The Tale of a Backyard Sugarmaker

Phase 1:

As the youngest of 5 kids growing up on a farm in rural Ontario, Canada, I spent most if not all of my feral childhood running throughout our farm fields, forests and about a mile of the Credit River which ran across our land.  I only vaguely remember any maple sugaring and asked my middle sister if we did much.  She told me that we tried a few times with 'pork and beans' cans and our old auger and brace.  Sounds like we didn't produce much syrup.  My clearest memories were of visiting my dad's sister - Aunt Sybil - who lived on a farm in Eastern Townships in Quebec.  My dad's brother - Uncle Waverley - also lived on another farm nearby.  I remember how a local Quebec sugarmaker tapped my aunt's trees and I also remember seeing lots of tins of her maple syrup around her farmhouse and in her caboose which she converted into an art studio camped out in the middle of a field on her property.  Maple sugaring seemed a mystique back then.  It continued to run in my veins as it became iconic on our flag of Canada in 1965 when I was 3 years old.

1921-1964           1965 - today   

My family on our farm.  My mum and three of my older siblings.

My dad - OK Ross

Me (crazy-haired one on our pony - Sheba), and 3 of my 4 siblings and my cousins.

My family down at our river (Credit River)

Phase 1 1/2:  My organic-farmer middle sister becomes a sugarmaker in Stayner, Ontario.

My sister, Kate's, two sons and her grand-son

Phase 2: 

So it all began in 2003 when we first moved to Vermont.  At that time my kids were 2, 4 and 7 years old.  They made great sugarmakers.  I tapped about 8 trees, inserted our spiles, hung our buckets and attached the lids (spiles, buckets and lids were all loaned to us from a friend).  Then we started collecting, and collecting, and collecting and boiling and boiling and boiling.   Each day when the bus came down our hill and stopped to deliver my two older kids, they would run down the hill, past our house and to the maple trees to check out the sap bounty for that day.  My youngest would run out of the house to join them.  The kids would then pour the sap from the buckets on the trees into a larger bucket and drag it by wagon back to our house....spilling a good percentage of sap along the way!  Then the boiling on our stove began with several nights staying up until 1 or 2am (me - not the kids).  A neighbour caught wind of my sugarmaking pursuits and loaned me his outdoor turkey baster set up including; pot, base and propane tank.  What a huge improvement and this sped up the boiling process tremendously.  Voila - our first batches of maple syrup were born.  And that's the story of phase 2.

Phase 3:

After an adventure in Singapore for a few years...nope no sugaring potential there, we moved back to Vermont and moved into a house just a few doors down from our old farm.  That iconic maple was still running in my veins so once I was able to get all three kids settled back into school I started researching the maple industry and in 2012 Tonewood was born!

For the past 4 years I have been been trying to make Tonewood a success...we're not there yet but still trying.  This spring I finally gave myself some time to return to backyard sugaring and boy, have I been loving it.  I've spilled a few buckets of sap (ugh!!!), and burnt a few batches of syrup and yes my husband even took over my boiling when I was traveling for a few day.  Yes he's an amazing chef but he burnt those batches too.  It's hard to keep your day job and watch the boiling sap when you're on a conference call.

So here is a bit of a photo chronicle of this spring's maple sugaring adventures:

Willa choosing a tree            Willa & friend                     Sugaring supplies

Willa measuring circumference - this is a 2-tap tree.      Attaching the drill bit

Beginning to drill                The Brace & Auger             Hmm the bit isn't right

After lots of frustration - our tap hole

Metal 5/16th inch spile with hook & bucket - no lid as these spiles don't work with lids      

Filter sock works really well with sap & syrup  218 degrees is ideal to store syrup in plastic containers but we heated to 220 degrees for glass containers

Voila - 1st batch!                              Spilled 2 full buckets of sap - ughh!

Time to fix the spiles using correct Hexagonal bit and plastic 5/16 inch spiles to accommodate lids

Much better spiles, buckets & lids   - 2nd batch!  Lighter due to less rain water which means less boiling

Burnt a batch (so did my husband who was covering for me)

This tree was too young!  We didn't tap it.  It takes a maple tree about 40-50 years to be able to produce maple syrup safely.

The minimum circumference a tree must be to tap is 38" (or 12"dbh = diameter at breast height) for ONE tap.  It is 57" (18"dbh) for TWO taps (don't tap more than two per tree).  This ensures the health of the tree. 


We are still collecting sap and boiling and producing syrup so I hope the season continues into April.  Don't miss out on our Mad River Valley Maple Festival on April 1,2,3.  I hope to see you there!






Dori Ross


4 Responses

Oakland Ross
Oakland Ross

March 29, 2017

Wonderful words. Wonderful pictures. Great job, Dori!


January 23, 2017

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March 31, 2016

I enjoyed reading the Tonewood story. My family and I love your delicious maple products. We use them at home and give them as gifts.


Tova White
Tova White

March 29, 2016

Love the story and the business! You photos of you as kids remunds me if some of the pics in Sally Mann’s new book!

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