Maple syrup is a uniquely Northeastern North American product, owing to the concentration of sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) in the region. The tradition of maple sugaring here predates European settlement, while the predominately small-scale, family-based approach to production adds another dimension of cultural uniqueness to maple as a forest farming crop. Managing a sugar bush is a compelling way to have your cake and eat it too. The trees provide a variety of ecological functions that society values, while gaining in timber value as they approach maturity, all the while producing an annual product for your family to use, market or give to family and friends. These combined public and private benefit qualities themselves have market value, which can be used to help turn an ordinary barrel of maple syrup into a gourmet specialty product that is infused with the aura of social and ecological sustainability.
If you have maple trees in your forest, then you may want to consider producing maple syrup from them. If you do not have maple trees and want to produce maple syrup you have a choice of either planting maple trees and waiting some 20 years to tap them, or of gaining access to trees that other people own. If you are not sure whether you have sugar maple trees the Sugar Maple Profile (see below) will help you find out. If you are thinking of planting maple for future harvest, look into the possibility of procuring Sweet Trees (see below) that have been bred for above-average sugar concentration. For this discussion it is assumed that you have some maple trees and would like to integrate maple syrup production into your forest management plan.
It is useful to think about a maple syrup operation as four major units of activity:
- Managing your sugar bush
- Collecting sap
- Processing sap into syrup and other products
- Packaging and marketing your maple products