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Maple syrup producer uses technology to improve process

Wood's Maple Orchard has been winning awards for their maple syrup for 60 years. Shown holding the awards won over the years are (front row, from left) Jason Wood, Jacob Wood and Steve Wood. (back row) Ed Swenson, Ty Fisher, Corey Norby, Jon Wood and Bert Swenson. Submitted photo

A local producer said making maple syrup is a craft, just like making a craft beer or wine. And the making of maple syrup, he said, is the fun part of the operation where memories are made.

Steve Wood, owner of Wood's Maple Orchard near Elmwood, will be retiring soon and his son and grandson will take over the business. Wood learned the business from his dad and was happy to continue the tradition with his son and grandson.

"My dad, he was my teacher," Wood said. "He liked really fancy maple syrup."

Wood said they have about 15,000 taps out in the woods this year and about 50 miles of lateral tubing. Every year they put new taps in right after Christmas and if the sap runs early, they are usually prepared.

"Last year we ran some [sap] early February," Wood said. "By a stroke of luck we were ready."

This year, Wood said they've added a new feature to the operation. Sensors were installed on the lines, allowing them to monitor them to see if there are any problems.

"We will be able to go on the phone and see if there is any vacuum problem with the system or specific lines," Wood said.

Jason Wood, who will be taking over the operation when Steve Wood retires, said the advantage to this new system is the ability to pinpoint exactly where an issue is in the line. Jason said other years they had to spend a lot of time trying to find leak locations in the lines.

"It really saves a lot of footprints," Jason said. "Tells you within 100 feet where leaks are, instead of walking the whole woods."

Steve said they strive to make the best syrup possible and he believes there's still room for improvement with their product.

"I don't think the best syrup has yet been made," Steve said.

Not only does Wood's Maple Orchard produce original flavored maple syrup, they also make maple syrup with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, or cinnamon. Steve said he got the idea to try flavored syrups when he collected 20 buckets of cherries and didn't know what to do with them. He decided to mix the cherries with syrup; he liked the flavor he created. From this experiment they expanded to include the other flavors they now have.

One of the new things they are trying to do is tap some of the smaller trees, Steve said. They typically hadn't tapped smaller trees in the past, but they have used a quarter-inch hole to tap trees and are looking at doing an eighth-inch hole. They pull the tap by the end of May, the small trees heal completely and you can't even tell where the tap was, Steve said.

A feature of their larger maple syrup operation is their reverse osmosis machine, which purifies water in the maple sap and concentrates the sugar in the sap. When the sap goes into the machine it is about 1.5-4 percent sugar content; after it runs through the reverse osmosis machine, the sap is at about 20-25 percent sugar. Steve said with the higher sugar concentration the sap will have to be cooked less to get the final maple syrup product.

"We were working on bottling the water in the 90s," Steve said. "It's really good water."

However, with regulations from the state and finding a way to keep the water stable they weren't able to successfully bottle the water.

This year, Wood's Maple Orchard has switched to using fuel oil instead of wood to cook its sap into maple syrup. Steve said the wood was "not consistent enough heat" to continue using for their production so they made the decision to switch to fuel oil.

An important aspect of making maple syrup is to process the sap as soon as possible after it's collected.

"Bringing sap in fast enough is kind of an issue," Steve said. "You want as short of time as possible from when you [take] sap from trees to cooked. Usually we have all sap from that day cooked by that night."

Jason said they welcome visitors to come out and see the production and learn about the process. Steve said he likes to talk to people and help them determine which syrup they would like best. He said no two people taste sugar the same way. The best syrup for each person depends upon their likes and uses for the syrup.

Anyone interested in watching the maple syrup production can contact Wood's Maple Orchard (located at W2482 570th Ave, Elmwood) at 715-639-5124 or through their website