By Sue Moore
A free breakfast of pancakes and pure maple syrup awaits those people who come to Butternut Creek’s Sugar Shack on from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 14-15, at 24890 Flach Road, Mendon.
Along with the breakfast is an opportunity to walk or ride through the sugar bush, the wooded area where Terry Moyer taps his maple trees to start the maple syrup process. Moyer taps his own trees, boils down the sap in his evaporator on site, bottles it and then sells small quantities of it each year. He expects to tap a few neighbors’ trees too, with about 500 total taps. Last year he ended up with about 100 gallons of syrup for the season.
Visitors to Moyer’s Sugar Shack can also expect a ride through the woods on either day at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 2:30 p.m., weather permitting. He will be demonstrating the art of making maple syrup, reducing the sap into what ends up as seemingly minute quantities of syrup. There will be sausage and drinks to accompany the pancakes and syrup, along with cookbooks and maple syrup for sale. The meal will be served inside a heated garage, but if venturing outside, guests will need to bundle up, Moyer remarked. He has lots of helpers on site to join in the fun and work the syrup making process, but he could always use more extra hands.
The season for tapping maple trees is a small window of about three weeks in March, depending largely upon the weather, according to Bob Smith, another area syrup maker. He expects to tap 270 trees this year with four taps to a tree if they are large maples. He mostly taps trees along 28th Street, U Avenue, and on Richardson’s Farms, by getting permission from the land owners. Each tree gives about 11 gallons per tap and Smith goes about collecting sap every day in his pickup truck equipped with a 55-gallon drum. He uses a pump to transfer the sap from each barrel attached to a tapped tree. He claims he doesn’t even get sticky with all of this transferring of sap. He will drive each day to a place in Watervliet where a large evaporator boils it down into maple syrup.
The temperature needs to reach at least 32 degrees during the day for the sap to begin running, Smith said. The season begins when the sun starts to hit the canopy of the trees, drawing the sap out of the roots of the trees. When the temperature drops at night, the sap moves back down to the roots. It’s about a three week window for the sap to run. Once it gets too warm, the resulting product starts to turn bitter and cloudy. At that point it’s thrown away, Smith explained.
Moyer and Smith live only seven miles apart, but it took a meeting in northern Michigan at the Michigan Maple Syrup Association for them to get acquainted. Smith’s wife Kathy and Moyer’s girlfriend Kathy now often serve as judges for the blind tastings the association sponsors each year where they award medals for the best maple syrup producers around the state. Moyer has hosted Open Houses for tours of his property for other producers, and offered the free breakfast since 2013. He says he does this to introduce all those interested in learning more about the process of making this all natural product.
Pure maple syrup is deemed to be much better for the individual to eat, in place of processed food made with high fructose corn syrup. Moyer spends a lot of time getting ready for the season by cleaning his tanks and hose lines with bleach and peroxide. He places a huge emphasis on cleanliness and battles squirrels constantly who are attracted to any salt on the exterior of the plastic pouches. The salt invites them to chew through the plastic.
Smith sells his syrup at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market and sold all 217½ gallons he made in 2014. Moyer sells his syrup from his Sugar Shack on Flach Road.
Directions to 24890 Flach Road, Mendon for the Butternut Creek Maple Syrup Event
Coming from Vicksburg, travel east on W Ave. to 27th St. Drive south until the road dead ends (approximately 2 miles). Turn left on YZ and go .4 mile past Ronningen Research. Turn right on 28th Street and drive for .9 mile where it dead ends. Turn left (going east) for .8 mile on Flach Road to a sign that says “member MI Maple Syrup Association.”. Turn left, down a narrow road, into the woods about half a mile, to the Sugar Shack where parking is next to the Moyer home.