When Len and Nancy Price bought Nutkin Knoll Farm and Sugarworks, located at 269 Chapman Road in Newburgh 23 years ago, they never envisioned that they would become maple syrup producers. The pair are educators by trade — she’s a reading teacher at an elementary school, and he’s a newly-retired eighth grade science teacher — and they are learning every day.
In fact, Len said, they would never have started collecting sap for maple syrup had it not been for very supportive neighbors.
“What we really came here to do was to do Christmas Trees,” Len said, “Our neighbors taught us how to tap. Initially we did some here and there. Then we got the evaporator and built a regular place to [make syrup].”
Nutkin Knoll Farm, named in honor of the Beatrix Potter character “Squirrel Nutkin”, has been participating in Maine Maple Sunday for 15 years. Visitors will be able to tour the maple trees in the “sugar bush” and see the traditional and modern ways of tapping maple trees for sap. They’ll also be able to visit the sugar house and see how maple sap is turned into maple syrup, maple candy, maple cream, maple-coated peanuts, and even maple cotton candy.
More than two decades later, the whole family gets in on the syrupy passion when it comes to Maine Maple Sunday.
“Honestly, sugaring is my favorite time of year,” Nancy said. “I grew up in the south and in southern California and spring was always my favorite time of year. When we first moved to Maine, I hated that there was nothing beautiful. When we began sugaring and I had a reason to be out in the woods and I saw all the subtle beauty that came with warmer days, I found myself not missing spring.”
Traditionally sap would be collected by drilling a hole about 1.5-2 inches long in the maple tree, and a spile would be “tapped” into the hole to allow sap to flow out of the tree into a bucket. Traditional metal buckets have lids on them to prevent debris from getting into the freshly drained sap. Those buckets would be collected and boiled down to syrup over wood fires.
Today, many maple syrup producers, like Nutkin Knoll Farm, utilize labor-saving plastic tubing that carries the sap from tree to containers where it’s then processed into pure maple syrup.
“When we started we were using the dogsled attached to the snowmobile to collect plastic barrels and haul the sap back to the sugar house,” Len said. “Now we’ve gone to all tubing. We use a vacuum system. The vacuum pump actually lowers the atmospheric pressure so the tree pushes the sap out faster. ”
Much of the sap is still gathered the old-fashioned way, in buckets hung from trees, and is boiled down to syrup over wood fires. Some larger producers have adopted labor-saving modern technology; they gather the sap with plastic tubing strung all the way from the trees to the sugar house.
The sap is then boiled and turned into pure maple syrup through an extensive process. Visitors to Nutkin Knoll Farm and Sugarworks will have the chance to see where sap becomes syrup.
“We had lots of school groups that come out [to the farm] to learn about the process,” Nancy said. “Len and I are both teachers,and we love that children can discover this.
“We’re also in constant amazement that people know that Maine Maple Sunday is always the fourth Sunday of March. It’s really an institution. We’ll be open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” she said.
For more information about Maine Maple Sunday, Maine maple syrup production, and to find a sugar house that is participating in Maine Maple Sunday, visit www.mainemapleproducers.com.