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Extreme weather creates steady flow of maple sap
Indiana Correspondent

SALEM, Ind. — It’s February, one of the most dreary, cold and unpredictable months in Indiana and a sure cause of cabin fever. Balmy days give way to sub-freezing nights.

But for Mike Goering, the extreme weather patterns are as welcome as a sunny vacation on a tropical beach.

“The more dynamic the weather, the better,” Goering said. “In February, people are always saying ‘I hate this weather.’ I want the worst weather.”

The reason: Extreme temperatures create a steady flow of maple sap, and Goering has been tapping trees and making pure maple syrup for 22 years. He and his wife Leane have produced more than 11,000 gallons over the years, making them the largest producer of pure maple syrup in Indiana.

During those years, production fluctuated from a low of 300 gallons of syrup to their best year of 1,400 gallons - all dependent on the weather.

Leane compared syrup making to other agriculture ventures, all subject to weather as a risk factor.

“With the warm January, we wondered if we would have a good year at all,” she said.

“But we are, and the sap is running great. It’s the freeze/thaw cycles that we need.”

Mike had bought the secluded acreage in southern Indiana in the early 1980s when a friend suggested he tap into the abundance of hard maple trees for sap.

The idea of using a natural, sustainable resource to produce a popular commodity captured his imagination and would not let go. When he married native New Yorker Leane a few years later, she was introduced to the new family business.

“I had gone on a field trip once to a syrup farm, but I never dreamed I would end up in the business,” she said.

By day, Mike is a civil engineer working as the county’s solid waste district manager. But February finds him taking several weeks off work to start tapping in the “sugarbush,” or maple grove, of 2,000 sugar, black and red maples on the farm. This begins many 18-20 hours days.

“We tapped eight straight days,” he said, drilling approximately 4,200 tapholes and an average of two tapholes per tree.

During the season, each tree will yield about 15-20 gallons of sap per tree. About 14 miles of ultraviolet tubing carries the sap from the trees downhill to collection tanks. Vacuum pumps help draw the sap from the trees.

When the collection tanks are full, the sap is hauled by tank on a wagon behind the tractor to the holding tanks at the sugarhouse.

Sap is sterilized by being pumped past an ultraviolet light before going through the reverse osmosis machine, which speeds the evaporation process by removing as much as one-half the water from the sap.

The sap flows from the RO to the wood-fired evaporator, which evaporates from 200 to 300 gallons of water from the sap per hour.

The Goerings fill about 7,000 jugs of maple syrup each year. Indiana maple syrup is darker and has a fuller flavor than East Coast syrup.

“Indiana rarely produces more than 10,000 gallons of maple syrup a year,” Mike said. By contrast, Vermont produced 430,000 gallons in 2003.

This farm news was published in the February 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.