The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 7, 2013

Chilly March great for Ashtabula County maple syrup producers

By WARREN DILLAWAY - warren@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

— The brutally cold March weather put a crimp on the lifestyle of those looking for an early spring, but put smiles on the faces of area maple syrup producers.

“We made over 1,200 gallons. It’s been a very good year primarily due to the cold March,” said Paul Mechling who has been tapping trees near his Pierpont Township home since 1996.

The length of the season was the unique aspect to 2013 maple syrup production according to area producers.

“We had an eight-week season. That is unheard of,” Mechling said. He said he started tapping trees on Feb. 7 and has started to gear down the operation the last several days.

Mechling uses a reverse osmosis process to create the sweet treat. The sap is forced through a membrane with 400 pounds per square inch of pressure.

The process increases the sugar content by 2 to 8 percent, Mechling said. “Sometimes we do it twice to make it even more sweet,” he said.

There is nothing wasted in the process, Mechling said. The left over liquid is permeate water which is then used to clean the equipment, he said.

“I have 2,800 taps,” Mechling said of his operation. He works with another Pierpont Township resident Leroy Hudson who taps more than 900 trees.

“I’ve been at it 50 years,” Hudson said. “(You) take something from a tree and make something you can eat,” he said of what he enjoys about making syrup.

Mechling said maple syrup is very natural. He said recent studies indicate maple syrup has 20 anti-oxidants which researchers say improves health in a variety of ways.

The Pierpont Township residents sell their syrup at some local retail stores, some by word-of-mouth and some to major producers in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Vermont.

“It was really good,” said Brandon Mitchell, executive director of Camp Windsor of the production season. The camp built a sugar house in 2009.

He said the addition to the camp was made to raise a few dollars for the camp during a slow season and to extenuate the syrup making history at the camp.

“We also see it as an educational (tool),” Mitchell said.

He said the camp had a record year with about 115 gallons of syrup produced.

The Maple Madness driving tour highlighted many area maple producers in mid March. “That was a great success,” Mitchell said.

The Benson family, located in Conneaut, has been producing syrup since 1947 and can trace roots back even further, said Martha Benson. She said the family started producing syrup in 1908 and continued until 1918 before taking a break and re-starting in 1947.

Richard Benson, 86, still does a lot of the work, but also gets a helping hand from family members, she said.

Benson said it is hard to get home so their children have varied work schedules that allows them to chip in and get the work done.

She said the family mixes their production methods using half of their production by collecting the sap in pales and the other half through tubing that takes the sap straight to the sugar house.

Benson said the syrup was a really nice white color this year.