Located just two-and-a-half miles off U.S. 231 on Brick Chapel Road, the Harris Sugar Bush Camp is one of the largest producers of maple syrup in Indiana.
Owner Art Harris has over 3,400 taps. It takes about 45 gallons of raw sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. And while many Hoosier syrup makers use buckets, Harris has more than 15 miles of plastic tubing and vacuum lines for collection.
During the actual process of creating syrup, the sap first undergoes the process of reverse osmosis, where excess water is removed. The sap then enters an evaporator. As the sap flows from one evaporating bin to another, the remaining excess water is boiled away. The evaporator used by Harris can convert 2,000 gallons of sap into syrup per day.
The final step requires exact precision, as the sap must reach a temperature of 221 degrees. To heat the sap, a furnace is run at 2,100 degrees. When the sap is finished heating, the final product is syrup.
Generally this means harvest time runs between February, March and early April. The season will end when nighttime temperatures no longer reach the freezing mark with any regularity.
Intermediate levels of boiling can also be used to create various products, including maple cream that is less hard and granular than maple sugar and maple butter, creamy, with a consistency slightly less thick than peanut butter.
The Harrises built the sugar house using materials found on their own farm, including an old poplar tree which now serves as the building's ridge pole. Inside, 50-year-old copper pans are used in conjunction with an oil-fired evaporator, and the system is run by a computer. A probe is used to monitor the proper density, and the temperature is carefully monitored and adjusted.
One gallon of condensed syrup is produced from approximately 45 gallons of raw sap, although those numbers vary based on sugar concentration, the weather and a tree's genetic makeup. In the fire box, the temperature is 2,500 degrees, and a fast boil is one of the essential elements for quality syrup. Eight gallons of fuel are used an hour, and if the water level gets too low, the bottoms of the pans can melt in a mere 30 seconds.
In the climate-controlled processing room, or kitchen, syrup and other products are heated for bottling and safety sealed with wax. Unopened, the syrup has a 10-year shelf life.
Labor, time and expense have limited the number of sugar camps in the area, but Harris and his wife Rebecca plan to produce maple products full time once they retire. A typical day's work is 16 hours long or can even take 24 hours.
Although their syrup is sent as far as Japan, Texas and New York, most Putnam County customers purchase the maple cream, sugar, syrup at Harris Sugar Bush.
Besides maple sugar, he also makes and sells maple sugar candy, butter, cream, cotton candy, jelly, teas and maple-covered nuts.
Harris also sells the vacuum systems he uses for his own maple sugar harvest.
Harris Sugar Bush tours are wheelchair accessible. School groups, clubs and the general public are welcome. The camp is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The sugar camp, located at 999 E. CR 325 North, is approximately 2.5 miles east of Brick Chapel from U.S. 231. Signs are posted intermittently along the roadway.
Persons interested in visiting the Harris Sugar Bush sugar camp or those with information, memories or photographs of maple sugaring in Indiana can contact Arthur and Rebecca Harris at 653-5108.