Did you know that there are other products that benefit from forest management?
Updated: May 23, 2022
Meet Charles & Annetta Enlow, Sleepy Hollow Farm
Charles and Annetta Enlow have been walking the woods and tapping maple trees for syrup for 12 years, but their ties to the farmland of Garrett County go back 18 generations combined.
Their family is a success story of sustainable non-traditional forestry products, but it wasn’t a straight and direct path getting there. They started out as dairy farmers, farming jointly with Charles’ parents on land his family had been a part of since possibly the late 1700s. Charles’ parents retired in 2010, but Charles and Annetta kept dairy farming, with around 40 head of cattle on the family’s 300 or so acres.
At the same, Charles went to work with the county roads department while Annetta continued with the milking and dairy chores until they sold the dairy cows in 2017. “Money was tight and we needed to diversify to find other ways to make the farm more profitable,” she says.
One way to boost the farm profits was a new crop from the least likely of places: the forest. Since their woodland contained a high percentage of maple trees, they decided to venture into the maple syrup business. A part of the property that’s now being tapped was a registered Tree Farm prior to them buying it, so the trees and land were already being properly managed. With their eyes on a sweet sugary prize nestled in the forest, they had the land selectively timbered to leave only the maple trees behind. “They did a really good job,” Enlow says when talking about the timber harvesting.
Charles’ family had always tapped maples on their land, but it was for their own use. Charles and Annetta saw it as a sustainable, renewable product that offered a potential new niche, value-added crop that not many other family farms could say they can offer. “When we decided to get into it, we wanted to be licensed so we could legally sell our products” she says. After contacting the state, who then developed a new set of rules for the Enlows since had it been so long since any new maple syrup producers had applied, they were on their way. “It was a learning process for everyone,” Enlow adds.
Twelve years later and the family taps 5,000 trees a year now. It all starts in the early part of February, when the trees are first tapped. Sap is collected through a tubing system and stored in stainless steel milk tanks, and not the traditional buckets, though the Enlows have 3 sap buckets right outside of their sugar camp for nostalgia. Charles’ parents and grandparents used buckets, “and if they’re running good, it would take less than a day to fill them,” says Annetta.
The sap collected then goes through reverse osmosis to take a lot of the water out of the sap so there’s less to boil down. After that, it goes into an evaporator to boil down to the final product of maple syrup. When it’s in the boiling stage, there are two pans that the syrup flows through before getting to true maple syrup. The Enlows have all of this on a computer system where it automatically draws off the syrup when it’s the right temperature, though they still check it manually to make sure it contains the right amount of sugar.
Once they have finished that process, they store it all in 40-gallon barrels and Annetta bottles it out as needed. She also cooks up the syrup to make candy, granulated maple sugar, maple peanuts, maple fudge, “and whatever you think you can of to make with maple,” she says.
Surprisingly, their maple syrup farm is primarily red maple, with only about 20% of trees being sugar maple. With red being the dominant species tapped and less sugar content than sugar maple, it takes close to 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Either way, “all those little drips really add up,” says Enlow.
She says sap production doesn’t seem to slow as their trees age, which makes perfect sense. Sap and the flow of nutrients up and down a tree is needed more and more as a tree ages and gets bigger and bigger. Trees pull the sap up from the ground and use the nutrients to produce leaves and we catch the sap before it goes back into the ground. “We’re basically using what the tree is getting rid of,” says Enlow. Freezing temperatures at night and warm days are the best for sap flow. Whenever the weather warms up in the Spring is when the syrup farm operations slow down. “Usually by the first of April we’re finished,” she says, so it is very weather dependent. Everything they produce is sold through the year and by the middle of February they are tapping a new supply. A lot of their product is sold right off their porch through an honor system, as well as at various festivals that they attend.
Weather is their biggest challenge as far as the tree’s ability to produce steady sap flow as well as being able to check their vacuum system and tubing that runs throughout the syrup farm for collection. During syrup season, everything is run through this vacuum system and in order to keep the vacuum up and going, there can’t be any leaks in the lines. Thanks to local wildlife like squirrels, deer and bears “we are constantly walking in the woods looking for leaks,” she says.
Tapping trees with snowshoes is just a given with Garrett County winters. Annetta points out how snowshoes and branches sticking up through a layer of snow can make for a bit of a hassle. However, “if we wait until the snow melts, we will miss a couple of good runs,” she says. Thank goodness they have family that are willing to help with the operation.
Keeping busy all times of the year is nothing new for the Enlow family. With her and husband Charles, as well as their son Levi, 18, and daughter Cristy, 16, and Charles’ parents William and Kristen Enlow, maple syrup is definitely a family business, and their taps look like they’ll keep on flowing for years to come. Yes, there certainly is more to the forest than just trees. With proper management it produces the products that we all need and love.
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Garrett County Farm Markets
Maryland's Forests- Great for the Environment and the Economy
Grow & Fortify
Products using maple syrup make the journey from tree to table in Garrett County.
Sleepy Hollow Farm products are available for purchase at:
3345 Friendsville Road
Friendsville, MD 21531