hot or the cheese won’t melt creamy and smooth. The soup will continue to
thicken as it sits.
• Garnish with chives and bacon, serve!