Kopp's Crops is a family-run business specializing in maple syrup, honey and fresh vegetables. We are located 45 miles north of Minneapolis in Bradford Township on our 65 acre farm.

*Now Selling at the Cambridge-Isanti Farmers Market!*

Local Orders: For pickup in Isanti, Cambridge, Brooklyn Park or Arden Hills, please email koppscrops@gmail.com or call 763-772-7057 to place your order and arrange payment & pickup. Available products are listed in the shopping cart below.

Outside the Twin Cities: Please use the online shopping cart below. USPS shipping charges will be calculated at checkout.

For questions, please email us at koppscrops@gmail.com


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fifteen Bottles of Syrup on the Wall...

Bottling is the moment of truth – when clear glass bottles offer the first glimpse of the true quality of the syrup.  Saturday was our first bottling day – we had over a gallon of syrup in our stock pot!  The final step to ensure clear, pure syrup is to filter it to get out all the last impurities.  Before the finishing step, we used a coarse filter to remove any bits of bark or other woodland goodies.  But as the water boiled away, minerals and nutrients in the sap concentrated to produce “sugar sand,” which feels just like real sand – which is to say, it turns your morning pancakes into sandpaper that grinds against your teeth if you don’t get it out of your syrup. 
Just before we ladled the syrup into the bottles, we poured it through a fine pre-filter (like a coffee filter) to strain out most of the impurities.  Finally, we poured the syrup through a cone-shaped Orlon (a felt-like fabric) filter, which looks a little like a big diaper.  How well does it filter out the sugar sand?  Eh, it Depends. 

To make sure the caps sealed properly, we soaked them in hot water to soften the seals while we reheated syrup to 200 degrees.  Then we ladled the hot syrup into clean bottles and twisted the plastic caps on. The result?  Fifteen 12-oz. bottles of the lightest, clearest syrup we’ve ever bottled – liquid gold!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seven Degrees of Separation

Maple syrup is finished when it reaches at least 66% sugar (the sap starts at 2% sugar).  At that concentration of sugar, the syrup boils at 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of water – that’s how we can tell we’re getting close to the end.  Yes, that normally means 219 degrees, but altitude & atmospheric conditions can change the exact temperature.  So we calibrate the boiling temperature of water first, using a digital thermometer to get an exact reading.  Then we use the same thermometer to periodically check the syrup temperature in the boiling pan. 
The finishing step requires a more precise temperature control than the wood stove can provide, so when the sap gets to within a degree or two of the desired temperature, we drain it into a big stock pot and finish boiling it on the burner of our turkey deep fryer (outside!) so we can more closely control the temperature.  Don’t worry -  there’s no deep-fried-turkey aftertaste to our syrup!  To get a more precise estimate of the sugar content in this stage, we use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the syrup.  As the sugar content gets higher, syrup gets thicker, and the hydrometer floats higher. 
Whatever you do, don’t try this on the kitchen stove.  A friend of ours tried it once, and spent less time boiling than she did cleaning maple syrup droplets off the stove, the counter, the floor, the microwave, the exhaust hood, the dog…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Long Live the Queen (Bees)!

It’s been a long winter.  Really long.  Crazy long.  Remind-us-why-we-live-here long.  At least we’ve had a nice warm house and a steady supply of comfort food during these long months.  But our bees were facing their first Minnesota winter in the Kopp woods, with just drafty little wooden bungalows for shelter and a little honey to keep their bee bellies full.  More than a little honey, really – roughly 80-90 pounds, or 6-7 gallons per hive.  Even so, the long, long winter meant that one of the hives ran out of food.  So some emergency rations were required – 10 pounds of granulated sugar on a layer of wax paper.  And we’re happy to report that both hives have survived the winter! 
When we lived in the city limits dandelions were the enemy, to be hunted and obliterated by any means possible.  But now, we’re eagerly awaiting their first blooms; dandelions have a very large nectar flow and are among the first major nectar sources for bees in the spring.  Our hives desperately need to replenish their honey stores!  Plus, imagine how much fun it will be to teach Amanda how to blow the seeds off big white dandelion puffs.  Toward the neighbor’s yard, of course…

Monday, March 21, 2011

We’ve Reached the Boiling Point

Yesterday was our first really solid boiling day – approximately 70 gallons of sap.  Our boiling pan is a flat metal rectangle, 2 feet by 4 feet by 8 inches deep, with a 40 gallon capacity and a drain spigot in the corner.  Yes, that does mean it can double as a margarita dispenser in a pinch.  If you’re planning a really, really big Cinco de Mayo party.  The pan sits atop the wood stove, which has been carefully leveled to ensure even heating.
A pan with this surface area can evaporate off approximately 8-10 gallons of water per hour, but only after it reaches a full, rolling boil.  Hence the fancy pre-warming contraption, which reduces the time it takes the sap to really get going.  Once we start the fire and fill the pan, someone has to tend to the stove continuously, which is why we try to find willing friends & family to help keep us company or take over for a little while.  Now accepting volunteers… we’ll pay you in syrup!
The temperature control on the boiling stove is simple.  If the pan is boiling nicely, we stop putting wood in it.  If the pan stops boiling or slows down, we add more wood; preferably smaller pieces that burn fast.  As the water boils off and the sugar content in the pan rises, the bubbles get smaller – one of the first signs that we’re getting closer to the finishing stage.  That, and the fabulous scent of syrup in the air that makes all the neighbors suddenly, inexplicably crave a tall stack of pancakes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Splitting Logs in Opals & Anne Taylor

Man plans; God & maple trees laugh.  Maple trees are a little like our infant, Rachel:  we go by their schedule, not the other way around.  The original plan had been to boil sap yesterday and take today off, but with the sap continuing its stubborn trickle until a late afternoon deluge, boiling was postponed until today.  No problem… since we were inviting 16 of our closest family members over to lunch after Rachel’s baptism this morning, we knew we’d have plenty of help with the sap collecting and fire tending. 
After a lunch delayed by a few non-tree-related unforeseen circumstances (namely, locking ourselves and all our guests out of the house!), the nieces & nephews were all pressed into service gathering sap.  In the mud.  By the time Michelle got her jeans & boots on, and Rachel bundled up in her baby snowsuit for a little jaunt outside, our toddler Amanda had coated the knees and seat of her snow pants with mud and her cousins were up to their elbows in sap (figuratively speaking). 

The five kids who were old enough to empty or carry buckets had brought back quite a bit of sap, but there was lots left to collect, so Jason & Dad Carr took the 4-wheeler out on another sap collection (and lid- and bucket-straightening) run.  Unfortunately, they had not split enough logs to keep the fire going and the sap boiling while they were gone.  Which is how, after handing Rachel over to Mom Carr safe-keeping, Michelle came to be splitting logs in her best opals and Anne Taylor sweater.  As Jason joked upon his return, “When I bought you those earrings for Christmas, I always pictured you chopping wood in them!”  
After a six hour shift that ended with Jason & Dad Carr boiling by the light of their headlamps, 70 gallons of sap had been reduced to a couple gallons of “nearly finished” syrup to store in the fridge until tomorrow’s finishing step.   Please note:  if there is no blog post tomorrow, it means that we’re too sore from chopping wood to lift our arms. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sweet Potato Science Project

While we wait for the sap to start flowing, we’re not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs.  Just because the snow’s not melted off the garden yet doesn’t mean we can’t go ahead and start growing this summer’s veggies!  Did anyone else try the sprouting sweet potato experiment in their elementary school science class?  You take a sweet potato, stick toothpicks into the sides so it can rest suspended in a jar of water, put it in a sunny window, and wait for it to sprout. 
Well, we’re reliving our childhoods!  Sweet potato plants are expensive (relatively speaking), and we still have several of last summer’s sweet potatoes nicely preserved in a five-gallon bucket full of dry sand in the cellar.  So we took two of them and put them in wide-mouth canning jars full of water.  Minus the toothpicks.  Toothpicks?  We don’t need no stinkin’ toothpicks.   And just like in school, the potatoes are sprouting roots & leaves and fascinating the youngsters in the house.  Every morning when Amanda wakes up, she checks on the “Seet Taytoes” to see how they’re growing.  If the leaves of the latest shoot are big enough, she helps Daddy clip them to start another plant.  We’ve already started fifteen plants this way, which should produce enough sweet potatoes to keep Baby Rachel in pureed sweet potatoes until…oh, her sophomore year of college. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Forty-to-One Odds

The sap is running!  The sap is running!  When it comes out of the tree, maple sap looks pretty much like water.  And it tastes pretty much like water – you can just barely taste the sugar.  Which makes you wonder – who was the first person to say “Hey, why don’t I try collecting the water out of this tree and boiling it for half the day to see if something fun happens to it?” 
Now that we’ve got some sap movement, we’ve loaded up the bright blue 55 gallon plastic collection tank in the trailer of the four-wheeler to start collecting.  It takes about an hour to get around to all the trees, empty the buckets and get them rehung.  On a good day, we could fill the tank four or five times.  But it’s early, so yesterday’s haul was only about 10 gallons, and today was just over 5 – hardly worth boiling.
Forty to one.  No, that’s not the odds of you winning your NCAA pool.  It’s the odds on “Maple Madness” - the ratio of fresh sap to finished syrup is 40 to 1.  Well, 40 to 1 for red maple trees, and 35 to 1 for sugar maples.  We’re collecting from both.  So for every time we fill the 55 gallon tank, we get a little more than a gallon of syrup.  For those who aren’t in the mood for math problems, that means the past two days’ sap collection will net us a measly quart and a half of syrup.  <sigh>

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Unclogging the Boiling Bottleneck

In our second year, we tapped 60 trees vs. the previous year’s 30.  Twice the taps brought twice the sap, which was fabulous for our inventory.  However, it also meant twice the boiling time, which got a little tedious toward the end of the season.   This year, Michelle put her foot down – no more taps until we solved the “Boiling Bottleneck” in the operation! 
So Jason devised a fancy new system to reduce the time it takes the sap to reach a full boil, which is when it really starts evaporating and turning into the syrup you love on your waffles.  The new operation involves a bright blue 55 gallon storage tank sitting on a scaffold behind the boiling stove.  From the tank, several feet of copper tubing wrap around the smokestack of the stove, warming the sap before it runs into the boiling pan.  The whole contraption ends up looking a bit like a moonshine still, but it definitely speeds up the process. 
And so we’ve opted to tap an additional 40 trees this year.   The tapping process went something like this:  Drill a hole in the tree with the cordless drill at a slight downward angle (no use letting all that gravity go to waste!).  Pound the tap into the tree with a hammer.   Hang a yellow plastic bucket from the tap.  Put a blue lid on the bucket to keep leaves, sticks, and small woodland creatures from falling in the bucket.  Repeat 99 times. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lost in the Woods with Scarface

If you someday find yourself recruited for sap bucket collection duty and get a little turned around out in the woods, it’s easy to find your way back to civilization.  Notice how all the buckets seem to be hanging on the same side of the tree?  They are – the south side (South Side, holla!)  As spring approaches, the sun heats up the south sides of the trees fastest, so the sap flows most freely on that side and that’s where all our taps & buckets are.
All, that is, except for the tree we call Scarface.  Scarface has a huge scar all up the south side of his trunk, so we put the bucket on his east side.  Sometimes the winter sun heats up a maple tree so hot that the bark splits all the way up the tree, which is why nurseries sell tree wrap for you to protect that prized maple in your front yard.  Such is the case with Scarface.  So aside from the fact that we can’t get a tap drilled into the south side with all that tree scar tissue, we’ve just decided that when dealing with a tree with a scar that bad-a$$, you put the bucket wherever he says it’s okay.  And thank him for his time.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why Maple Trees are Quintessential Minnesotans

It turns out that maple sap is a little like your average Minnesotan – the minute the temperature gets above freezing, it wants to run outside and get some fresh air.  But a good cold snap makes it hunker down inside with a bowl of soup and a hot toddy.   Maple sap moves the most when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.  The warmth of the day draws the sap up the trunk to the limbs, but the cold at night sends it back down to the roots.  The syrup taps divert that flow into the bucket.  Once the nights get warm enough, the sap stops returning to the roots, and syrup season is over.
During a warm spell in February we tapped our first few trees: the ones at the edge of the woods, where it warms up earlier.  One of the trees gave up a good third of a bucket of sap before the daytime highs dropped below freezing again.  So now we have a third of a bucket of frozen sap.  Sap-cicle, anyone? 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gearing Up for Syrup Season

Now that it looks like Spring might actually make an appearance in Minnesota this year (finally!), it’s time to gear up for maple syrup season.  Literally… we’ve been slowly collecting equipment over time.  In our first year we purchased 30 taps & buckets, and boiled sap in a borrowed boiling pan on a “stove” made of cinderblocks.  Yep, others in our neighborhood have cars up on blocks – we had a maple syrup pan.  Does that make us yuppie rednecks?  Pioneer rednecks?  Year 2 brought a second round of taps & buckets (running total: 60) and a finer filter to strain the sand out of our syrup.  Jason scrounged an old wood stove and did some welding and retrofitting to make it fit the borrowed pan, so we had a more efficient boiling operation.  Now year 3 is upon us, and the tap & bucket count is up to an even 100.  Earlier this week, Jason once again made the pilgrimage to Anderson’s Maple Syrup in Cumberland, WI to add to our collection.  We now own our own boiling pan and a supply of glass bottles that can only be described as “optimistic.”  Here’s hoping for a high-yield season!