Danielson’s Sugarbush is located in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, near the town of Nisula. We collect maple sap from our 300 acre sugarbush of sugar maple trees interspersed with soft maple, hemlock, yellow birch, cherry, and other native species.
Originally a small operation with a few hundred tree taps, Danielson’s Sugarbush has expanded to 20,000 taps and a maze of tubing throughout the sugarbush. Most people start out small, perhaps a backyard evaporator and just a few taps, just to see what it’s like. Gradually over the years, more taps are added, the evaporator gets larger, and friends and family start anticipating their annual gift. We started out in just this way and in 2000 made the decision to move from hobby to full time business.
Each spring, as the weather begins to warm, the sap flows up into the maple trees. Cold nights and warm days are the typical combination needed for the annual sap run, but one can never predict exactly when the trees will begin to flow. We gather the snowshoes and head out to begin the process of tapping over 20,000 trees. This step alone can take several weeks, depending on the weather and how many willing friends and family members we can recruit, with promises of fresh air, sunshine, and a healthy dose of vigorous exercise. A sugar maple must be at least 10 inches in diameter to be considered for tapping and we use only one tap per tree, to minimize the damage to the tree. We utilize new technology, gathered from several university research facilities, that recommend much smaller tap holes than have been used in the past and new spouts each year. The smaller diameter tap holes allow better production and speeds the healing of the tree when the spouts are removed right after the season ends. When done responsibly, tapping does not harm the tree.
The sap flows from the trees through a complex system of tubing, weaving its way through the sugarbush and ending up at the sugarhouse. We utilize a vacuum pump system, to speed up the process of gathering the sap, and collect the fresh sap in large stainless steel tanks. From the tanks, the sap is run through a reverse osmosis machine that takes out up to 80% of the pure water, leaving a highly concentrated sap. By removing a large volume of water from the sap before boiling, we drastically reduce the amount of fuel needed to produce the syrup. From there, the sap flows into the evaporator and the boiling process begins. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.
Danielson’s is one of the few producers that utilizes a woodfired evaporator, fueled exclusively with wood chips. The wood chips are a waste byproduct of the local sawmills. Many maple producers have transitioned from traditional wood-fired to oil-fired evaporators. Oil fired evaporators eliminate the time consuming task of gathering and cutting firewood and offer immediate heat control for the evaporators. This makes the overall process easier and faster. While there are days we wish for that instantaneous control and speed, we are committed to utilizing a renewable, sustainable fuel source. Our long range plans includes the purchase of a wood chipper, so that we can utilize the wood that we cull from the sugarbush each season during our annual maintenance, to fuel the evaporator.
As a family, we are committed to preserving not only the tradition of maple sugaring but developing and maintaining our sugarbush through sustainable and responsible forest management. Our trees are not treated with pesticides, herbicides or any chemical fertilizers of any type. Each year we maintain the sugarbush by thinning out weak or damaged trees, to allow for maximum growth of the healthy trees we strive to preserve. Maple trees that are properly managed can continue to produce for over 100 years.