HARVEST NOTES: With no time right now to create a real "blog" I am keeping more of a journal of our harvest years. Scroll down to the bottom for harvest notes of old.
5/14/13 Wow! What a season! As I expected, fast and furious. Our first official day was May 4th (average start date is April 18th!). Sap is high in sugar and abundant - that is good, as it looks like it could be a short harvest! But there is snow in the forecast ...
4/29/13We are headed for our latest harvest ever...it's been a long, cold spring. Temp last night was 18 degrees F. Sap starts to flow a bit in the afternoon, but many trees are still dry. All the tubing/vacuum trees are tapped up and we are collecting a bit of sap from them, but the buckets are still on the ground, waiting for better flow. The crew has been putting in gravity lines for more taps; if we are going to have a short one, we just have to tap more trees!
3/31/13 Another season in the woods near Talkeetna is starting! Dylan, India, and Josh arrived early to help install tubing to another 1500 trees. It's a challenge - a combination of physics, design, art, intuition ... they would probably come up with a couple of other descriptions! The rest of the crew arrives this week, and we will be off and running - with a new crew, a new RO (more capacity), a hopefully a sweet harvest. You can check us out on Facebook for pictures and (almost) daily updates. Just click the link at the top of the home page.
5/23/12 We did it again ... held out for a 23 day harvest and, don't tell anyone, but it probably could have been 25;) ... But, as always, there comes a time to clean up the mess and move on to the marketing and selling of our products - the trees had given enough, and we had all had just about enough! Harvest is intense ... hard to describe; you kind of have to be there to understand it. Thanks to our awesome, hard-working crew who all now definitely understand! Final stats (I know there are at least one or two of you waiting for this!): 140,000 gallons of sap collected to produce 1320 gallons of syrup, for a sap:syrup ratio of 106:1. Not bad - these Talkeetna trees are a little sweeter than we thought! A few season sidelines: we had some good pre-season press with a sweet little article in the Wall St Journal on March 3 that generated far more sales than we had syrup. Customers happily pre-ordered this year's harvest, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping us finance the always financially draining harvest. A little pat on the back came in April as we were awarded the "Alaska Manufacturer of the Year" award by the state of Alaska. "Representative for All Alaskans" Don Young was present for a photo op and, while we may not agree with his politics, he's a heck of a nice guy :D. Our final bit of notoriety came from KTVA Channel 11 news in Anchorage in the form of a great story on May 8th. They came up and spent a few hours getting the gist of it and did a beautiful job with the filming and reporting. I'll try to imbed a link if I can figure out how. For now, here is the link so you can try copy and paste to your browser: http://www.ktva.com/home/outbound-xml-feeds/Alaska-Birch-Syrup-Makes-Worldwide-Splash-150628715.html
5/3/12 Day 17 and the battles rage ... I tell the crew that we always lose a few battles along the way but we generally win the war, and they ask "who are we fighting"? I decide it's not really a great metaphor, but it sure feels like it some days. I guess the "conflict" is with Ma Nature ... who likes to throw curve balls at us and challenge us daily. After two weeks of almost record breaking warm temps in Talkeetna - when we're fighting to keep the sap cool and fresh, comes May and we have two days of a hard freeze - temps down to 20 at night. Turns the sap to slush or solid ice, freezes the lines, pumps, and hoses, and makes us all work a lot harder for way less sap! The crew are tired, and in their sunburned faces I can see the question ... "how much longer?" The trees, by the way, are all innocent bystanders - giving what they can, taking what they must. We are hoping they can continue to give a bit for another 5 or 6 days ... and our crew: Margaret, Matt, Kara, Mady, Josh, and Will can continue to collect it and bring it in ... hang in there guys; it's almost over!
4/21/12 Wow, how time flies ... another harvest underway, our 23rd! It's a wild one - I call it "transition" year ... and for anyone who has ever given birth, you know what I mean by transition! We installed 2000 taps on a tubing and vacuum system to see how that works for us, AND have 6 sap suckers here to collect sap from 5000 pails. We also had to hire quite a few "right arms" for Michael as he had shoulder surgery at end of February. Rather hard to fill his shoes ... and those of Charlie, who is not with us this year. Talk about losing two right arms! But we're pulling it off - with "Blue Bus Barb" to cook awesome meals (the kitchen has generally been Michael's domain, but he has very happily let Barb take it over!), Matt (chu Pitchu) to help Michael with everything, and Dylan ARMSTRONG (the perfect right arm;) back for year 3 to run the crew, the truck, and so many other things. Mark, a maple sugaring veteran from Vermont is here to help make syrup, fix equipment, and take over part of Charlie's and Michael's jobs ... I'm thinking he's wondering what happened to those somewhat more idyllic days of making maple on the wood fire cooker ... but he's a great sport, and putting all his wonderful ability and effort into this Alaskan version of "sugaring". The sap suckers, the heart of this operation, are an incredible bunch this year. It was a rough start, both in the woods and in the syrup kitchen, but it's flowin smoother now; five days in, 200 gallons of the sweetest stuff made, and a long ways to go. Sunny skies over Talkeetna make me a little nervous; so we're all hoping for a "sugar snow" or two!
5/18/11 It's over ... whew ... a record 24 day harvest, and a good thing we got those extra few days. The weather cooperated beautifully and the sap was sweet enough to make awesome syrup, but sap yield and sugar content were a bit low. But with the extra days we reached our sap and syrup goals, so are satisfied with the harvest. This year our first batch of syrup, made on 4/19, is an unusual sweet light amber - I call it "ice sap" syrup, as it is produced from sap that is so cold it has ice crystals in it. The sugar composition at the beginning of harvest is quite different than at the end - still mostly fructose, but also a component of sucrose (like maple). It makes for a sweeter syrup. So our first run "Reserve" this year will be bottled as a seperate grade than our "first run" which includes the first week of harvest. Not to be confusing, the first run is always the lightest, early harvested. It's just that this year we got something rather unusual to start off and I want to share it with you! Not sure when I'll get that bottled; we're working very hard to get caught up and get the orders out.
So statistics being important to us ... we collected 115,000 gallons of sap in 24 days (including the sap from our collectors); produced 986 gallons of syrup for a ratio of 117:1. A far cry from what we were used to in the old days (95-100:1), but I think we're going to have to get used to it. Costs were high of course ... I know we're all struggling with the high cost of fuel - up 35% for us this year! Freight costs are through the roof (for the same reason of course) so I'm raising syrup prices not as much as I need to, but hopefully enough to survive! Enjoy the fruits of our labor, and thanks for being such supportive and loyal customers.
4/17/11The sap is running and so are we! Our crew of 7, plus two previous sap suckers down from Fairbanks for the occasion, are out tapping our approximately 4500 trees, as we speak! This year we have Ness, roller derby queen from Anchorage, Adam fresh off the slopes at Breckenridge, JonO (year 3) and Nate just up from working "summer" in Antarctica, Joel - John's bro from Minnesota, and Brandon from down the road in Willow. Dylan has been here since March 1 and has been watching his family grow! Michael has been running the crew, and Charlie is doing some of those last minute chores that for some reason always get left to the last minute ... So, that means we will finish tapping tomorrow, and be collecting and cooking on Tuesday. It's shaping up to be a great harvest. My wish came true and we had a couple of good snowstorms - probably 15" of snow fell early this month. It's sunny and warm during the day right now - but not TOO warm - and quite cold at night in Talkeetna. We have three very enthusiastic sap collecting families this year. They are madly running around in their beautiful birch forests stringing tubing from tree to tree - great labor saving technique! Next year we will likely do the same. We could have up to 3000 more taps between the three of them - and that means up to 3000 extra gallons of sap each day... So if the sap gods smile on us we should make a lot of birch syrup this year!! I am hoping for a sweet, smooth, and stress-free harvest. That's a big order, but I might as well put it in! We should have first run up on the website in a week or so, and look for my harvest report in a month.
3/24/11Happy Spring! Where does the time go? The wather is warming rapidly here in Alaska, and the freeze/thaw is well underway. I am secretly hoping for a bit more wintry weather, but I can't tell my Alaskan friends that! We know that a cooler spring will give us a sweeter harvest. Come mid-May ... bring on the sunshine!! Michael and Dylan, who has returned to us for a second year, are in Talkeetna busy getting everything ready for the upcoming sap harvest - going over the snowmachines and other collection equipment, organizing and cleaning. I am busy ordering the items we will need, doing the taxes, running the business, and trying to think of everything that we might have forgotten!Most of the crew arrives late next week, and we will be on our way to harvest #2 in Talkeetna, and #22 for us! We're hoping for the best one yet!
11/21/2010 As the year draws to an end, it's time to update. After harvest we set about turning our new production facility on the Talkeetna Spur Rd. into our "taste, tour, and shop" facility. Michael built awesome displays and counters inside, we added a beautiful porch on the west side of the building, and created some mighty fine signage. I added a few special items from some of my favorite artists and we opened for business in mid-July. India, our sap-sucker extraordinaire, returned to be our shop-keeper extraordinaire. She - and our shop - got rave reviews from all who passed through in the short two months we were opened. It was a wonderful start to a new chapter in our business. We'll look forward to opening back up in mid-May with many new all-Alaskan culinary and art offerings in addition to a few new products from our own kitchen! Thanks to all who visited. Your support and encouragement made it all a great experience!
6/30/2010 Yes, we did survive the harvest - with our largest harvest ever - and are well into the summer insanity of selling all we produced! Between our own 6 "sap suckers" and the five locals who faithfully brought us sap every day, we processed over 91,000 gallons of sap into syrup! The yield was a little lower than we hoped, and we have expounded upon many theories on why the sugar content was so low - younger trees? Drier, better drained soil? Low snow year? Lower elevation? It goes on and on. Though that was disappointing, we still produced a wonderful crop with the help of many wonderful folks. Thanks to our own hard-working crew: Charlie, back for once again to perform the harvest dance wearing more hats than any of us, Chris Butler, (who made the front page of the Anchorage Daily News - Apr 28th), 2nd year veteran India (returning soon to help "mind the shop"), Dylan and Matt, who are still here helping renovate the "birch barn", John and Maggie who are off on new adventures. Thanks to our local collectors: The Graber family, Dewey and family, Laura, Sarah, Vena and Scott. You all rock!
Stardate 4/9/10: The panic is finally over … we saw first sap at end of March and about flipped out because we REALLY WEREN’T READY!! Late March saw temperatures reaching 50°F during the day and barely freezing at night, if at all. So a few birch trees, being warmth- and sun-loving, decided it was time to start pumping sap. This resulted in several sleepless nights, severe heartburn, and some frantic antics by me, Michael, and our crew, who all finally arrived at the “Birchworks” in Talkeetna by April 2nd. Charlie, our right hand man, dropped everything else in life he was doing (risky, as one of the things he is in his other life is a potter) to come up from Soldotna AK a week earlier than planned. His arrival really helped as Charlie truly knows how to get things done. India returned for a second year after her travels in northern Europe, John and Maggie flew in from Minneapolis, after spending the winter on opposite sides of the globe – John at South Pole Station and Maggie in Namibia! Dylan flew in from Peru, via Boulder, Colorado, and Chris - with us now since mid-February for his third sap harvest - from Michigan’s UP. So, trying to keep in mind Michael’s favorite saying during harvests of past – “What happens if you panic? YOU DIE!!” – we tried to stay the course and continue building, plumbing, rigging, trail-making, bucket washing and deploying, etc. When the nighttime temperatures finally dropped to 16° several days ago, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, slowed down the frenetic pace a bit, and slept peacefully, thankfully. The birch trees on the front lines have retreated back into winter for now, waiting for the true onset of spring. Most Alaskans groaned at the return of the cold, craving warmth and gardening and fishing after the always-too-long winter. But, not us - we rejoice! We really still aren’t ready, but we’re way closer. Pete and Nick are here from Wisconsin and Vermont respectively. They are maple syrup producers and equipment dealers/experts whose families have been in the syrup making business for centuries, I think. They have come to lend their expertise to our harvest -make sure our new evaporator is functioning properly, go over the reverse osmosis with a fine tooth comb, advise us on the maple way of doing things, enjoy a post-maple sugaring respite (by coming to Alaska and experiencing our insanity!) and maybe even getting in some spring halibut fishing … So it goes, and next week we will be impatiently waiting for the sap to run freely so the harvest may begin. Stay tuned! (In the picture: Charlie, Pete, Michael, and Nick in front of the new big rig.)
Stardate 3/19/10: Check it out! - the new evaporator is in! 18 feet long ... that new building is starting to feel a bit small! We'll have to do something about that maple leaf on the front ... Michael and Chris ( returning for his 3rd year to help in this year of transitions) headed out to the homestead today to finish the "great out-migration". We've had ancient snowmachines hauling six wheelers and ancient six wheelers hauling mostly-dead snowmachines; specially made flat-bed sleds loaded with tanks, buckets, pumps, and supplies. There has been a steady stream; a pilgrimage of sorts to a new place. I wonder at the fact that I am not saddened more by this transition. Mostly I enjoy imagining springtime emerging at Quiet Lake, our home, without the cacaphony of pumps and generators, motors, frustration, and laughter ... just the sounds of two rushing rivers in break-up stage, swans and cranes returning overhead, and the joyful sound of birdsong. It was always there, but we could only hear it at night; after the evaporator was shut down, the generator turned off. I remember feeling astonished to hear a flock of cranes coming in low over the homestead in the late twilight hours of an Alaskan spring, as I stumbled exhausted to bed after a long hard harvest day. Those memories will always stay with me and I am sure I will at times miss certain aspects of harvest at Quiet Lake, but I am energized by this new phase of our business. And I can't wait to return to Quiet Lake in the fall, just to enjoy being there. Time goes on, and change is inevitable. The more we can accept that, I feel the more gracefully we come into our middle and later years. While I will always feel the idealism of my words on the home page, I realize that a dose of reality does not ever make them less true. I find I am really ready, finally, for this transition. And I know it will be good in a new and different way.
Stardate 3/10/2010: I think it's time for an update on harvest plans 2010. Our new facility, the "Birchworks" at mile 1.1 of the Talkeetna Spur Rd. is just about ready to go. Finishing touches are in progress, and our new state-of-the-art evaporator is scheduled to arrive Thursday March 18th! I am excited and anxious at the same time. Michael is out at the cabin hauling in all the supplies and equipment that we will need in our new location - including six wheelers, snow machines, sleds, trailers, pumps, pails, on and on and on... it's a big job but close to finished, thanks to many friends who have offered to "haul a load" over the past couple of months. We couldn't have gotten this far without you! I will go out to the homestead this weekend to regroup and restore (and make sure Michael didn't forget anything ;-) ). I look forward to again visiting and thanking the birch trees that have given us so much over the past 20 years as I ski the winding trails through the forest.
Stardate 10/27/09: Well you've probably been waiting for those stats! Here you go: 2009 Stats: 63,000 gallons sap collected;
690 gallons pure organic birch syrup produced ...
As of October 27th ... it's almost gone ...
It's been a busy summer, and we have big news. We purchased property near Talkeetna Alaska and are building a new facility! Wow!! This is a huge step for us; one we've been thinking about and planning for 5 years; just waiting for that perfect spot. Yes, it does mean that we will make most of our syrup in 2010 in a new location ... still in the upper Susitna Valley, but on the road system. We will tap a new forest and have access to many more trees. We will finally be able to increase our production substantially, so that I don't have to say "NO" to anyone who wants syrup again! (many apologies to my friend Tage in Denmark). Our trees at Quiet Lake will appreciate their retirement as much as we appreciate them. I will look forward to relaxing times on the homestead instead of intense harvest seasons ... and maybe I'll get to retire someday too, among the birches that I love. Well, more on this later. In the meantime, enjoy the video that I finally uploaded on our homepage!
A quick update ... harvest ended yesterday; 19.5 days; totals for syrup production not yet in. But I can tell you this ... the syrup is very high in quality, somewhat low in quantity. The sap was very sweet 1.4 - 1.5% most of the harvest and made for awesome sweet, light first run syrup. The harvest was hampered by great weather - it was too sunny and warm! I felt like we were the only Alaskans wishing for cool cloudy days on those 70 degree scorchers! So Ma Nature had her way with us once again - this year, complete with volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt eruptions that wreaked havoc with our equipment. Let's just say we're relieved it's over, and that we did not have a bust harvest! I'll put the stats out as soon as they are available; in the meantime, try our awesome 2009 First Run!!
With our warm spring weather (by Alaska standards anyway!)- up to 50 degrees during the day and freezing at night - the sap has started to run in earnest. We will start tapping our 4,000 trees tomorrow and hope to be finished in two days, so we can start the evaporator on Wednesday! The first syrup-making day is always challenging. The sap suckers are getting used to their sap routes and the blisters on their feet, and the rest of us - syrupmaking and maintenence crew - are ironing the kinks out of the system and doing all those last minute things that somehow were forgotten during the long month of preparation. Sometimes our memories are not jogged until we're actually into the process! Michael, Charlie, and I are all getting a little older ... that's our excuse anyway! First day is also usually our biggest sap day, since half the trees (the ones tapped the first tapping day) collect for two days! Generally a late night and a long day for all ... I will fly out to the homestead on Tuesday morning to head up the syrupmaking for about two weeks. I'll update upon my return ... we're doing our sap dances now in hopes of a sweet, lengthy, and relatively problem-free harvest!
Our 20th Sap Harvest "syrup season" is upon us! I find that number difficult to fathom! It means I have spent a large portion of my life in the pursuit of birch syrup, and my daughters are almost out of the house! Wow - Where does the time go? Reflections aside, we have the makings of a great 20th harvest, I'm happy to report. Our crew is made up of several of our most talented veterans of the sap trenches ... Beren, after an absence of 4 years, has returned for one last season before entering law school; and Robin and Jono - recently "off the ice" (a year in Antarctica) decided Alaska seemed like a warm alternative. Charlie, our mechanic/syrupmaker is back, and we seem to have lost count of his years. Sadly, Cisco - his blue heeler - passed on last month. We will all miss him - especially Chica, our husky mix. We are adding an extra "sap sucker" this year, for a total of 6! Jess, from maple country will be helping us string 200 trees with a tubing/gravity feed system - our experiment for this season. We hope to increase production this year with an additional 500 trees tapped. We decided to circle the wagons, and do all production on the homestead this year. That means I get to go "home" and make syrup this year, for at least the first half of the harvest! That is a good thing! Firewood is cut, and being split, a new bridge access built to new trees, old snowmachines fitted with new parts in hopes they will survive another season. It's a busy as a bee hive out there! I'll keep you posted!
Stardate 6/20/08: Happy Summer Solstice! It's
hard to believe we're a month out from harvest and still scrambling to catch up! Well at least it's light all the time - makes working round the clock a little easier! Final statistics for our challenging, but successful, 2008 harvest:
2008 Season Stats:
• Sap harvested: 62,000 gallons raw sap
• Sap purchased: (roadhouse) 11,000 gallons
• Syrup produced: 732 gallons pure certified organic birch syrup
• Harvest dates: April 24th thru May 19th
• Length of season: 17 days (Roadhouse), 21 days (homestead)
• Number of taps: 4300
• Average sap/tree/day: .8 gallons
• Average syrup produced /tree: 21.75 ounces
Thanks to our fantastic 2008 crew, who didn't give up even when Michael said "this is just too hard..." Thanks Jules, Chris, Misty, Jeff, Ben, and of course Charlie - who had to be head syrupmaker this year and didn't even call me too often to consult - and made awesome birch syrup to boot!!
We made it! Michael was determined to get his 21 day harvest and that's exactly what he did. Harvesting until May 19th...that is the latest we have ever collected sap. Thanks to the powers that be, it DID stay nice and cool til the very end - we are thankful. Final numbers are not in yet, but it will be close to last year, we think. Our "roadhouse" harvest (in town) went a respectable 17 days, until May 10th, and produced a fine harvest. Using a diesel evaporator, instead of the wood-fired I am used to, was an interesting (and expensive!!) change. It's sure way easier (flick a switch - no fire to stoke), but I had to get used to the different heat and dynamics created by constant heat. I missed the wood, but as I was on my own part of the time it was just as well. On the other hand, Charlie - my syrupmaker on the homestead - ran the wood fired evaporator on his own after one of our crew had to leave. Now that's a challenge! The crew is taking the day off, trying to psyche themselves up for washing 3500 pails and lids...it was a tough harvest, but washing all those buckets is no picnic either. I sent supplies out today - including a fair amount of chocolate and a little beer...
For those of you wondering...we are still in the throes of harvest - our second latest ever. It began April 29th on the homestead and a bit earlier in town. Late harvests are generally quite intense; fast and furious ... and every day is a battle with spring break up making access to trees increasingly difficult. This year is no exception! We are hoping that the spring remains cool for another 10 days or so - so we might have a full harvest. Then bring on the Alaskan sunshine! Pure, certified organic birch syrup should be up on the site by this weekend! Hang in there!!
It's that time of year again, and our sap collectors are arriving from Wyoming, Minnesota, South Pole station, and Utah. It has been a warm March, but February was cold with a great deal of snow - so, while most Alaskans are ready for winter to be over, we are hoping for a long, cool spring! That's the best for a good, sweet harvest. In a monumental effort to increase production, Michael and I are dividing our forces and running two evaporators this year. We hope it works and that we're not completely gray by the time we're finished! I have sap collectors from Willow, Big Lake, Wasilla, and Palmer all ready to deliver sap to our satellite syrup production at our "Roadhouse". This will be a new experience for me - we've always collected all of it ourselves! Michael will run a crew on the homestead, as usual, and he will have 6 very qualified helpers. On top of it all we will have our inspection for organic certification on April 15th! It should be a good season. Stay tuned...
As I write, we are preparing for our 18th harvest - I find that so hard to believe! My daughters, now almost 17 and 14, have grown up with five seasons - summer, fall, winter, spring, and "syrup season"! After record cold January and February, winter is finally loosening its grip; the sun feels warm, the days are long, and the eaves drip icy water on my neck as I head out the door in the afternoon. As the trees and ground begin to thaw, the sap will drip-drip-drip into our buckets - 3300 of them this year - and our "syrup season" will begin. We are tired of running out of syrup so, if the birches smile on us, we will increase production by about 30%. Our 2007 harvest birch syrup should be available by the first week in May. Enjoy the springtime, as we do, with its promise of light and warmth, new life, and abundant sweetness!
2007 HARVEST STATISTICS and REPORT:
Wow! That was a whirlwind of a season! We started collecting on April 19th, and finished 21 days later, on May 9th. There was very little snow on the ground, so we parked the snowmobiles early, and moved on to collection using the "big rigs" - our Polaris 6 wheelers with tracks. It was a tough season on the 6 wheelers - it seemed that one or another was in the shop continually, with our esteemed mechanics, Charlie and Michael, underneath trying to diagnose and repair. We finally had to quit collection when two of our four machines were vying for attention - one with serious transmission issues, and the other with a cracked frame. No biggie! But big enough to shut down the operation. It was about time anyway. By then we had collected 60,500 gallons of sap from 3300 total trees, over the 21 days. From that sap, we made a whopping 640 gallons of syrup - greatly exceeding our expectations - with a sap:syrup ratio of about 95:1. Each tree produced an impressive 25 ounces of syrup. The trees were generous with their sap this year; and we thank them for that. We also have many thanks for our sap-sucking crew this year - Robin, JonO, Roselie, and Tom Pi - for sticking with it through one of our most difficult harvests in 18 years. We couldn't have done it without them!
2006 HARVEST STATISTICS:
Due to the cold spring, it was a little slow, very steady, and quite long - 22 days. Our first collection day was April 20th - also a bit late. We collected 40,000 gallons of sap and produced 430 gallons of syrup. Due to the cold season and ice in buckets, the sap was very sweet, resulting in a lower sap to syrup ratio and very sweet, light syrup. Try it; supplies will definitely be limited this year!
2004 HARVEST SEASON
Stardate 1/26/07...Obviously, we have been a little too busy to update this harvest page for, well, several years; but 2004 still represents our best harvest ever and a good snapshot of our unique remote birch sap harvest. Maybe this year I'll be able to update ... It's always good to be optimistic...
Our 2004 sap harvest was an average year in some ways, but extraordinary in others. We had an average 21 days, starting on our average start date of April 16th, and ended up with an average sap to syrup ratio of 97:1. The temperatures were a bit above average but did not cause us problems like the heat wave of 2002. What was not average was the quality of our crew and the wonderful syrup we made this year!
We were incredibly lucky to lure Beren Argetsinger back again for his third year. We promoted him from “Captain Ropak” to General Sapsucker and made sure he had plenty of good food, good beer, and ample phone time to his sweetie in New York. Lyndsey Larsen came to us from “Downtown Canada”, (better known as Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), as a volunteer hoping to learn the fine art of birch syrup production from the pros, and start his own operation someday in the Yukon.
Long time friend and Alaskan, Charlie LaForge, came up from Kenai for his third year as well, to get a break from Alaskan “city life” and find the true meaning of life – back to basics, making birch syrup in the bush.
This year we retired Sally, our long time friend and partner in this operation. She served twelve years in the sap trenches – long enough for even the hardiest of workers! She spent just under a week with us this year and then Charlie stepped in to take over the syrup-making duties with me. He proved to be a natural at the evaporator and in the syrup kitchen – and enjoyed his stints in the house kitchen as well, competing with Michael to create gourmet meals for the crew. We made truly exceptional syrup this year as well! In Sally’s absence, we needed just a bit more help, and recruited Thom Gage from Fairbanks to help us get over the hump. That rounded out our crew – along with daughters Hannah, who enjoyed a little mud while waited anxiously to return to town life, and Kaila, our good-cheer girl and cookie-maker extraordinaire. We can’t forget our beloved canine companions, Cisco and Chica, either. They provide comic relief and unconditional love when it is most needed!
Despite the usual array of problems and breakdowns, we tapped into the biggest and one of the best sap seasons we have ever had – 43,500 gallons collected over 21 days, our biggest harvest ever, by far. We processed 3000 gallons of sap into syrup on our biggest day! Now that was a record, and no easy feat! This weather again was a bit warm for springtime in Alaska, and did present a few problems…..
Snow levels were pretty low when we started, so the transitions from our snow machine collection rigs to our 6 wheeler collection rigs came very shortly after tree- tapping. There are always a few days in there where nothing really works very well. Once the frost went out of the ground, a little sooner than expected, we were getting stuck in the mud on our sap collecting forays. This transitional part of the season is not easy for anyone, not to mention the equipment! Quick bush repairs by Michael or Charlie (who can both switch from syrup maker to gourmet chef to mechanic with no problem) were a common occurrence this season.
Our sap log entry for Wednesday, April 21st gives a little snapshot of the life of a Kahiltna Birchworks Sapsucker: “Lyndsey has a bad day. What didn’t happen…pump died, spilled sap, forgot bails, stuck five times one run, ran over hose…….” And on Tuesday May 4th: “Thom lost a pump! Ripped clean off trailer when outline snagged on tire! He didn’t know it… just kept going. Beren found it buried in the mud…..”
As always, it was a challenging season, but all worked out well in the end, mostly due to our great help – and, of course, our awesome forest of birches! Where would we be without them? Once again we wondered… what else would we do during break-up in Alaska?
2004 Season Stats:
• Sap harvested: 43,500 gallons raw sap
• Syrup produced: 450 gallons pure birch syrup
• Harvest dates: April 16th thru May 6th
• Length of season: 21 days
• Number of taps: 2400
• Average sap/tree/day: .87 gallons
• Average syrup produced /tree: 24 ounces
Birch Syrup Production Promotes Sustainable Use of Alaska's Forest Resources.