Adirondack Profiles: Sugaring at Toad Hill Maple Farm

Its a cool, sunny day at Toad Hill Maple Farm. Owners Randy and Jill Galusha walk through the woods, leading the way toward the sugar bush 25 acres of naturally grown maples. A breeze rustles the leaves as Randy explains how trees with larger crowns produce more sap that will be sweeter. Each tree was tapped back in early February, a process that is usually done on snowshoes by the Galushas and a few friends. I don't mind it when its nice out, said Jill, laughing. It can be pretty grueling, Randy added. But unfortunately, you gotta do what you gotta do. When sugaring season comes around, you cant wait. Randy enjoys the tapping process as well as running the long blue tubes down the mountain, which carry the thousands of drops of sap to a flow about the width of ones baby finger. The sap is then pumped underground from the vacuum room into a storage tank behind the sugar house, and then into an evaporator, a shiny stainless steel machine five feet wide, 19 feet long, with automatic level controls and alarms on each pan to control temperature. The evaporator boils the clear, watery sap down to the sweet, aromatic syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, at a rate of 12-15 gallons per hour. It is boiled down further to make maple sugar products. The syrup is then filtered to remove a fine mineral particulate, called sugar sand, and stored in stainless drums, and filtered again before its loaded into retail containers. You can see right through it, Randy said, holding up a glass maple-leaf shaped bottle filled with crystal clear light amber syrup. Hes very fussy about how it looks when its in the glass, said Jill, smiling. Randy started sugaring with his younger brother when he was about 10. They hung coffee cans on trees in front of his mom and dads house, until their dad felt sorry for them and started helping. Each year they added more and more buckets until they had 500. A friend hand-whittled a yoke out of bass wood so they could carry the pails back to the tank on the sleigh. In time, they replaced the horses with a tractor, upgraded from buckets to tubing, got a truck to gather the sap from all the tubing, built the sugar house, and invested in an evaporator. In the meantime, Randy and Jill met in high school. Jill had moved to Thurman from Long Island where shed been eating pancakes with Aunt Jemima syrup. When I met him, he just kind of got me helping out, Jill said. This help escalated into the partnership that continues today. The syrup production is a family affair. Randys father Jim helps with building projects and with hauling the sap from the other sugar bushes a few miles away, Randys mom cooks meals for them in the sugar house, and Randy and Jills two children Nathan, 17, and Lindsay, 20, help out as well. Today, the Galushas have about 850 acres of land surrounding the tree where Randy and his brother first hung their coffee cans, and they keep expanding because of Randys commitment to being more efficient, he said. Im never satisfied with things status quo, he said. Im always trying to make things faster, or bigger and better. Its just my nature to want to improve the efficiency of whatever Im doing, and improve the production. This past season, which ended April 16, they produced a more syrup than ever before 903 gallons. It would have been even more, but this winters ice storm sent broken limbs and tree tops crashing down on the tubing which froze in the snow. In the old days, with buckets and metal taps, it would take four or five people three or four hours to gather all the sap. Now, with the tubing, they dont need anyone to gather it. In fact, without any distraction, one person can run the sugar house. The Galushas run the Toad Hill Maple Farm part-time, on nights and weekends, almost year-round. For their full time jobs, Jill is a Physician Assistant in Glens Falls, and Randy is an Environmental Engineer with the Department of Environmental Conservation in Warrensburg. For more information about Jill and Randy Galusha or their maple products, visit their website www.toadhillmaple.com.

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