Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sugar maker Brad Presby educates and entertains at The Rocks Estate’s New Hampshire Maple Experience

The New Hampshire Maple Experience opens at The Rocks Estate this weekend, but for our resident sugar maker, the work – and joy – of making maple syrup is a year-round process. 

Sugar maker Brad Presby at work.
Brad Presby has been making maple syrup since before he can remember. He learned the tricks of the trade from his grandfather, Lester Presby, as a young boy, and he’s been hooked ever since.Brad manages some 1,200 taps and many miles of sap line at The Rocks Estate

Visitors to the Maple Experience will see this fourth-generation sugar maker in action – and be entertained by his funny and informative maple tales – at the Estate’s own sugar house.

Below, Brad shares a little about what he does at The Rocks during sugaring season and beyond.

What do you do at The Rocks during the Maple Experience?
Well, my wife calls me an ‘edutainer.’ I talk to people about sugaring in general, and specifically about the work done in the sugar house, where the sap is transformed into syrup. I talk about the process and the different grades of maple syrup. And I like to tell stories from my many years of sugaring. I’ve been at The Rocks since 1986 or ’87, when they started doing some small maple programs. Now I’m there weekends for the Maple Experience and really enjoy it.

How did you learn about sugaring?
My grandfather had a small dairy farm in Bath, New Hampshire, and was well known in the area. His old sugarhouse is still down there. He used to have 600-800 buckets, and he was one of the first ones around to use [plastic] tubing. We used to drive through the woods in a tractor to collect the sap, so I have a lot of experience in how to bury a tractor in the mud! Sugaring time is when the mud’s out.
Jo and Brad Presby work on the main sap line at The Rocks.

What’s made you stick with sugaring for so long, and how does that tie into your work at The Rocks?
I just like talking sugaring. I could go on all day about sugaring. It’s something that gets into your blood. It’s almost like an addiction, where every year I think, "How many more gallons of syrup can I make? How much more can I handle?"

When does the work for sugaring season begin?
You never really stop. In November and December, we check to make sure the sap lines haven’t been knocked down. Moose will walk right through an orchard and knock the lines down. Bear will chew on them. Coyotes will pull them down. Last year in May we had a snow storm that knocked the tubing down. So in the fall, we push the lines up so they don’t get buried when it starts to snow. 

In winter, before the sap starts to flow, we pull the lines down and check them to make sure there aren’t bites in them from squirrels or other critters. Sometime in February we start tapping the trees. You have to keep an eye on the weather. We like it to be fairly warm to tap the trees. If it’s too cold, you can split the tree. 

(See Brad and his wife, Jo Presby, at work in this video.) 

After we’re done sugaring, we go out and pull the taps, which allows the trees to heal quicker. And we check the lines again, feeling for cuts. Then we push the lines up high so the deer and moose can’t get to it as easily.

Sugaring has changed. You’re constantly monitoring what you’ve got, making more plans. There is no end of the season. It’s a constant thing. 

What do you do when you’re not sugaring – or thinking about sugaring?
Well, I’m retired. I used to work for the State of New Hampshire, Department of Resources and Economic Development. Now I manage the property and logging operations for my family. I’m kind of a woodsy guy. I have a portable sawmill. We always have projects going on. We never stop working on projects. 

To hear more of Brad’s maple sugaring stories and learn about the process of making maple syrup, come visit us at the New Hampshire Maple Experience. The Maple Experience runs March 15, 22-23, 29-30, and April 5. Find more information at NHMapleExperience.com or call (603) 444-6228 to make a reservation for the 2014 Maple Experience.

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