Kentucky farmers tap into a sweet tradition by making maple syrup

Spirit of the Bluegrass

WADDY, KENTUCKY- (WDKY)– Doug Welch spends his February days wandering in the woods, looking into buckets, and listening for drips.

When he and his wife, Ruth, moved to a Shelby County farm 13 years ago, they asked a state forester to take a look at the timber. While walking through the 66-acre wooded area, the forester asked Welch is he planned to make maple syrup.

“We hadn’t even given it a thought,” Welch said. “But that gave us an idea– maybe we need to look at that. We tried it and we keep expanding it and we love it.”

Now, they tap about 150 trees at their Blues End Farm each winter. While Doug collects the sap, Ruth tends the fire on the evaporator. Ninety-eight percent of the sap will disappear as steam, leaving just the sugary syrup behind. Nothing is added.

“Just my finger, so I can taste it,” Welch laughed.

When their neighbors, Chris and Rachel King saw the operation, they thought is was a pretty sweet idea and wanted to try it themselves.
” Our farm has been in the family since 1862,” Rachel King said. “So so we have history with the land and like to carry on old traditions and make things we can out of products on the farm.”

Mining trees for liquid gold is unpredictable. Some years, Blues End only gets enough sap for five gallons of syrup. One year, it got 24 gallons.

“If you want a gallon of syrup, you need 50 gallons of sap,” Welch said. So, there may or may not be profit to be made. It’s all dependent on the weather. It takes freezing nights followed by warm days to get a good sap flow, so there’s about a six-week window for collecting the sap.

“We don’t try to live off our syrup production,” Welch said. “If we lose money, we still enjoy having maple syrup.”

The farm focuses on blueberries in the summer.

There are bigger maple syrup operations in Kentucky, including some that use an elaborate system of plastic tubing and gravity to collect the sap in large tanks. But Welch says even if you have just two to three maple trees, it’s worth giving it a try. You could get enough sap to boil it on your kitchen stove and at least have a little taste of this natural treat.

Whether it’s a hobby or a business, you learn to go with the flow.

“People don’t think of maple syrup coming from Kentucky. They think it’s something from Vermont,” Welch said.

But Rachel King says there’s a common belief among maple syrup producers.

“Everyone thinks theirs is the best!” she said.

Many farms that produce syrup will be open for the state’s second annual Maple Syrup Day on Feb. 6, 2021. Click here for more information.

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