Appalachian Grown: Making maple in the mountains of West Virginia

Appalachian Grown

FARMINGTON, W.Va. – With people spending more time at the house, many have taken up old fashioned hobbies like baking bread and gardening. Tapping trees for maple syrup is an age-old practice that is easy enough to be done cheaply in your own backyard. Keith Hubbard from Farmington started tapping trees years ago. It became something that his kids just always remember doing.

Keith Hubbard drills a small hole into the sugar maple tree to make a new tap.

“I think if I had done anything like this when I was younger, then it would just be memories. It would be great family memories. I wanted that for my kids,” said Hubbard.

The Hubbards has a small syrup business where they sell to local families, and Hubbard said all the money goes directly back to the kids. The kids will handle transactions and put a lot of work into the syrup process. 

“They’re really into it. They’re always willing to help. If it’s 7 or 8 o’clock at night, and it’s dark out, they’re willing to put the headlamp on and go up the hill with me,” said Hubbard.

Hubbard said the best way to start making maple syrup is to take a class. Several libraries in the area do a maple tapping class once a year, and contacting the local library could put you in touch with someone who can help. If that’s not an option in your area, you can check out books and look things up online.

Hubbard’s kids play an active role in their small maple syrup business.

“If you’re just starting at home for personal use, it doesn’t take a lot of money to start. You can do it with some basic equipment,” Hubbard explained, “When I first started, I didn’t have the nicer five-gallon buckets. I had the empty water jugs that I tied to the tree and collected the sap out that way. It’s not as efficient, but it did get the job done. So, you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money doing it, and then as you ease into it, you’ll start to refine your process more and more.”

Watch Hubbard explain the tree tapping and maple syrup making process

While making maple syrup on a small scale might not be such an elaborate process, Heasley Homestead, a local company in Bruceton Mills, showed us what a more large scale production would look like. Heasley has an elaborate pipe system connecting about 1,800 trees. Keith Heasley says he started off small, seven years ago, with about 20 trees.

At Heasley Homestead, the pipes connect the trees and run off to a 2,000 gallon tank.

“We just kept adding more trees, spending more money on bigger equipment. And it’s been quite the ride. This is my hobby run amuck,” Heasley said.

But this year, with the recent snow storms, there hasn’t been very much maple syrup production. The weather has to be just right. It must be below freezing at night and above freezing in the day time in order for the syrup to run up and down the tree and come out the tapper. For Heasley Homestead, there hasn’t been any production just yet. Heasley said he hopes by Maple Day on March 20 he will be up and running.

“We’ll give you a tour through the woods. We have a whole bunch of different maple products that we sell and other candies and cookies and things that are made with maple syrup for sampling. And we have a good time. Come on up and visit us on March 20th,” Heasley said.

Heasley Homestead’s products can be found in several small businesses across the area, or ordered online through their website.

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