[Snakeroot Organic Farm logo]
 • What's New Here
 • Snakeroot Poultry

 • About Our Farm
 • Annual Farm Tour
 • Community Supported
    Agriculture Plan (CSA)
Directions to our Farm
 • From a Run Out Hayfield to
    a Prosperous Organic Farm
    in Ten Easy Years

 • Get Real. Get Organic!
 • History of Our Farm
 • Pictures of the Farm
 • Where We Buy
 • Where We Sell
 • Our Yearly Work Schedule
 • Just Pretty
 • Subscribe to our e-newsletter.
 • Newsletter Archive.
 • What We Will & Won't Ship

 • Working Here
 • Our Apprentices
 • Our Farm Workers
 • Pictures of Us at Market

 • Fresh Vegetables
 • Fresh Fruit
 • Fresh Herbs
 • Perennials
 • Aloe - a magical plant
 • Our Bird Houses
 • Lupines
 • Rosemary Plants
 • Lovage, Tansy & Yarrow
 • Our Product Brochures
 • Dried Vegetables
 • Dried Culinary Herbs
 • Maple Syrup
 • Maple Syrup, p.2
 • Sugarin' Is Like Ice Fishin'
 • Our New Sugarhouse
 • Tomato Seedlings
 • Tomato Seeds We Offer
 • Tomato Seed Production
 • Paste Tomatoes
 • About Garlic
 • Garlic for Sale
 • Garlic Year Round
 • Mulching Garlic
 • Growing Rounds from Bulbils
 • Whole Bulbil Cluster Method
 • Planting Garlic

 • Using Mulches
 • Combatting Quackgrass
    with Mulch

 • We Want Your Leaves!
 • In Praise of Chips

 • Buying in Bulk for
    Storage, Canning & Freezing

 • Winter Storage Tips
 • How to Freeze Our Veggies
 • Building Techniques
 • Our Outbuildings
 • Evolution of the Farm Table
 • The Story of Our Cooler
 • Prepping Veggies for Market
 • Crop Rotations
 • Drip Irrigation
 • Low Pressure Water
 • Planting with Spreadsheets
 • Greenhouse Vegetable

 • Let-tuce Begin
 • Recipe Favorites
 • Our "Remay Roller"
 • Gardening Class Notes
 • Your Most Expensive Crop

 • Being Green
 • Digging Potatoes by Hand
 • Farmers' Markets in 2012
 • History of Pittsfield
 • Hybrids or Open Pollinated?
 • Making Websites
 • Open Source Software

    Our Retirement Plan
 • How Should a Farmer Retire?
 • Impediments to the want-to-be     farmer
 • Reducing the Value
    of the Land

 • Who Will Farm Here When
    We're Gone?

 • Apprentice Terms and Stages
 • From Apprentices to Partners
 • Transferring Farm Ownership

…and now for something completely different…

At dawn
Canoe bow waves are quickly lost
    on the shoreside
But go on out of sight
    on the lake side.


The constant swish-swish of skis
    On a day long ski.
The constant swish-swish of wiper blades
    On a day long drive.


My dog, trotting barefoot
Steps on a garden slug
And thinks
Nothing of it.


Word spreads quickly
as I approach the pond.
All becomes quiet.


Hidden in the vines
a large warted cucumber
jumps out of reach.
A toad!


Delicate puffs
of marshmallow snow
carefully perched
on a branch,
await the trigger of my hat
to melt their way down my back.

Deep in the tomato jungle
Fruits of yellow, purple and red
Tell of their readiness
To go to market.

Sugarin' Chores
Snowflakes hurry through my flashlight beam,
As my boots knead new snow with spring mud,
On my nightly Hajj to keep the boil alive,
For as long as possible until the dawn,
To match the power of the flowing sap,
With my meager evaporator and will.
The prize at the finish line are jars of syrup
And Spring.





More maple pix of the 2005 season here.

Available only at the farm and at our farmers' markets
for $18 a quart.

New syrup available each year beginning in March.

How we got into sugaring.

In 1997, we began hanging a few jugs on some of the maple trees close to the house. The following year we went a little deeper into the woods and tapped more trees. By 1999 we were tapping over 50 trees and boiling sap into syrup became a very long process over the wood cookstove. We were able to stop buying syrup—we have a three-gallon-a-year habit—as we had plenty of our own syrup now for coffee, pancakes and baking. In spite of all the work, having enough of our own syrup was a nice feeling.

But carrying the jugs into the house and boiling the sap over a stove was a lot of work. So, in 2000, we made the leap and bought a real wood fired maple evaporator, built a crude sugar house in the woods, and tapped around 60 trees. We also began the move toward a tubing system that eliminated having to visit each tree twice a day to collect the sap. Now we began to produce enough syrup that we could give it away as holiday presents, have all we could use, and even have some left over by the time sugaring season began again.

By 2001, we found quite a few more maples on a wooded hillside, so we ran tubing to those also. But since that tubing no longer ended at the old sugar house, we had to lug more than half our sap in 5 gallon jerry cans several hundred feet to the evaporator. And that meant we had to plow the woods road first or trudge through deep snow.

In 2002 we ran a new tap line bringing our total taps to over 120. In addition we began moving toward building a new sugarhouse downhill from all the tapped maples, started running mainlines to the site, and began thinning the woods in preparation for tapping more trees. We also started selling our syrup by the quart at the farmers' markets. We sold out by early September. By 2004 we had 250 taps; by 2005, 290. In 2011, we have over 400 taps out. As the smaller maple trees in the sugarbush grow large enough to tap, and as we clear out around ever more maple trees, each year we add a few more taps to the system.

We tap any maple of sufficient diameter (11 inches and up), since we do not have an abundance of large rock (sugar) maples. Many of our taps are in red (swamp) maples, which yield a bit less sugar in the sap and therefor take longer to boil down, making a darker syrup. But we are not trying to make Fancy Grade A Light syrup. We are producing homegrown backyard dark maple syrup with a flavor you can taste, a flavor that brings you back for more whether you use it in coffee, on cereal or ice cream, in baking or on blueberry pancakes.

How it works for a vegetable farmer to do sugaring.

Sugaring, happening as it does in the late winter and early spring, dovetails nicely with other farm work. The greenhouse beds get planted on a sunny mid-winter day, but there is little else to do there but for an occassional watering. The maple season is almost over by the time we fire up the greenhouse stoves in late March.

We begin tapping in early February in hopes of catching a few days of good sap run that generally occurs most seasons before the main run begins in ernest. Since the lines and taps are all still attached to the trees from last year, all that is required is to drill the new holes and pound in the taps. Then we keep an eye on the downhill end of the main line, waiting for the sap to begin flowing into the storage tanks at the sugarhouse on the first good sap day.

March is the month we are boiling almost every day, often starting at dawn and continuing until late in the evening, when we don our headlamp for one last trip to the evaporator down in the dark woods, stoking the firebox with hardwood to keep the boil going into the wee hours. At the peak of the season the days are a continuous blur of stoking the fire, skimming the foam off the boiling sap, drawing off sap to be finished off indoors, filtering and bottling, hauling in more sap, refilling the evaporator, splitting wood and occassionally checking the lines for breaks or sags. And this is about when the great spring thaw begins, so the icing on the cake is that much of this is done in slush.

There is usually a week or so of keeping three fires stoked simultaneously (house, greenhouse and evaporator), but by early April the maple work is slowing considerably. Now we are boiling only once every two or three days for less than half a day. This is the time for splitting and stacking next year's sugar wood, and perhaps some thinning of the sugarbush. Finally at the end of the season the last big chore is to pull and plug the taps and flush the lines with a weak bleach solution.

In November we are once again hauling seasoned wood to the sugarhouse, cutting, splitting and stacking it until the sugarhouse can hold no more. By late January we are listening to the weather in hopes of tapping out before the deep snow arrives.

A word about jug systems

Most casual or hobby sugaring enthusiasts start out with a jug system to collect maple sap. Some use gallon milk jugs, which, tho hard to clean, are readily available. Some hang these from the spile with a hook, others pierce the upper side of the jug with the spile. With a jug system, it is important to design things so that the jugs won't blow off in the wind and yet the removal and reattachment of the jugs is a quick and efficient process, as you will find yourself doing it hundreds of times during a season.

Some folks use a tubing tap and a 5 foot piece of tubing going through the top of a 5 gallon pail. We don't like this system for two reasons. One is that there is a tendency to leave the sap too long if the sap isn't running fast and it takes a few days to fill the pail. On warm spring days this allows the sap to sour, producing an inferior syrup. The other is that if the pail is full, only two can be carried, and this is awkward when the snow is deep. If these two problems could be avoided, I suppose this might be an acceptable system.

Altho we are now primarily on tubing, the few jugs we use are 1 gallon Gatoraid or similar clear plastic juice bottles with a handy carrying handle, readily available in quantity from any redemption center. At first, the taps were whatever we could get ahold of, mostly modern steel spiles with hooks. Eventually we have moved to the same blue plastic spiles we use in the tubing collection system. On about thirty of the outlying trees we still hang jugs on these plastic spiles with hooks made from 6 inch pieces of coathanger wire with a loop on one end to go over the spile and a hook on the other to hold the jug handle. (See photo at right.) A short 4-6 inch scrap of tubing assures all the sap dripping from the tap goes into the jug. We removed the labels from the jugs and store them for a time when a jug handle finally breaks or when the dogs find that a blown off jug is a good chew toy. Then we simply tape the label back onto the jug and get 5¢ back at the redemption center.

Visit us during sugaring

On almost any sunny day in March, when the nights have been cold and the days are above freezing, the sap will be flowing and we will be boiling. Drive into the farm yard, and if you do not see anyone, honk your horn and we'll soon be there. Wear your boots and warm clothing. The hike down to the sugar house is about a quarter mile over a plowed woods road through maple, spruce and hemlock woods. The maple collection lines extend uphill into the sugarbush about 1000 feet in five different directions.

We do not advertise as part of Maine Maple Sunday, as we are a very small operation by industry standards and we would rather limit our tours to people who already know us or who would like to start sugaring at or near our scale.

During sugaring I often like to take a break to talk to a visitor and walk the bush. Come watch the boil, lean your head over the evaporator, and smell the maple steam!

This is why your off-season storage of your taps and spare tubing should always be away from insects. Here you can see a two spiles and a tee that the orchard mason bees discovered make great places to lay their eggs and which they then pack with mud. Two have hatched already and one has not. They are great pollinators, but what a pain in the spile! Now I know the hole size they like, I shall hang blocks of wood here and there that are drilled with lots of holes just for them. And I'll now store my spiles out of their reach!

More pix of the 2005 season here!


The Sugarhouse Trail.

The First Sugarhouse, now used for firewood storage.

Approaching the new sugarouse. The trail is plowed after every snow. The start of next year's firewood is stacked on the left.

The New Sugarhouse, built December, 2002. Pole frame construction covered with old greenhouse plastic. Floor and roof are from recycled lumber.

Here's how we hang our jugs on home made hooks fashioned from clotheshanger wire. Altho 98% of our bush is on tubing, we still hang jugs on a few of the trees next to the trail. The hooks are basically a long-waisted S-hook with a 90 degree twist between top and bottom hooks. This whole setup costs about 50 cents.

The Evaporator and Arch (firebox). The essential investment in any sugaring operation. This is the smallest model that Waterloo-Small makes, roughly 24"x36"x8" and can boil about 15 gallons of sap at a time.

Where the collection lines end at the Sugarhouse. Both blue and black half-inch main lines collect sap from dozens of smaller lines uphill and hundreds of feet away, then gravity feed into jugs to just outside the sugarhouse.

On winter evenings, especially when there is a moon, making the trek out into the dark cold to the sugarhouse for the night's last stoke, squeaking the snow on the trail with each step, I am reminded how glad I am that most of my jobs aren't indoors. The dogs excitedly join me for a quick jaunt outside, follow along beside the moonshadowed trail, patiently wait as I tend the evaporator fire, and just as eagerly follow me back to the house to jump onto the bed for the night. I ask myself, "What travel agency could offer this?"

More Questions? Get in touch.

27 Organic Farm Road, Pittsfield Maine 04967
owned and operated by
Tom Roberts & Lois Labbe
Tom: Tom@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5417
Lois: Lois@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5418

Gardening for the public since 1995.

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