The Off Season: Maple Syrup and Mushrooms

Previously published in spring 2013, this entry from truck gardener Kevin tells us how he keeps busy and profitable during the winter season.   –Editor

When the market garden is done for the year (as much as it can be, because there is always something to do) we can sit back and hopefully relax a bit. If the season was good, we can survive the winter with our profits. If not, we must find something to do to make up the difference.

Such is the case for many who try to survive on the income from a market garden or from any seasonal income-based project. It can be anything and for those who try to live some type of self-sustaining lifestyle it can be everything.

As for me, I try to survive in the off season so I do not have to work for “the man”. My mind is always working, trying to find ideas to make a few bucks, not to get rich, but to be able to keep doing the things that I love.

This late winter is no different. And my first project hit me right in the head. What started out as a trial run appears to be headed for bigger things, but they will have to wait until next season. Let me explain.

3-Tree Sap Collection Kit

Step-by-step guide and kit will help you tap maples like a pro. Click the picture for more.

Making Maple Syrup?
I had always wanted to tap my own maple trees to make a bit of maple syrup. Euell Gibbons had started the fire in me after reading some of his books. I figured I could try my hand at this and make a bit of syrup for my family. I had the time, the trees, and the excitement for this little adventure.

I ordered myself a small starter kit and waited. Over the next few days I read Euell’s words again and researched all that I could. When my kit arrived I was ready.

The weather did not cooperate with me in February 2013. I needed a few days around 40 degrees to get the sap running in the trees. Finally, in the first week of March the stage was set.

I drilled 7/16ths holes in my chosen maple trees and put in the splines (taps). From there I placed the tubing from the taps into empty gallon milk jugs (they work wonderfully, by the way). I kept the lids on and cut small holes in the tops to place the tubing. This setup will keep your sap clean and keep out any critters.(Or try this manageable sap collection kit from Lehman’s in Kidron or Lehmans.com.)

This was done in the very early morning of the warm-up. By late that afternoon the south-facing jugs were over half full of clear sap (I had tapped only two trees because of their size; both were Silver Maples).

The next morning, I found the same results. In two days I collected nearly ten gallons of sap from the trees. What would it be like if I had tapped more trees? The woods behind our house are full of perfect maples!

Now ten gallons is not all that much, especially when it takes nearly 33 gallons of sap just to make one gallon of syrup. The idea is to boil all that moisture away, leaving you nothing but pure, golden maple syrup.

I write a weekly outdoor column for the local newspaper. I did a story on my project and the next thing I knew everybody wanted to try it. I knew that I could never get enough because of my lack of equipment, but what if? What if I prepared myself for next year? The interest was there, would the money be there? I think the answer is yes.

My late winter project for 2014 is now set and oh, how do I look forward to it. But now as the days begin to warm, the sap will start running dark and getting bitter, and it’ll be time to turn to the next income generation project.

Making the Most of Morels
Garden plans are set and small projects are taking place. I need another project to get the spring off to a good start. And this project too will come via Mother Nature. Yes, it will soon be Morel mushroom time. And in my neck of the woods it is a very popular bit of fungi, one that some folks will pay dearly for.

I have heard reports that some fancy restaurants pay upwards of $100 a pound for the morel. How true this is, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is very common to receive from $10-$20 a pound from the local folks. Many are older who are not able to get out anymore. Some are people who love to eat them but don’t like to get in the woods to find them. And yes, folks do buy them.

It pays to advertise here, and to advertise early. Let people know you will be after the mushrooms and barring good growing weather, just take orders beforehand.

I guess Mother Nature can supply you with a good off-season bounty to help you survive. But it doesn’t stop here, there is plenty more out there and there is a market for it. I try to keep thinking of more and more ideas! But hey, that’s another story for another time. I wish great natural adventures to you.

3 thoughts on “The Off Season: Maple Syrup and Mushrooms

  1. Right now, I am just interested in that first morel! With the wet spring and these warmer nights, they may be showing up soon. Has anyone seen any, yet?