Retired dentist trades in a single drill for an additional to faucet space maple timber – The Globe

Retired dentist trades in a single drill for an additional to faucet space maple timber – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — In only a matter of weeks, retired Worthington dentist Jerry Johnson will likely be armed together with his drill and strolling to not his former dental workplace, however as an alternative by means of the groves of space farmsteads looking for maple timber to faucet.

It’s a interest that has given Johnson the chance to spend extra of his retirement exterior, whereas additionally reaping the rewards that include just a little laborious work — the candy style of maple syrup.

“Once I was rising up, we had loads of maple timber in our yard — large ones,” Johnson shared. “I’d heard about maple syrup (making), however by no means actually knew something about it.”

That every one modified in 2013, when considered one of Johnson’s assistants at Pleasant Dental shared that her husband tapped maple timber and made syrup.

“She simply gave me some tubing and mentioned, ‘Do that — drill a gap and stick (the tube) in a bucket,’” Johnson recalled.

In 2014, Johnson did 9 faucets to check out the method.

“I had actual enjoyable,” he mentioned. “I didn’t know something about it — I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Sap is boiled on this particular piece of apparatus that makes use of warmth from a built-in woodburning range. The method boils off extra water, producing the thicker liquid that ultimately turns into maple syrup.

Julie Buntjer / The Globe

From that first experiment, Johnson collected about 60 gallons of sap, which boiled right down to only one gallon of maple syrup — minus what he burned or spilled.

And, oh, did it ever style good.

“It was great,” grinned Johnson. “I tasted it and couldn’t imagine that I made this.”

The subsequent yr, Johnson did 30 faucets, which resulted in 2.5 gallons of syrup. Maple timber could be tapped after they attain a trunk diameter of 10 inches, whereas bigger timber with 18- to 24-inch trunks could be tapped in two spots.

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Annually since then, Johnson has steadily elevated the variety of faucets — and the quantity of syrup he’s produced.

“I noticed I loved this quite a bit and I began gathering a bit extra info,” he mentioned, including that he bought an evaporator and a flat filter to assist enhance upon the processing.

In 2018, Johnson did 130 faucets and made 20 gallons of syrup; and now — simply 4 years later — the plan is to have 800 faucets in maple timber by the tip of this month at eight websites close to Worthington. His aim is to supply 150 gallons of syrup between late February and early April.


Johnson exhibits one of many labels already adhered to a bottle that will likely be full of maple syrup in little greater than a month.

Julie Buntjer / The Globe

When Johnson’s interest grew to the extent of a number of gallons of syrup in 2018, he developed his personal label — Fox Farm Maple Syrup. For the previous few years, he has bought syrup in 8-, 12-, 16-, 32- and 64-ounce bottles on the Worthington and Luverne farmers markets. He’s now contemplating increasing to farmers markets in Okoboji, Iowa, and Brandon, South Dakota. The syrup can also be bought at Nystrom Orchard south of Worthington, and at a bar and grill in Adrian, which is owned by Johnson’s son.

Although Johnson nonetheless performs dental work every now and then, as soon as the sap begins to circulate, he has time for little else than ensuring the sap is shifting by means of the tubing or filling up the roughly 30 buckets he makes use of, and that the pumps are working to hold the sap to close by tanks.

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He has created a reasonably elaborate means of gathering sap in tanks, after which transferring to different tanks that he can haul behind a side-by-side to the processing space assembled on his Fox Farm Street acreage simply west of Worthington.


Julie Buntjer / The Globe

A meter is used to find out the grade of maple syrup produced. Fox Farm Maple Syrup is mostly graded between amber and darkish.

“I’ve a barn the place I do the evaporating, and a kitchen the place I do filtering and bottling,” Johnson mentioned, including that he has assist from a brother and a few buddies.

The sap from maple timber begins to run when the climate warms up through the day, however nonetheless freezes in a single day. The freeze-thaw cycle attracts the sap up from the roots, and constructive stress makes it circulate out as soon as a faucet is drilled by means of the bark.

“All maple timber work effectively,” Johnson mentioned, noting that whereas sugar maples had been historically tapped for maple syrup, a lot of the timber he faucets are silver maples. “I’ve planted some sugar maples and another varieties, however they received’t be prepared for some time.”

In a typical yr, Johnson mentioned sap flows for about six weeks — starting in late February and persevering with by means of the primary or second week in April.

With local weather change, nevertheless, the sap has begun to circulate just a little earlier within the yr. Whereas that isn’t an issue, Johnson mentioned the sooner warm-up has made maple timber within the southern fringe of the frost zone extra inclined to illness and drought.

“The sugar maple is being changed in a few of these locations with the crimson maple, which is extra hardy,” Johnson mentioned. The silver maple is one other good different.


Johnson exhibits the gear from which the maple syrup flows after it has been totally processed.

Julie Buntjer / The Globe

With a majority of his maple timber of the silver maple selection, Johnson mentioned a typical day of sap amassing will garner about 400 gallons of the liquid. As soon as collected, the sap is historically boiled to take away water, however Johnson has turned to a reverse osmosis system that may extract water from the sap in much less time, utilizing much less power.

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“(In 2018), I had far more sap than I knew what to do with,” he mentioned. “It boiled for 14 hours earlier than I acquired any syrup. It was an amazing quantity of burning and wooden. That’s once I realized about reverse osmosis.”

As water is faraway from the sap, the sugar content material rises. As soon as Johnson has a manageable quantity of sap, it’s boiled over a wooden burner — a course of that generates the flavour and the colour of the syrup.

There are 4 grades of maple syrup — Very Gentle, Amber, Darkish and Very Darkish. Most of Johnson’s product is graded proper in the midst of the 4 grades — between Amber and Darkish.

“At 50% mild translucency is the division between Amber and Darkish,” Johnson shared. “If 55% goes by means of it, it’s amber; if 45%, it’s darkish. That’s very shut, and you’ll’t actually inform along with your eyes.”

The darker the maple syrup, the extra maply the flavour, Johnson mentioned.

And, you don’t want a maple tree with a purpose to make syrup.

“Walnut, boxelder … and birch — a number of completely different timber could be tapped,” Johnson mentioned. “The flavour and the density is just a little completely different.”

Johnson plans to stay with the maples although, and enjoys the fruits of his labor — the sugary maple syrup — on all the pieces from cereal to dessert.

“It’s actually good on popcorn,” Johnson shared. “It’s good on ice cream, wonderful on cottage cheese and fruit, and on cereal. We make a extremely, actually, actually good candy roll with it, utilizing syrup as an alternative of brown sugar, and make a maple syrup frosting.”

Johnson anticipates bottling his first maple syrup of the 2022 season inside the first week after the sap begins to run.