The Maple Hut: A family taps success

2/2/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: February 2017

The Maple Hut is owned and operated by the Ryczek family – Mike, Rosann, Fred and Oscar.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maze

If you weren’t looking for it, you might not even realize it was there.

Sitting in the corner of the backyard of a home on River Road, even if you saw it, you might just think it’s a large shed.

Little would you know that inside are the tools to make one of New England’s sweetest delicacies – maple syrup.

It’s The Maple Hut, a small, but busy sugarhouse nestled right smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood along the Connecticut River.

Family owned and operated, The Maple Hut is truly a labor of love for Mike Ryczek and his wife Rosann. While both working full time and raising their two boys, Fred and Oscar, the two invest countless hours in a hobby they can share with everyone.

“It’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of money and equipment,” Mike said. “It would be really hard to do this if you didn’t really love it.”

Rosann said with a laugh, “There were a lot of times I had the backpack carrier on when kids were smaller. The neighbors thought I’d be crazy trudging around the neighborhood with buckets and a baby in the snow.”

While small compared to some other operations, The Maple Hut does substantial business for itself. Last maple season, the company produced approximately 80 gallons of syrup, a dramatic increase from the 50 gallons the years prior.

It started out – as many major undertakings do – as a much smaller enterprise.

“When I moved here, we saw all of the maple trees, but never really thought much of it until my friend, who was from Vermont, gave us some maple buckets in exchange for a pool table. At that point, I thought, ‘maybe I’ll do some maple syrup.’ We put a couple buckets out and the neighbors said, ‘Hey, you can tap our trees,’ and it kind of went on from there.”

Mike, who had made his own maple syrup on a very small scale when he was in high school, started out making syrup in a turkey fryer. Over the years, in the ever-present search for a way to make things more efficient, the operation grew, as did the size of the boiling apparatus from the turkey fryer to the eventual 2-foot-by-6-foot evaporator currently housed in The Maple Hut.

“Trying to make things more efficient is something all maple people go through. It’s fun watching it boil, but it gets tiring when you’re out here until 1 or 2 a.m.,” Mike said, also explaining that the collected maple sap has to find its way to the evaporator quickly, otherwise it will “spoil like milk.”

With the help of a reverse osmosis system, The Maple Hut is producing maple syrup more efficiently than ever before.

“With reverse osmosis, the filters are so tight that sugar molecules can’t pass through it; only water can. In maple syrup production, we want that waste product, the concentrated sugar,” Mike explained. “It goes from a concentration of 2 percent out of the trees to 10 percent after reverse osmosis. Instead of 55 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup, we can use 20 gallons of sap for that one gallon of syrup. The amount of time running the evaporator goes way down and we make a better quality product as well.”

But where does all the sap from which the sugar is extracted come from? It all started with just a few trees around the neighborhood.

“The neighbors have been great,” Rosann said. “They’ve been supportive since we started with just a couple of buckets.”

But the destructive October 2011 snowstorm helped push the Ryczek family to expand.

“Our neighborhood had a lot more trees before that October storm, but a lot came down then, so we branched out and a lot of other friends allowed us to tap their trees,” Mike explained.

Friends in Southwick and Feeding Hills and family in Chicopee offered up their trees to form a large network from which The Maple Hut draws its sap. All told, the family, along with friends, put out 275 taps.

“The places we have to tap, we’re so grateful for,” Mike said. “If we were to buy a piece of property like that, it would be a ton of money, so we’re grateful so many people have been willing to let us tap trees on their land.”

With trees spread throughout the area, the Ryczeks have increased their sap harvesting efficiency as well, turning from the more conventional buckets to a more modern method.

“We’re trying to go from buckets to a tube and vacuum system, which brings in a higher yield,” Mike explained. “It also means we’re going to one collection site or two instead of going to 50 buckets and carrying around jugs. When the jugs are full, there’s 60 pounds in each and you’re trudging in the snow up to your waist sometimes.”

Mike noted the family is always on the lookout for new trees.

“We’re always looking for places to tap,” he said. “It’s not just the trees that makes a location a good one. It’s got to be accessible and even sometimes things like where it is on a hillside or what side of the street it’s on. The right location is hard to find, so we’re always open to offers. And in exchange, people can get a product that’s coming straight from their property.”

In addition to allowing the Ryczeks tap their trees, neighbors and friends have taken a vested interest in the project, often stopping by to watch the process and lend a hand, even the younger ones.

“Now the neighborhood kids are helping split wood and help us when we go out to the lines,” Rosann said. “It’s good for them because now they know how it all works and know a little bit more about where their food comes from.”

As maple season 2017 nears, Mike said he and Rosann have been watching the weather, hoping for another cold snap. Some of the unseasonably warm temperatures can have an adverse effect on the season, he explained.

“It’s the freeze-thaw method,” he said. “It’s got to be in the 20s at nighttime and in the upper 30s in the daytime, when all the mud starts happening. That’s when the physiological action in the trees allows it to pump. The freeze and thaw allows the sugars to push up from the bottom of the trees to the branches to allow the flowers and the leaves to come out. If it’s too warm, it doesn’t run. The pumping engine in the tree isn’t working.”

While the vacuum system helps the process along a bit, he said the cold winter temperatures are essential not only for maple production, but the local environment in general. The polar vortex a couple years ago was a prime example, he noted.

“What a fantastic year that was, not only for maple syrup, but for the entire environment,” he recalled. “That year the trees acted the way they should and we got a bumper crop not only of sap, but also the fruit trees had a great year around here.”

The cold temperatures can also elevate the quality of the syrup.

“I’m not an expert on the maple science, but I’ve heard with the starches in the roots, the longer the freeze happens, the better the formation of sugars, so you can get possibly a higher yield of sugar in the sap from the trees,” he said.  “Then you can make more syrup and you’ll have a higher quality product.”

The vast majority of The Maple Hut’s products, including honey from its beekeeping ventures in Feeding Hills, are available right at the sugarhouse at 1162 River Road.

For more information, visit or To contact the Ryczeks about their products or to offer trees for tapping, email or call 789-6477.

Share this: