Sugar maples in spring

The maple syrup making process

Every spring the trees give up their glorious sap

The basic process

When spring days get above freezing, the sap begins to flow from the sugar maple trees. Sap flows best when the temperature is below freezing at night, then thaws during the day. In Northern Michigan, the main sap flow usually occurs during March. The sap is collected, then boiled down in an evaporator. When it reaches the perfect temperature, it is drawn off, filtered and bottled.

The flavor and color of the maple syrup can change dramatically throughout the season. The first sap produces syrup that is very light in flavor and color. Mid-season syrup is more flavorful and is a rich amber color. Late-season syrup can become a deep caramel color and has a stronger maple flavor that is great for use in cooking.

Phillip tapping the maple trees

Tapping trees

The Harwood Gold process

The Parsons family has tapped the maple trees surrounding Charlevoix, Michigan's Harwood Lake every spring since the late 1800's. Tapping a maple tree causes no permanent damage if care is taken, and a tree may yield sap for over 100 years. Tapping the trees is the most labor intensive part of making maple syrup. It has to be done before the sap begins to flow, typically in February, so that usually means trudging through lots of snow. Our new system of lines is higher in the trees and can stay in the sugarbush year-round, so now we just flush the lines in early spring and tap them into the trees. The lines are on a vacuum system which pulls the sap into collection tanks, then it gets pumped through underground pipes up to the sap-house on the farm.

Sap flowing into our collection center

Sap flowing into our collection center

Maple syrup evaporator

Our evaporator boiling down the sap

Once the sap is up at the farm, it is pumped through a reverse osmosis machine which removes a large amount of water. The concentrated sap then goes to a holding tank which feeds into the evaporator, and the evaporation process begins. The temperature is closely monitored as the sap is boiled. The temperature at which sap becomes syrup varies depending on the barometric pressure, but it is basically 7° higher than the boiling point of water. When it reaches the perfect temperature, it is quickly drawn off the evaporator.

When the syrup is drawn off, it goes into a steam kettle where it is brought to the correct density; it must read 66.5 on a Brix scale to be classified as syrup. Once it is syrup (it is usually pretty close when it comes off the evaporator), it is pumped through a filter press and into storage kegs and barrels. We bottle it as needed, and maple syrup is the only sweetener we use in all of our products. You can browse our products in our online store, visit us at our new store in downtown Charlevoix, or check out these other places that carry our products.

Bottling maple syrup

Bottling the final product

Labeling our maple syrup

Last step - labeling the maple syrup bottles

If you are interested in learning more about how we make our maple syrup, our Syrup Season Open-House has now become an annual tradition. Each year during syrup season, we host an open-house so you can tour our facilities, see the entire maple syrup making process, and sample some amazing foods made with our pure maple syrup. We do it as part of the Michigan Maple Syrup Association's Michigan Maple Weekend. We are in the Northern Lower Michigan tour, which is usually in late March. Check back on our Events page in February for all the details.

We also host field trips from local schools each spring. If you are interested in bringing your class out to the farm for a fascinating field trip, just call (231) 547-2038 for more information and scheduling. We are located approximately 10 miles south of downtown Charlevoix (map).

Class trip to learn about maple syrup

Dave Parsons talking to a third grade class about making maple syrup