Maple Season is Getting Closer

by Peter 3/1/2019 12:28:00 PM

A lot of changes have happened since we made our last gallon of syrup in 2018.  The most significant change was the removal of our old 4'x12' evaporator and installation of a newer 3'x10' evaporator.  The smaller size still boils the same amount of sap per hour using a more efficient preheating system and more consistent heat source from a propane burner.  While we will miss listening to the crackling fire and and feeling the warmth when the evaporator doors were opened for refueling, we won't miss the amount of cutting, splitting and stacking of wood required to fuel the evaporator.  In addition to being physically easier, the propane evaporator is also safer because it can't throw sparks out the chimney that can start the forest on fire in early April when the leaf layer is starting to dry out.  The propane evaporator also has automatic shut off controls that turn off the burner if the sap level falls below a desired level.  Since the propane evaporator only requires an insulating blanket and not the firebrick that the wood evaporator did, there is less retained heat and a much lower likelihood that a pan can be burned.  

In addition to the new evaporator, we replaced about 60% of the tubing network this year and plan to finish the remaining 40% next year.  The biggest difference in the new network is all of the connections are much tighter due to improvements in tubing technology.  The fittings that connect the mainlines together are now all tight fitting stainless steel fittings instead of PVC and other plastic fittings.  The 5/16" branch lines that connect the tree to the mainline are all "welded" in place.  Previously they were connected by a fitting, but now they are essentially melted to the mainline which eliminates a source of leaks.  The goal of these improvements is to decrease areas where air can leak in, which lowers the vacuum pressure in the lines.  The higher the vacuum pressure we can maintain, the greater the sap flow we can get from the tree.  

Last Friday, February 22nd and Saturday the 23rd we put in about 800 taps.  The remaining 200 taps will go in very soon.  We don't anticipate sap flow for at least two weeks based upon our weather forecast, but we want all of the taps in so everything is ready to go as soon at the temperature rises above 32 degrees.  It seems like this is a very late start to the maple season, but as we reflect back in our records, this year will be close to what a normal starting date was when we started making maple syrup in 1994.  The first five or so years always started around March 15th.  In the past five years, we've boiled as early as February 15th. 

It will be interesting to see how the sap flows this year.  There is a lot of snow in the woods with more on the way today.  Typically the deeper the snowpack, the longer the season lasts because it takes longer for everything to warm up.  The more days we get with day time temperatures above freezing and night time temperatures below freezing, the more sap we will collect.  But it seems that whenever we try to make predictions about how good of a season we will have or how much sap we will get on a given day, we are often wrong!  All we can do is have the holes in the trees drilled, the tubing connected, the vacuum pump on and the tanks cleaned.  If the sap flows, we will boil it!

Saturday Syrup

by Peter 3/26/2018 7:00:00 AM

It has remained pretty cool in the woods, keeping our tubing lines frozen most days until early to mid-afternoon.  However, when they have thawed out, we have had some pretty good flows.  On Saturday morning we started the reverse osmosis machine around sunrise, processed 1400 gallons of sap and by dinner we had made 47 gallons of Dark Robust syurp.

An interesting fact that I read last year in The Maple News said that Sugar Maple buds emerge after 114 growing degree days.  A growing degree is any degree above 50 degrees.  So if today's high is 58, it counts as 8 growing degrees.  If tomorrow it hits 63, that is 13 more growing degrees for a total of 21.  Once you hit 114, the buds emerge and the season is over.  So far we haven't had any growing degree days and there aren't any in the 10 day forecast.  As we all know, weather forecasts can change dramatically.  But for the time being, it appears that this maple syrup season will continue for several weeks.

First Syrup for 2018

by Peter 3/19/2018 7:43:00 AM

The 2018 maple syrup season has had an underwhelming start.  February and March have been cool to cold.  We collected our first sap a couple of weeks ago, but the flows were so slow that we had to dump the sap out.  Maple sap is a perishable product, so if we can't process it relatively quickly we have to discard it.  To start our season we need about 1500 gallons of sap, or 1.5 gallons per tap from our 1000 tap sugarbush.  The sap goes through a filter, into a reverse osmosis machine which removes 75% or the water and then into our evaporator.  Our 1500 gallons of raw sap (2% sugar) is reduced to 375 gallons of concentrated sap (8% sugar).  It takes about 75-100 gallons of sap to fill the pans of our 4'x12' evaporator, so that leaves us with a little less than 300 gallons of concentrated sap in our tank.  We weren't expecting to get any syrup yesterday because typically the first boil only establishes a concentration gradient in the pan.  The pan is sort of like a line corral at the airport security check point or an amusement park--a long winding maze.  We continually put the cold sap from the tank into the pan in the same spot, but evaporation is taking place on the entire pan.  This results in the sap becoming more and more concentrated the further it is away from the input for the cold sap.  After boiling for a few hours on our wood fired evaporator, we had our first syrup of 2018.  We made 15 gallons of Amber Rich maple syrup.

Looking at the picture above, you can see different grades of syrup.  All maple syrup has the same amount of sugar (66% to 67%) but the color is different depending on the weather, how fast the sap flow is and how quickly you can process it.  One grade isn't better or worse than the others, but they do taste differently.  The lighter the syrup, the more "delicate" the flavor profile.  The darker the syrup, the "stronger" or more pronounced the maple flavor is.  As a general rule lighter colored syrup is made earlier in the season and darker syrup later in the season.  The syrup we made yesterday was the color of the second lightest bottle in the picture, graded as "Amber Rich".  The four grades are:

Golden Delicate

Amber Rich

Dark Robust

Very Dark Strong

The extended forecast of day time temperatures in the forties and night time temperatures in the twenties looks promising for sap flow.