Between the Rows: The sweet life

  • Marilyn Lively checks the boil in the steam condenser. Pat Leuchtman Photo

  • The Lively family of Sunrise Farm in Colrain: Jordan, Marilyn, Rocky and Erik. Contributed Photo/Pat Leuchtman


For the Recorder
Published: 2/23/2018 5:08:14 PM

It’s maple syrup season, but we are more likely to see little hoses (called lines in the vernacular) snaking through the snowy woodlands than tin buckets hanging off the maple trees. Maple sugaring has changed over the years and I got to see the whole process at Sunrise Farm in Colrain.

The Lively family, mom and dad Marilyn and Rocky, with sons Erik and Jordan welcomed me to the steam-filled room in the sugar house, where the maple sap had nearly completed its transformation into sweet syrup. Rocky then ushered me to the top of the three-level space. This room, at the same level as the woodshed, holds a day’s worth of wood chips that have been harvested in late fall. The chips are sent down a chute that slowly and regularly feeds the furnace that heats the steam condenser on the bottom level.

However, it was on the second level where the sap lines, aided by a vacuum pump, bring sap into the sugar house. The pump keeps the sap moving, protecting it from heat and air that might allow bacteria to form. The sap is first filtered through cloth bags and then run through an ultraviolet light sterilizer to kill any bacteria. At this point, the filtered and sterilized sap is sent to the reverse osmosis tank, where magically 75 percent of the water is removed from the sap. With so much of the water removed, the final boiling goes very quickly. No longer do syrup makers have to spend hours into the night watching the sap as the water evaporates.

On the steamy ground floor, the sap was boiling away. Rocky checked it and was a little surprised. “Usually, the first run is a pale color, but this batch is more amber,” he said. That comment led us into a conversation about the new grading system.

Back in the ’70s, when I was first buying local syrup, I was delighted to find that I could get Grade B syrup, which I thought had much more flavor than Fancy or Grade A that was paler in color. The new grading system allows that every level of syrup is Grade A, but the new terms refer to color and flavor. Fancy is now named Golden and Delicate Taste. Then comes Amber and Rich Flavor. Third in line is Dark and Robust. This is my favorite, which might even be slightly richer in taste than the Grade B I used to favor. The color is beautiful and the flavor is so satisfying.

The final grade is Very Dark and Strong Flavor. This used to be Grade C, which most of us never saw because it was sold commercially.

When I told Rocky that I thought that Grade C syrup was used for making candy, he said absolutely not. Candy needed the much lighter amber syrup. The amber grade made the candy set up properly, and the color was much more attractive than the very dark (formerly) Grade C. “On the other hand, the Strong Flavor grade works very well for baking. Just a little will give you great taste for maple cookies,” Erik added.

I asked Marilyn if she ever drank the pure sap, which is mostly water and which some consider to have health benefits. “No, I don’t drink the plain sap, but sometimes I like to make coffee in my old percolator pot using sap instead of water. It gives the coffee a sweet flavor and I don’t have to use any sugar. It’s delicious.”

Sugaring isn’t a very long season in the agricultural year. After all the sugaring equipment has been given its final cleaning, the Lively men are busy tending their beef cattle, hayfields, and the woodlot. They sell timber, lumber and firewood. They also do some construction work. Marilyn continues with her job in the Mohawk Trail Regional School office where she works — even in sugaring season.

You can buy Sunrise Farm maple syrup at Green Fields Coop and at farmers markets.

Spring Symposium

Sugaring season isn’t the only sign of spring. The Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association is holding its annual Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at Frontier High School in South Deerfield.

Henry Homeyer, the Gardening Guy and author of books like “Gardening in the Northeast,” will speak on Sculpting the Living Landscape. There will also be a wide variety of workshops from vegetable gardening, shrubs, to an herbal spa workshop, good and bad insects, invasive plants, pollinator plants, and more. There will also be books from Timber Press and Storey for sale and items from local vendors.

Cost for the spring symposium is $35. Register early to get the workshop of your choice. If you wish to order the $8 lunch from the River Valley Market, you must sign up with your symposium form. Full information is on the website,

UMass Extension workshops

The UMass Extension Service is offering several hands-on workshops beginning in March:

March 3 — Edible Landscaping with Fruits in Amherst, $35.

March 11 — Tree Grafting in Belchertown, $100, all day with tools and materials supplied

March 24 — Home Orchard Pruning in Great Barrington. $45.

For full information about Extension programs check online for programs, time, locations, and cost.

The ground is newly covered with snow, but spring is on its way.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy