‘First Tree Tapping’ will be held March 12 at Greuel property
Duane Greuel knew he wanted to keep the heritage of the old Polish farmstead intact. Restoring the land and buildings was just part of it. Another was making sure the tradition of organic gardening lived on.
So when he and his wife, Terri, purchased the 20-acre farmland in 1978, his maple syrup operation took seed.
“Even back then I had it in the back of my mind to make maple syrup,” said Greuel, owner of Casimir Gold Sugar Bush, 490 Casimir Road West, Stevens Point. “One of the reasons we got into it was concern about the food we’re eating and what’s getting into our bodies.”
Greuel’s homestead is the location of the annual “First Tree Tapping” Saturday, March 12, an event through the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association that officially starts the maple syrup season running and includes a governor’s declaration of Maple Month, March 15-April 15. The public is welcome to attend the event. Festivities begin at 10 a.m.
With climate change, Wisconsin is becoming a good maple syrup production state, Greuel said. The state currently ranks fourth in the nation in maple syrup production, according to 2015 data from the National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Already this season, Greuel has about 100 trees tapped. Throughout the woods, plastic bags hanging from taps are weighted with sap. Recent colder temperatures have frozen the sap and slowed the run, but Greuel expects with warmer weather around the corner the season should be in full swing in another week or so.
The property has the air of an old farmstead, with buildings, a barn and a small refurbished home that is more than 115 years old. They couldn’t repair the old barn structure that graced the land when they bought it, Greuel said, so instead they incorporated beams from the barn into their home. Though the Greuels attempted to maintain the old house as best they could, there were aspects of it that just were not functional for the changes in daily living today compared to a century ago. For example, the kitchen had seven doors leading into it, he said.
“The house back then was just for sleeping and eating,” he said. “When they were out, they were out working the land, planting potatoes, milking cows.”
The property itself was littered with old broken down appliances, junk cars, the dilapidated barn and the pig farm. It took more than three semitrailer trucks to haul the garbage out, Greuel said. Then he started grooming the land for tapping the trees.
Originally, white pine and oak trees, aspens and elm filled the land along with the many maples. Maple saplings were thinned, and though some pine and oak remained to keep the woods diversified, others were removed so the maples could grow.
Today, Greuel doesn’t know how many different types of maple trees he has. Certainly among the roughly 500 he taps annually there are red, black, silver, sugar and Norway maples. But also there are many types that sprouted up as cross pollination occurred, creating new opportunities for producing sap.
It is the diversity that helps with the flavor, Greuel said, and he welcomes that exploration as new research and studies come out detailing health benefits – for example, research shows maple syrup contains a number of antioxidants that can help reduce causes of inflammation and the formation of various chronic diseases – and increased variety in products.
After having a heart attack less than a month ago, Greuel said he is paying closer attention than ever to nutrition. “Something that’s grown organically is better than something processed,” he said.
To that end, he continues to improve upon his trade. Greuel has moved away from the buckets that hang from the tap to collect the sap due to the lead content in them, he uses a closed system so bugs and other contaminants stay out, and he’s improved his equipment.
A year after he started this venture, Greuel joined the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Association, and annually he attends seminars that teach technical and craft aspects of the maple syrup industry.
Five years ago when he first started tapping the hundreds of trees on his property, he would haul his collections down the street to a neighbor’s home to process. Last year, he purchased a Sunrise Evaporator and this year built a building on an old farmhouse foundation to house it.
Though the business portion is changing, the tradition of community and camaraderie remains, which fits in nicely with the impetus behind purchasing the property in the first place.
“It’s fun to do,” Greuel said, “and it’s a neighborhood activity with friends and family. You get to talk and philosophize. What better thing to do in the spring than be outside hearing the birds chirping and seeing the trees come to life?”