April 6, 2017

A Day in a Sugar Bush

It doesn't take many words to say "maple syrup", as this road sign posted by the Wells Family on their sugarbush which was still actively producing maple sap this past weekend in Dublin, NH. The blue pipes in this pic carry maple sap back to the evaporator located in a steamy, wood-fired sugar shack - the perfect way to spend a Sunday in early spring in New England.

Here in New England, winter has yet to leave us. To be more precise, winter just arrived this March as it was the coldest month of the winter season this year, which has played havoc with maple syrup producers, as many started tapping their sugar maples as early as January this year as an early winter thaw brought on the ideal conditions for maple sap activity - nighttime temps below freezing, and daytime temps in the 30's and 40's. This weekend we decided to journey north to find an active sugar bush - a name for a stand of sugar maples which can be tapped for their sap, which is then boiled down and reduced to make maple syrup and other maple products.

Syrup is graded into various grades based on color and flavor, the darker it is, the more flavorful it is, but often one needs to visit a sugar shack to get the really tasty syrup.

Just an hours drive north of our house we drove to southern New Hampshire in search for some maple syrup sugarhouses that might still be active - last week most sugar shacks closed in the area, but after a big late winter snowstorm this week, I was hopeful that some trees might still be producing sap (they stop once they bloom, which can happen as early as mid March).

We found a few sugar shacks that were still active. Instead of visiting a touristy site, we opted for the homemade sign on a back road, and ended up at the home of Toby Wells and his family, who are in their third year of sugar production. We couldn't have struck it better - a steamy sugar shack, hot syrup to taste and lots of home made maple products for sale. The WELLS FAMILY SYRUP farm is located on Fiske Lane in Dublin, New Hampshire and you can contact Kelleywells@outlook.com to purchase their delicious syrup, maple cream and other products.

The sign led us down this road, barely plowed after yesterday's spring snowstorm here.

We knew that we were on the right path, as we could see pipes and hoses leading down the hill, connecting all the sugar maple tree taps, to storage containers. Today, no one uses buckets anymore, instead, a sugarbush is more like a modern plumbing system in a new house.

Pipes are different colors, I guess different sizes. The can run a long distance through the woods, all ending up at the sugarshack where the sap, which looks and tastes just like water from a tap, is filtered and separated, then evaporated.

The snowy woods looked so pretty in the April sunshine.

Joe watched the syrup boil at the Wells Family sugarshack, located on a quiet back road in southern New Hampshire, steam rises as maple sap is reduced down in a wood pellet fired evaporator.

The sky was so blue and the sun so bright, that it felt more like June than April, but with a couple of feet of snow on the ground, it didn't take long to remember that this was just a late New England spring.

Proprietor Toby Wells explained to how he build his evaporator from scratch, and how challenging this years' sugar season was for many in New England as trees that were tapped too early 'healed up' by late February, and how most sugarshacks stopped producing a few weeks ago, unaware of a brief 'second season' brought on by late cold weather. Once the maples bloom, the season will end, which should be by this weekend this year.

Toby Wells served us some warm maple syrup fresh from the evaporator - it was incredible, thick, sweet and hot - the perfect cough medicine, (well, a little bourbon in it may have been nice too!). 

On the way back home, we stopped for a late breakfast at a cool diner that served us a burger on a homemade maple bacon donut. (OK, it was weird and awful, and we regretted getting it, but it sounded good at first!). Mount Monadnock peaks over the distant hills here in southern NH.

Back at home, the greenhouse was in bloom with spring treats like this Primula x Kewensis which is really beginning to bloom nicely under the protection of glass.

Melasphaerula raceamosa which self seeds through the greenhouse blooms in a random pot. I don't mind it's surprise bloom, for the corms are rare in most collections.

Tis the season for red bell shaped flowers - Kalanchoe manginii in a hanging basket 

Tropical rhododendrons enjoy the cool temps in the greenhouse, and this is the first time this species has bloomed for me - Vireya 'Tropic Alpine' is a sub alpine form bred from selections native to the highest elevations of Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo.

Another Vireya blooms below it on the bench, this one is R. 'Saxon Glow' or Vireya 'Saxon Glow', it always performs well for me under cold glass.

While on the subject of late winter blooming shrubs in the greenhouse, a few camellias to share - most of my plants are blooming very late this year. This one is another new one for me - Camellia 'Happy Harlequin'.

Another first-time bloom for me, Camellia 'Haru No Utena'

I show this one variety all the time, but it's so beautiful, I can't resist - this plant won Best in Show last year at the Massachusetts Camellia Society show. Camellia 'Margaret Davis', a parent of many show winners for obvious reasons.

Lastly, the last of the Dutch bulbs are blooming after being forced in pots. I really like the floral form on this daffodil - which should be nicer in the garden (I did plant a few dozen outside this year, but saved a few to force too). This one is Narcissus 'Exotic Mystery', I think it will look nice in the natural garden, as it is less showy than the big yellow honkers.


  1. Swooning at your greenhouse flowers, especially that Primula x kewensis... but also glad that this year I am missing what seems like a particularly miserable New England spring - or lack thereof. Especially after such a mild January and February, I suspect many of my early bulbs in the garden back home are toast...

  2. Kelley Wells9:55 AM

    Thank you so much for this! It was wonderful to visit with you!

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