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!
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!
We did it again…we held out for a 23 day harvest and–don’t tell anyone–it probably could have even been even 25 days! But there comes a time to clean up the mess and move on to the marketing and selling of our products. Both the trees and all of us had given enough! Harvest is intense and hard to describe; you kind of have to be there to understand it. Thank you to our awesome, hard-working crew who all now definitely understand!
Final numbers for 2012
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 Street 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.
Our final bit of notoriety this season 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.