For the last couple of weeks steam has risen steadily from a small rough cabin in the woods at the corner of C.R. 11 and C.R. 32. Dean Witmer has been stirring maple sap, loading firewood into the firebox of the cooker and pouring the finished maple syrup into jugs since the beginning of the maple sap run this March.
“As long as I’ve been able to go into the woods.” said Witmer of how long he has been maple sugaring. For Witmer’s wife, Vera, the tradition goes almost as far back. Vera Witmer helped her family in the woods that belonged to her grandfather. Today Dean Witmer, his wife and their five children take most of the responsibility for the work. In-laws and other relatives help out and are rewarded for their efforts with syrup.
The 20-acre wood has been in Vera Witmer’s family since the time her grandfather, Warren Hoover, owned the land. The Witmer family took over several years ago. Dean Witmer grew up in the farmhouse the family now lives in. Muddy paths criss-cross the woods allowing the family to get a tractor pulled wagon closer to the trees to make loading sap easier.
Like all successful farming, maple sugaring depends on the right weather. The trees produce sap usable for sugaring for only a short time in the spring. Warm days and cold nights are the weather that produce the best flow, or sap, for sugaring. Once the weather warms up the trees advance into spring and the sap is not usable for syrup.
Dean Witmer estimated that they will have 180 to 200 gallons of finished syrup to sell at the Goshen Farmer's Market and share with family.
A gallon of syrup starts as 40 gallons of sap from the tree. Dean Witmer boils the sap in a stainless steel evaporator, or cooker. The syrup moves through the cooker as it gets thicker. When Witmer decides the syrup is the right density, he bottles it. The Witmer’s sell half-pint to full-gallon sizes in their booth at the Goshen Farmer's Market.