Hard work makes for sweet returns for local 'sugar house'

Sullivan County Democrat — March 18, 2011GRAHAMSVILLE – Part meteorologist, part scientist, part farmer, part lumberjack and part contractor. That’s all it takes to become a maple syrup farmer. And John Garigliano, who is only in his third season of production, is quickly becoming a veteran maple syrup producer during one of the best “runs” in recent history. “All the old timers are telling me they have never seen the sap run like this,” John, who owns Catskill Mountain Sugar House in Grahamsville, said. Last week, as his two 2,800- gallon storage tanks were filling up with the precious sap, John knew it would be another long day. “I don’t know of any producer who is complaining,” John laughed. “This year’s sap has a high sugar content and everything is picture perfect. “And it’s busy! We boiled for 19 hours Friday [March 11] and 16 hours on Saturday,” he said. “We will hit 20 hours today, easy. “This is very, very rare. I’ve talked to a lot of old timers and you don’t get a five-day run like we’ve had,” John said. The best “runs” are produced when the nights are cold (below freezing) and the days are warm. “But you don’t want it too warm, that those buds open. You want the buds closed up,” he said. The run was so good, in fact, that two of John’s friends, Chris and Mike Mickelson of Thunder Hill Sugar Shack, had to construct a makeshift tank using tarps and a dump truck so as not to lose any sap.


As owner of the Catskill Mountain Sugar House, John is literally living off the land. John said maple syrup production is a lot more than putting in a few taps and waiting for the sap to run. “We started tapping on February 1,” he said. “We tapped 10,000 trees in 10 days, working sun up to sun down. One day it hit 20 below wind chill.” After the tapping was complete, John and his crew waited for the sap to run. And on February 24 he was filling his first barrel. But John also has help. His three full-timers are Danny Knox, Kevin Smith and David Quick. He also relies on a special group of “volunteers,” who include dad Walter, brothers Jim, Matt and Mark, Tom Byrne, Scott Mahnken and Kevin TerBush. “My best friend, Wade Lockhart, is my truck driver,” John said. After sap season is complete the fun starts. John and his men will carry ladders and five gallon pails of clean water into the woods to rinse out each and every tap. During the warmer months, John will cut firewood for next year’s sap-season, cull nonmaple tree logs for timber and firewood sales and also tend to his 31 bee hives, which produce loads of honey. He then will check his 77 miles of tubing for any problems and to make sure no animals have bothered his setup. And he will also plan for next year. “We are already talking about installing another 10,000 taps and buying a faster reverse osmosis machine to speed up the process,” John said.