The smell of freshly milled wood filled the air on a cold January morning in Newcastle. SweetWoods Farm owner Justin Wood was excited to show the new addition he built onto his roadside maple stand – his sugar shack, an antique structure he had trucked to where it is. The sugar shack has become a sugar house.
“Find something you love doing,” he advised. And making maple syrup is just that for him. With education and training in forestry and business, Wood is all about maple.
The 65-acre, sugarbush farm has expanded: In 2020, the Boothbay Register reported SweetWoods had 1,100 trees tapped. The stand is now over 2,500 syrup-producing trees and growing to around 3,000. The farm honors organic, sustainable methods. There are mostly sugar maples, which hold the highest concentration of sugar, though Wood also has in production several red maples; those have a lot of syrup with a lower concentration of sugar.
With the addition to the sugar house built, Wood is now in syrup pre-production. He is installing new equipment, honing efficiencies, and preparing for the busy production season. Optimal production time in this region is from mid-February through March, he said.
Two percent sugar is “ideal,” he explained. When he has tapped trees in past Januarys, sugar concentrations were around 1.3%. Waiting for the stand to have a solid six to eight weeks of freezing temperatures gets the concentrations to the ideal 2%. Nights below freezing and mild days enhance sap flow and signal to sugarmakers it is time to tap trees; from then, it’s a race to harvest as much sap as possible for the trees start to bud in the spring. Evaporating water from the sap makes syrup, and evaporation should happen as close to sap harvest as possible because fresh sap makes higher quality syrup.
Wood uses reverse osmosis to evaporate up to 50% of the water from raw sap before he finishes turning it over a wood fire evaporator. It is then filtered and stored in a vat that can be gradually reheated when it is time to fill containers or make goodies.
If you are interested in maple syrup hot off the evaporator, try to visit the farm at 144 Lynch Road late February-March. Maine Maple Weekend is March 25 and 26 this year. Wood will demonstrate syrup-making and give walking tours of the sugarbush.
The roadside sugar house is filled with amber, very dark and robust syrups. The amber has vanilla and butterscotch undertones, while the robust (Wood’s favorite) is dark, hearty, concentrated maple flavor. The farm also offers maple sugar, candies, confectionaries and baked goods made by Wood’s wife Jill; and maple-glazed nuts, marinades, maplesause (maple and applesauce), and other farm treats.