At Sweet Bird Farm, we recognize that a healthy forest is a necessity to producing the best tasting maple syrup. We believe that maple syrup is a forest product, not an agricultural one. As such, we take an ecosystem-based approach to the management of our sugarbush, the term used to describe the part of the forest we harvest sap from.
We are proud to be participating in Audubon Vermont’s Bird-Friendly Maple program (in full disclosure, a program that Steve was the lead on developing!). Our Vermont forests not only produce the majority of the maple in the US, we are also the place where many migratory bird species return to each spring in an effort to raise baby birds. It is our responsibility, as stewards of the land, to make sure these birds can find the habitat they need to be successful. This means we manage to maintain a diversity of tree species in the sugarbush, grow trees of all ages and heights, keep the standing dead trees (aka snags), and when those trees fall leave some of that wood on the ground. When we encounter non-native plant species, we pull them or dig them up (no herbicides here). We also take the time to tune in and listen to what bird species find our sugarbush a desirable place to nest. During the spring and summer we spend time looking and listening for birds such as Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, and many more. Managing a sugarbush with birds in mind also leads to other benefits. The complexity found in these forests also makes them better adapted and more resilient to a changing climate. In turn the forest provides a natural climate solution by absorbing (sequestering) carbon and storing it in trees and in the soil, for a very long time.
The maple producing season of late-February through typically sometime in April, is a very busy time. We currently tap around 400 trees in the sugarbush over in Moretown, about a 20 minute drive from the Farm. The sap from those trees travels by gravity, downhill through a tubing system, to a tank at the base of the forest. We transfer it to a tank in the back of the truck and bring it to the sugarhouse. Raw sap averages around 2% sugar, the remaining 98% being water. Pure maple syrup is around 67% sugar, which means A LOT of boiling is necessary in order to get the proper concentration of sugar. Boiling sap requires some fuel source to generate the heat. At Sweet Bird Farm that fuel source is, and always will be, wood. The harvesting of low-quality wood from the forest allocates growing resources to the more vigorous trees to thrive. It is also a renewable resource. All of this adds up to a healthier forest, which is of the utmost importance.
Our maple syrup is crafted in small batches. On a typical boiling day we only finish off between 1-5 gallons of syrup. We take great pride in each and every container of syrup we make and hope you can taste the difference!