KENNEBUNK — A 5-gallon bucket of maple sap is fairly heavy – about 40 pounds – so if you don’t want to carry two buckets 600 feet through a neighborhood, you have to get creative.

The Van Hemel sisters – Caroline, 16, Helen, 11 and Margriet, 9 – have done just that. To transport their buckets of maple sap though their Kennebunk neighborhood, they developed a “sapcycle” – an old jogging stroller they have modified over the past five years to hold two buckets of sap. 

For the first two years, the girls just rested one bucket at a time in the cloth seat of the jogging stroller, but it wasn’t a perfect vehicle for the heavy bucket.

“It was very wiggly,” Caroline said. “It kept on tipping,” her sister Helen added.

Two years ago, they took the cloth seat off and mounted a piece of plywood to the stroller frame, using bungee cords to hold the buckets to the frame. It was an improvement, but the buckets slid around on the plywood board too much.

So this year, they added two crates to hold the buckets in place. To add some style, they have tied two mason jars containing battery-operated fairy lights to the front crate. Even with the improvements, wheeling 80 pounds of sap isn’t always easy.

“It’s kind of hard to steer,” said Caroline. “When you try to turn it, you have to push down on it to lift the front wheel,” added Margriet. 

When the sap is flowing into the traditional buckets hanging off tree taps in their yard, the sisters transfer it into the two bigger buckets nestled in the crates on their sapcycle and then wheel it about a tenth of a mile down Dane Street to the Schulte home on Park Street.

“It was quite a surprise to see that thing coming down the street the first time,” said Shiloh Schulte, who boils the sap the sisters deliver.  

The sisters are part of a collaborative of six families in the Kennebunk neighborhood that deliver their sap to Schulte, who uses a square open boiling pan over a fire in his backyard for the initial boil of the sap.

Schulte keeps feeding the fire about every half-hour, working until 10 or 11 p.m. to get the sap to its initial density. He and his wife, Shevaun, finish the sap by filtering it and doing a second boil on their kitchen stove. He says they create six to 10 gallons of syrup each season and distribute it among the six families. 

With their improved sapcycle, Margriet and Helen say their favorite part of the process is pouring the sap from the traditional buckets into the 5-gallon buckets.

For Caroline, putting the finished syrup on breakfast is her primary motivation but she also enjoys the effort it takes.

“Getting to eat it on pancakes is great but it’s fun to bring it down, too,” she said. 


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