“They don’t always have a tree where you want to put the line,” says Gary Gorr, maple syrup producer and philosopher who’s been tapping 45 acres (“pretty much all hardwood”) on the family farm since 1985.
He says “the weather is unpredictable” so he focuses on what he can control, keeping his lines “straight, tight and downhill. (His operation is all gravity fed.)
“Besides, the summer before is when the sugar is made for next spring.”
His dad started tapping the trees in 1972.
“I just watched then,” he said. “But in 1985, his knees were bothering him.
“He said ‘everything is there’ and it was time for me to take it over.”
He’s 75 now and it’s still a one-man operation.
“When I started out, I was still doing some renovation-construction work but in 1986, it was a slack time,” he said. “Then more and more people started wanting our syrup, so we gradually started adding more and more.”
For example, in 1991, the County and Township paid to send 58 four-litre cans of syrup to Canadian Forces fighting in the Gulf War.
He’s seen a lot of changes, mostly to equipment as regulations change.
“In 1995, we had to get rid of all the old lead stuff,” he said. “All the metal, milk tins, sap buckets.”
But, of course, the biggest changes tend to be in the weather.
“Twenty-five years ago, I had syrup made in April,” he said. “Any more, you have to be tapped by the second week in February.”
He said he started looking through his records and in 1988, he started boiling March 19 and that ran through til April. In 1995, he started March 8 and that ran to March 22.
“In 2001, we started later, March 19 and through to April 8,” he said. “But it ran everyday.
“In 2002 and 2004, it was March 2 to April 8.”
Regardless, he soldiers on, and still enjoys when people come to the house at 3596 Quinn Road E. to buy syrup in bottles featuring the logo his daughter designed. “I added a few trees around it,” he said.
His syrup is also available at the Foodlands in Verona and Sydenham, Wilton Cheese and the Limestone Creamery as well as Pan Chancho Bakery and Cafe in Kingston. (Call 613-329-4252 or 613-372-2601 for information.)
He has no ideas about giving it up, enjoying the exercise and being out in the bush.
“You have to become a woodlot manager, doing this,” he said. “Some of the old trees are dying but I don’t cut green trees.
“The other day, a couple of wolves came through and there are lots of squirrels, chipmunks and red squirrels.
“We have a red-breasted woodpecker and a pair of cardinals.”
As for predictions for this season, Gorr is pretty non-committal. But when pressed, he grinned and said: “I thought it was going to open up there. But I think it’s going to be a long season.”