- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

MITCHELLSBURG, Ky. (AP) - Now that winter has finally taken a vacation, it’s busy time for Joyce and Gary Taylor.

The sap is rising in the maple trees scattered about Knob View Farm, where the Taylors have recently added syrup making to their homegrown, certified organic family farming operation that also includes beef cattle, several greenhouses, honey bees, jellies, jams and various pickled products.

“When the temperature goes from below freezing up into the 40s, that will make the sap start doing its thing,” Joyce said on a recent day when the mercury climbed near 60. “The sap is running awesome today, and when it gets to running it will keep you going just about 24 hours a day.”

With a $500 investment, the Taylors took up syrup making last winter as slow-time-on-the-farm project for Gary, who had just retired after working as a maintenance man for Boyle County schools. They are among only a handful of folks in the area that make maple real syrup for resale.

The Taylors learned the ropes last season and had great success with the limited supply they were able to produce.

“People went nuts over it,” Gary recalled. “We got a lot of people wanting it.”

To meet the expected demand, the Taylors have dozens of maples - sugar maples are best, Gary said, but any variety will do - tapped and spilling sap into five-gallon buckets and specially made heavy plastic bags.

Tapping a tree takes seconds. Gary drilled a quarter-inch hole about three feet up from the ground, inserted a little spigot and immediately sap began drip-drip-dripping like a leaky kitchen faucet. Plastic tubes direct the watery sap into the containers.

With the sap running high on this day, Gary said that a tree tapped about 4 p.m. would fill up the five-gallon bucket to overflowing by the next morning. Multiply that by dozens of trees and you’ve got a lot of sap.

But it takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. The sap comes out of the tree with a sugar content of about 3 percent. Boiling the sap to 221 degrees reduces and thickens it while boosting the sugar content up to 66 percent, the perfect sweetness for syrup.

“That’s why maple syrup is so expensive: It’s a long process,” Joyce said.

The Taylors sell their syrup at the Boyle County Farmers Marker in little plastic jugs for $10 a pint or $6 a half pint.

Like their other farm endeavors, syrup making is a family affair for the Taylors. Their daughter Ashley Miller lives nearby and her three girls - Kaylee, 13, Maddie, 10, and Gracie, 4 - all pitch in, as do other grandkids. The kids work willingly collecting the sap, in part, because they enjoy the end product so much they drink it straight, no chaser.

“If you don’t keep an eye on the grandkids they’ll drink it all up,” Joyce said.

The Taylors have been finding new uses for the syrup beyond topping pancakes and waffles. Gary recently glazed a pork loin and Joyce added a shot to baked beans with tasty results.

“There were no leftovers,” Joyce said.

While syrup making involves quite a bit of work and the return on the resources invested is relatively small, the Taylors aren’t complaining. It’s a sweet complement to their homemade, family-oriented, nature-loving lifestyle, and it contributes to their overall farm income.

“We love the woods anyway, just getting out there hunting mushrooms, hunting ginseng,” Joyce said. “The maple syrup is just another excuse to get out in the woods.”

It also provides the couple a chance to hang out in their “sugar shack,” a three-sided shed next to their home where they keep the stove stoked with wood to cook the sap down to syrup, sometimes well into the night.

“We’ll sit out here while it’s cooking and we’ll farm in our minds, planning out what we need to do,” Gary said. “When you figure in all the man-hours, it’s not much money, but it’s better than sitting on the couch and watching TV.”

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