PEQUOT LAKES -- Large, blue, plastic bags, empty milk jugs and tin pails have been seen dangling from trees throughout the city of Pequot Lakes in recent weeks.
What does this all mean?
It's maple sap harvesting season, of course, although most people probably wouldn't think to harvest maple sap under the shadow of the bobber water tower in Pequot Lakes.
But then, they probably haven't met Pequot Lakes gardener Jim Fruth, whose unusual garden includes fig and apricot trees hardy enough to grow in Minnesota and a variety of black raspberry he developed that originally came from Siberia.
Jim Fruth of Pequot Lakes collected the sap from a maple tree in his yard and placed it into a cylinder. He then uses a hydrometer to find out what percentage of the sap is maple sugar. (Dispatch Photos by Jodie Tweed)
Fruth and his wife, Esther O'Donald Fruth, own Brambleberry Farm and recently began selling maple tapping equipment, as well as harvesting sap and cooking batches of maple syrup themselves. The next closest place to buy maple tapping equipment is more than 100 miles away.
The Fruths plan to bottle and sell the sweet, buttery tasting syrup under their own label. Eventually they'd like to make maple sugar candy to sell.
About a dozen area Pequot Lakes residents have bought the equipment and bring their maple sap to Fruth, who built an evaporator that extracts the water from the sap, leaving behind maple syrup. It takes about 40 gallons or more of sap to create a gallon of maple syrup. The volunteer tappers pay Fruth to prepare their maple syrup, or in exchange for his services they bring him the sap and he gives them a share of the finished product.
So far he has 325 taps throughout town, which he and those who are helping him tend. The maple tapping season started about two weeks ago. Fruth said it's difficult to say when the season will end because it depends on the weather. As long as it freezes at night and the temperature during the day gets above 35 degrees but not any higher than 50 degrees, then the sap will be running in the maple trees. When the buds swell on the maple trees, that is when the sap stops running, he said.
Jim Fruth, Pequot Lakes, poured maple syrup in a pot during the finishing process in order to boil out the remaining water, leaving behind the sweet, buttery-tasting maple syrup.
Four different types of maples can be tapped: sugar maple, red maple, silver maple and box elder. Tapping doesn't harm the trees.
Fruth isn't new to tapping maple trees. From 1972-1979 he owned a maple syrup operation in western Aitkin County where he had more than 5,000 taps and about 25 miles of tubing attached to the trees.
He then went to college and received degrees in horticulture and earth science, in addition to studying chemistry and education. After working for many years as a botany consultant for the Kimberly Clark Corp., he moved to Pequot Lakes in 1994 and started a garden, selling his produce and fruit at the Farmer's Market in front of the Oasis in Pequot Lakes.
Now Fruth has returned to the maple syrup business. He has discontinued growing vegetables and now specializes in small fruits, which he will sell at the Farmer's Market every Wednesday and Saturday from the end of June through October. Esther will make jams and jellies, selling them at Sheela's Shanty in Pequot Lakes and at the Farmer's Market. They also plan to continue selling herbs.
Jim Fruth built his own evaporator at his Pequot Lakes home. The equipment is designed to evaporate water from maple sap, leaving only the maple syrup behind. Next year he hopes to buy a larger commercial evaporator.
"We're raising the things that others can't raise because they're difficult," said Fruth, who also grows kiwis and gooseberries. "Figs only grow in Texas, except in my garden."
Next year Fruth hopes to buy a larger commercial evaporator and would like to have more volunteer tappers who bring in their maple sap. If you would like to tap your own trees next year, call Fruth now at 568-8483 so he can plan ahead for the next maple syrup season.
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