/Local syrup producers take advantage of warm weather
Rick Wood checks his reservoir of sap harvested this year.

Local syrup producers take advantage of warm weather

by Thomas Smith

“I retired 10 years ago, first it started off as a hobby, 80 trees on buckets, the second year it went to 225 trees on buckets, then it just kept going up from there,” says Rick Wood. “Three years ago, we were almost at 1000, then I realized that I was getting older. Now we are at about 850”

“There is hardly no snow in the bush,” says Rick Wood,“compared to most years. Usually when you are tapping the trees, you are in waist deep snow.”

In years past, Wendy and Rick Wood would not start tapping their trees until February 18th and not begin boiling for syrup until March 3rd, says Rick Wood.

“March 3rd was our earliest boil to date.” says Rick.

“He starts a little bit earlier as soon as it starts warming up because he cleans all the lines and he wants warmer weather to pump water through the lines,” explains Wendy Wood.  “Normally when we do get that warmer trend in February, he’s just getting the lines running.”

“It usually took me 10 days to get tapped whereas this year I did it in about five to six just because the snow wasn’t as deep”

“‘We belong to the OMSPA, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association,” explains Wendy Wood. “All the people were talking like who’s tapping, who’s not.”

“”You get a pretty good idea,” explains Wendy Wood, “Like southern Ontario, they’re all taps. Some of them, it was the end of January, or even tapping them earlier this year.”

“It’s getting earlier and earlier every year,” says Rick.

The Woods have noted that there has definitely been a change, but say that they have not been doing it as long as other maple veterans, who have 20+ years of experience.

For 40 years, Wendy Wood has been an artist. Her artwork primarily consists of landscape paintings and fibre art. Wendy was the one who suggested that Rick begin tapping the maple trees on their property.

“When we started we had put the generic label on it,” says Wendy Wood. “Then, the second year, my son said to me, why don’t you just do your own label?

“It’s a unique label too,” says RIck Wood, “I think actually, that helps with sales just because it is something slightly different and it’s good syrup.”

The Woods sell their maple syrup under the label The Colour of Wood and it can be found in stores such as Abbey Gardens, Organic Times, and the Rail’s End Art Gallery.

“I honestly think it is going to be really short and quick and that we are going to have an early spring, but who knows”

The Woods earn enough from their syrup to break even and say it is more of a hobby.

“I always kid I used to make thousands, now I make hundreds.” jokes Rick Wood.

 While it is possible to turn the syrup into butter and hard candies, the machines required to make the products are not worth it to their small operation, says Rick Wood.

Rick and Wendy Wood are originally from Brantford, near Ancaster. When they first began tapping their trees in 2014, Rick was mentored by Ron Reid on Kushog Lake Road.

“If anyone’s thinking about doing it as a larger thing other than for personal, definitely be a member [of OMSPA]] ‘cause there’s a lot of free information and you have to follow certain codes, especially with the labelling and everything.”

The two joined OMSPA before beginning their syrup production to learn the skills involved with harvesting maple syrup, gain access to experienced producers, and hit the ground running with harvesting. Everything from forest management to pests, the OMSPA provides for syrup producers.

Rick and Wendy Wood’s favourite uses of maple syrup is as a sweetener in things like smoothies and in BBQ sauce.

Wendy recommends the Maple Royale cocktail:

½ shot whiskey of choice

½ shot of The Colour of Wood maple syrup

Drank as a delicious shooter.

“Since we started making maple syrup, we stopped buying sugar.” says Wendy Wood. The Woods use maple syrup for both cooking and baking, replacing sugar almost entirely as a delicious and locally produced sweetening agent.

“We need more snow in the bush so that it will keep the ground cold longer.  It all depends on Mother Nature, it has to get cold and warm and it can’t get above 13 degrees for a couple days in a row. It’s over when the buds grow on the trees. That’s when the syrup goes buddy. It has an off flavour, that’s when it is finished.”

“Sap is like a thermometer. All the sap is at the bottom of the base when it is cold,” explains Rick Wood, “and when it goes up, it goes up the tree to wake up the tree, then when it gets cold at night it all goes back down again. When you get the sap is when it is going up the tree, when it is getting warm.”

It cycles every day, just like a heart, says Rick.

The 370 taps on the south part of their property produce the same amount of sap as the 580 taps on the northern part of their property. This is because the south side warms up quicker and can run longer, explains Rick Wood.

Their property is a managed forest and has been since before the couple purchased the property.

“That’s one of the reasons why we bought this property,” says Wendy Wood, “was because the forest was in such nice shape.”

All of the taps and lines that the Woods use for their syrup production run on gravity fed lines. A vacuum system would not be worth the investment at this time, says Rick Wood.

“Sometimes if you tap early, you can dry up your taps but I haven’t seen that.. The big guys tap 10,000 to 20,000 trees,” explains Rick Wood. “They have to run early due to using a vacuum system.”

“Every year, we have on average 20 boils. This year we have had 2, which is 10 per cent of our crop.”

In recent years, the Woods have invested in a reverse osmosis (RO) machine to assist in syrup products. While the syrup straight from the tree has a sugar content of 2 per cent, the RO machine can make the sap have a sugar content of 7 or 8 per cent. For each doubling percentage of sugar content, it reduces half the water, says Rick.

Boiling the sap In their sugar shack is a labour of love. Rick must refill the boiler’s firewood supply every 15 minutes, keeping him awake throughout the night.

The Woods would like to extend an invitation to the Colour of Wood’s Open House for the Maple Weekend celebrations on April 6-7 located at 1255 Peterson Rd.