The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 24, 2013

Rock Creek begins tapping maple trees for syrup production

By STACY MILLBERG - For the Star Beacon
Star Beacon

ROCK CREEK — It takes about 50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup.

With any luck, it won’t be long before trees around the village are producing a lot more than that. The maple syrup process got underway Saturday morning as a number of maple trees were tapped around town.

Depending on the weather, the buckets hung on the maples Saturday should be full by Monday or Tuesday, said Nate Bissell, owner of Bissell Tree Farm in Rock Creek.

Bissell is the one behind the recent effort to begin producing syrup from trees in the village. His family has been producing maple syrup in Ashtabula County for more than 100 years.

A number of property owners around town gave consent to have small holes drilled into their trees to collect  sap.  Once  the  trees

are tapped, the sap begins draining immediately in most cases.

“It depends on the weather,” said Fred Shelatz, of Bissell Tree Farm. “The idea is warm days and cold nights.”

Shelatz said if the weather is just above freezing at night and it warms up to around 40 degrees during the day, the sap will really run.

Once the buckets are full, the sap will be collected and brought back to Bissell’s facility on Higley Road. The sap is run through a reverse osmosis machine (RO) which takes 80 percent of the water out. Bissell said using the RO machine saves time, fire wood and labor as the sap doesn’t need to be boiled as much.

After the sap is run through the RO it is run through an evaporator.

“That’s where the sugar gets caramelized,” he said. “That’s where the brownish color comes from.”

It is then run through a filter press that forces the syrup through a filter so it comes out crystal clear and without sediments, Bissell said.

“It basically goes from tree to bucket to tank to the sugar house,” he said. “Then it goes through the RO and the evaporator. We grade it and test it and filter it.”

The syrup is then put into stainless steel drums where it is stored until orders come in, Bissell said.

“When orders come in we heat it up and package it up to sell,” he said. “We try to do as much as we can.”

Bissell said on a good day a bucket will fill up in a day.

“There is nothing better than the site of a full bucket,” he said.

Bissell said the sap runs to the roots when it is cold and as it warms up it runs up the tree and then out the small hole drilled into the tree and into the buckets.

Bissell said they were hoping to drive around the village and tap as much as possible.

The sap collected around town will be purchased as a fundraiser for the Rock Creek Area Chamber of Commerce.

Saturday’s efforts are just the beginning of the opportunities that lie ahead for the village. Bissell, who recently purchased some property in the village, eventually plans to open a retail store to sell his maple products.

“Our business has grown to the point we need a retail location,” he said.

Bissell also sits on the board of the Ohio Maple Association, which sponsors a statewide Maple Madness tour every year which stops at his maple farm. Once things are underway in Rock Creek, the tour will come through the village, bringing more business to the area.

In addition, the village is planning to host a maple festival beginning next year. Plans for the festival are in the very early stages, but village is looking at the first weekend in October as a tentative date. Coordinators will be forming a committee in the coming weeks to begin planning the event.