As the ice melts from Croton Pond and we cautiously put away our snow shovels, a new season drips into Newaygo County. With cold evenings and warm, or at least above freezing daytime temperatures, Maple Syrup season begins to take off at Grey Dog Maple Farms.
Situated right on the Kent / Newaygo County border and filled with Maple trees is our humble but productive hobby farm. Specializing in small batch, craft style Maple Syrup, we’ve been producing at this location for almost seven years. Our Farm name comes from the dog we had when we bought the property, Dale. He was a Weimaraner, which is a grey colored dog. Dale was able to live out his last years on the farm, playing, guarding, and enjoying the space. A few years after he passed, we brought home a new grey dog. His name is Smoke, and he’s now the face of our Farm.
When we purchased the property, we knew it was going to be a rehab the whole way through. We hauled dumpster loads of trash from the barn and yard, but we could see the potential in the property. With plans to eventually tear down the existing home and build a new one, we are getting closer each year. The property itself sits on very flat terrain, with some small parts holding water in the Spring. This played into how I came up with name of the syrup, Swamp Sugar. When we first started tapping trees in Newaygo, we noticed the syrup finished darker and thicker than other areas tend to. Combining that with intentionally boiling it longer to help give it a darker, fuller Amber color, the name Swamp Sugar just felt right. Maple Purists will tell you that syrup should be a lighter, almost watery gold color. We like our syrup thicker with a more robust flavor, and we think you’ll agree. Swamp Sugar is different, in a good way.
To make the syrup, we begin by tapping trees. That means drilling a hole and hammering a tap into the tree that will allow the sap to flow out. We currently use plastic taps and lines dropped down to buckets. When there is enough sap to boil, we drive through the woods collecting and dumping the sap into a storage container pulled behind our tractor. Our boys love this part because it’s like going on a hayride. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. To do that, we bring the sap back to our Sugar Shack, where we use our wood fired syrup evaporator to boil it down. There are many different sizes of evaporators. Because we only do small batch, we have a smaller size evaporator made by Leader Evaporator. All of our equipment comes from Leader. After we’ve boiled most of the sap down to syrup, we bring it inside and “finish” it on our kitchen stove. This gives us more control and allows us to create the one-of-a-kind Swamp Sugar. From there, we filter and then package it. Once the buds on the trees begin to open, the sap will turn sour, and our season is done.
In addition to our syrup operation, we also have a rooster and nine egg laying chickens. This year we plan to get more egg layers and a couple of goats for our sons who are 3 and 5. In addition to the animals, we keep large garden and will be planting pumpkins in one of our fields this year. Being outdoors, collecting sap, feeding the animals, and growing their own food gives our boys valuable life skills and experiences that they may not have received if we didn’t move to Newaygo County. We call it a hobby farm, but it’s really a way of life.
Swamp Sugar will be available in limited quantities soon and farm fresh eggs are available as our chickens lay them. You can find Grey Dog Maple Farms on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and soon on our own blog and website. Feel free to reach out through one of those or our email below. Also be sure to like and follow us to keep up with everything that’s happening at the farm.