The fruit of Beneath The Bark Sugar Shack’s labour - bottles of dark maple syrup produced from the Comox Valley. Photo by Erin Haluschak

The fruit of Beneath The Bark Sugar Shack’s labour - bottles of dark maple syrup produced from the Comox Valley. Photo by Erin Haluschak

Tapping into the Vancouver Island maple syrup industry

Glenn Janzen is one of the Island’s many maple syrup producers

Glenn Janzen is part of a small – but growing – group of Island producers used to seeing their product evaporate – literally.

Janzen is one of many Island maple syrup producers in a burgeoning gourmet cottage industry. His Beneath The Bark Sugar Shack on his 100 acres in Black Creek produced around 35 litres of maple syrup last year, and he is in the midst of another successful season this year.

While maple syrup production is generally associated with eastern Canada, Janzen said the bigleaf maple on the Island is a strong producer of sap, and the resulting product offers a unique taste.

“People try and transfer what they know on the East Coast to here; it doesn’t quite work,” he notes as he walks toward one of the 200 taps currently drawing sap on his property into 16-litre jugs.

It takes somewhere between 70 to 80 litres of sap to turn into one litre of maple syrup, he explains. While all of his maples vary in sap production, one of his best-producing trees has a tap that will fill a jug in one day when the flow is on, but that’s a rarity.

“If we get four litres a day, if we get that across the board, that would be great.”

Tapping trees on Vancouver Island is different than in Ontario and Quebec, he explains. Tapping season beginnings in January through March, whereas in eastern Canada, it begins in April.

“Ours is much earlier, as sap won’t flow through a frozen tube,” and adds there is a very precise time in March to know when to stop tapping.

“When you look at the buds of a tree … the buds are just starting and if they are too plumb, the chlorophyll that is developing gets into the sap, because the sap is going up and down in the tree to feed the leaves. When we get too much chlorophyll, it gets a funny taste, and we just stop – they do the same back east. That’s one thing you can transfer.”

RELATED: Maple syrup industry growing in the Comox Valley

This year, the taps went in on Jan. 26 on his property. Janzen says some Island producers start as early as December. Sugar is generally about one per cent or less in the sap, but if they can get two per cent, “we’re happy. (It’s) about half of what they get back east.”

As a result, his sap spends about twice as long in the evaporator in order to boil off twice as much water, which caramelizes the sugar, producing a darker, rich-coloured syrup.

Janzen characterizes the flavour profile of his syrup as “sweeter caramel with a touch of molasses.”

• • •

One of Janzen’s friends and neighbours, woodlot owner Harold Macy, was the forest manager at the University of British Columbia’s research farm in Oyster River in the early 1990s. Along with a colleague, he wrote and delivered a program called Master Woodland Manager to allow private forest landowners management tools and new alternatives to clearcutting their forests.

He notes one module was Non-Timber Forest Products which included ornamentals, medicinals, handcrafts and edibles.

In the edibles section was maple syrup, a project he had been pursuing for several years at UBC. He explains the ‘pay it forward’ mandate was that in exchange for the knowledge and tools, participants would return to their home communities up and down the Island and pass on what they had learned.

Thanks to the popularity of the program, the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival at the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan has developed into an annual event.

“We also lobbied and received the classification of maple syrup as an acceptable farm crop for farm status, a first in B.C.,” he adds in an email.

A few years ago, Macy reached out to Janzen – who was one of his students – and asked if he wanted an evaporator. It was originally being used at UBC, then made its way to Salt Spring Island where it was used for about 10 years.

“It ended up here and it’s just way more efficient to use and it allowed us to produce a volume that we can share now. I don’t feel bad selling it; I don’t hoard (the syrup) anymore,” he says with a laugh. “This is our third season with the evaporator.”

• • •

Creating maple syrup takes time and patience – the small-batch process is not for those who want to see an instant product.

Following sap collection, the filled buckets get poured into a reservoir – in Janzen’s case, it is an old steam kettle from a commercial kitchen.

From there, the reservoir is connected to run into a float tank, where the sap preheats and eventually makes its way into the evaporator.

“If you drop cold sap into (the evaporator), it will kill the boil,” explains Janzen.

The sap sits in the evaporator until it reaches 50 per cent sugar. As a product, syrup is 67.5 per cent sugar.

Once it reaches the correct sugar content, the product is taken out of the evaporator and into a smaller evaporating pan indoors on two burners on a cookstove. The stove provides a more controlled heat, and as such, once the syrup reaches the correct sugar level, it is filtered, heated once more, then bottled.

“It’s nice to have enough to share,” Janzen notes and he places more wood in the fire for the evaporator.

“What struck me right away 15, 18 years ago, there was a significant amount of people that said we do (maple syrup), but just for us. There’s still that. There actually are a lot of people who do it. Homeschool groups come (for tours of the sugar shack), and some of the parents look at it and say ‘we tried and we got a thimble – it’s so much work.’ ”

Janzen realizes his maple syrup is priced higher than those from Quebec and Ontario, but his production is significantly smaller, and his syrup spends more time in the evaporator which enhances colour and flavour.

“I’ve had one or two people from Quebec who’ve said this isn’t maple syrup because they make maple syrup. I’ve run into 20 people or more at the market from Quebec who says: ‘wow, this is good.’ There’s the number one clear, and the amber but I like the darker stuff because it has more flavour.

“This has been compared to their end-of-the-season run, just when they’re getting down and cleaning out the pan, there’s sugar there that has been there so long that it’s so caramelized.”

A carpenter by trade, Janzen bought a sawmill and began supplying wood for a local flooring company when he and his family first purchased the property in 2000. At the time, he dabbled in maple syrup production but a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis two years later sidelined his ’sap-sucking’ for the time being.

“Fatigue was my main disabler,” he says.

Now, with his son David assisting the operation and his wife Sharon (who runs Alderlane Farmhouse Bakery) as support, Janzen decided returned to the “active, low stress” operation.

For more information and where to purchase the syrup, visit Beneath the Bark Sugar Shack on Facebook and Instagram.



photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Agriculture

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coun. Niall Paltiel of Central Saanich has filed a notice of motion directing staff to work with the WSANEC leadership council to develop a program leading toward the “gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names for key collector and arterial roads”(Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich councillor wants road signs to use WSANEC names

Coun. Niall Paltiel proposes ‘gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names’ for key roads

Royal Roads University president Philip Steenkamp said they are aware of hateful graffiti spray-painted in an area of the forest surrounding the campus. The graffiti in question includes anti-Semitic content and a racial slur towards Black people. (Facebook/Royal Roads University)
Anti-Semitic, hateful graffiti spotted in forest near Royal Roads University

Royal Roads working with West Shore RCMP to remove graffiti “as soon as possible”

A cougar was spotted at Royal Roads University on Sunday, Jan. 24. The sighting was reported on the western edge of the campus. (File photo)
Cougar spotted at Royal Roads University Sunday afternoon

Animal reported on western side of campus near Colwood Fire Department

Saanich-based St. Luke’s Players community theatre company has been making the most of their opportunities to keep busy during the pandemic, including staging a Christmastime panto of Alice in Wonderland on Zoom. (Courtesy St. Luke’s Players)
Saanich’s St. Luke’s Players: Bringing the stage to the people

Community theatre company holding online auditions Jan. 23-24 for March production

Frank Bourree was awarded the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s first Governors’ Award of Distinction for his leadership in the business community. (Courtesy of Frank Bourree)
Frank Bourree receives award of distinction from Victoria chamber

Award recognizes positive role model in business community

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read