Maple syrup flows at Clayhill Farm and Forest
Clayhill Farm and Forest open their doors Saturday, April 15, to show guests how they produce maple syrup.
BRAINERD — The sap flow this season was at a crawl thanks to a late and unusual spring at Brainerd’s Clayhill Farm and Forest.
In partnership with Northland Arboretum, Judy and Harry Worm, owners of Clayhill Farm and Forest, opened up their land Saturday, April 15, to show guests how they produce maple syrup.
“This farm has been in my family for 65 years,” Judy Worm said. “So this land is pretty near and dear to me, in how we take care of it and that we leave it better than we found it.”
Judy Worm let everyone in attendance know the land they are on is a working farm, not a petting zoo, and asked them to be cautious as they walked around. Guests were asked not to touch the animals before the end of the tour as they keep the animals and food production separate to avoid contamination.
Harry Worm said sap production this year is down because of the warm temperatures that refused to leave the area.
“What we need for sap is 40s during the day and 20s during the night,” Harry Worm said. “You need that freeze/thaw, which makes the trees contract and expand. Essentially becoming a great big pump.”
A typical tree produces around a gallon or more of sap daily. Harry Worm said that without the freezing and thawing, a tree will produce around a cup of sap a day and will stop producing after a few days of warm weather.
On April 15, Harry Worm said they were able to collect 240 gallons of sap during this season, boiling it down to about 30 gallons. On Thursday, April 20, after a few colder nights, he said they had collected around 650 gallons and expected to collect more through the weekend.
The Worms told the group they would be walking around the farm to the three major steps in the maple syrup process — the collection, the cooking and a taste test with some learning.
“When we first started it was a milk jug hanging on a tree or any container that we had,” said Billy Olmsted, the Worms’ nephew who was leading the group through the woods.
Olmsted said they tap about 600 trees on the property every year and have started using tubing to make collection easier — unless you count the squirrels throwing a wrench into their plans and chewing holes into their collection lines.
The industry standard is to use trees that are at least 7 inches around at breast height, Olmsted said.
Finding the tap hole from the previous year, Olmsted moves clockwise 2 inches and drills a new hole to put the tap into.
Using both collection lines and buckets, Olmsted said when the sap is flowing he takes an all-terrain vehicle with a 150-gallon tank on a trailer around the farm collecting sap and bringing it to the cooking shack, where they have multiple collection tanks.
After collection, the sap is run through a reverse osmosis machine to remove some of the water before boiling, Harry Worm said. The sap is water and sugar — getting some of the water out of the sap before boiling speeds up the cooking process.
Running a chimney temp of around 800 degrees, Harry Worm said about 80% of the water in the sap is cooked out on the table. Using a mix of hard and soft woods, the fire is fed wood about every eight minutes to keep up the temperature.
“We are trying to run from 67.1 to 67.9% sugar,” Harry Worm said. “Under 67.1 has a likelihood of spoiling in the jar and above 67.9 will crystallize in the jar.”
After the syrup is collected, it is then filtered to remove the excess mineral content before it is bottled.
Syrup gets bottled at around 180 degrees to make sure the bottle and cap are sanitized.
With 10 bottles on the table showing the progression of the syrup’s color as the season progressed, Judy Worm spoke to the group about taste and color.
She said the lighter color syrup usually happens towards the beginning of the season with the syrup getting darker and developing a richer flavor as the season progresses. The lighter colors have a sweeter taste, Judy Worm said.
“Typically, your table syrup for your breakfast, your pancakes, your french toast, is probably a lighter syrup,” Judy Worm said. “If you do any cooking, the darker one, that strong flavor is going to come through.”
They use glass to not impart any flavors into their syrup and to show off the product they work so hard to produce.
With hopes of one last sap run before the end of the season Judy Worm said she doesn't consider herself a gambling person, “but when you're in farming, you're gambling every day.”
TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email email@example.com .