My Seasonal Harvest blog is an effort to share my passion for the outdoors, nature and the environment with others, and connect with like-minded individuals. Here I share my experiences as a maple syrup producer, beekeeper and gardener.
I love good food. Moreover, I genuinely appreciate knowing where my food comes from. Knowing how my food got from its raw state to my plate gives me great satisfaction: knowing the trees my maple syrup came from, knowing the garden my vegetables were grown in, knowing my bees have access to food that hasn’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals, or pesticides. This is why I am a maple syrup producer, a beekeeper, and a gardener.
The maple syrup pursuits I share here are really family pursuits. A tremendous amount of work goes into the maple syrup season and I am thankful to everyone who helps out. The slogan of Julia’s Tree Stand Maple Syrup, From my trees to your table should really be ‘From our trees…’ or at the very least ‘From my family’s trees…’. I chose to use ‘my’ to emphasize that I am involved in every step of the process and know exactly what is in my maple syrup, that I am confident it is 100% pure.
My newest pursuit, beekeeping gives me great joy. I am thrilled to see my colonies grow and flourish. For me, beekeeping is a natural extension of my passion for the outdoors, environment and nature.
I produce a number of sweet treats. My maple syrup is bottled in a number of different sizes, including 250mL, 500mL, 1L, 1.89L. The maple products I create from my maple syrup are maple butter, maple fudge, and a very decadent maple pie (think mapley butter tart). Next year I will start harvesting honey from my bees. I’ve been told to expect to get anywhere 50-100 lbs of surplus honey per hive. Multiply that by 8 hives and I’m going to be swimming in it. I think that’s when I’ll hang out my shingle and start selling honey and honey-based products. Until then I’ll experiment with different recipes to find the best flavour, and try my hand at making lotions, beeswax lip balms and candles, etc.
An interesting conversation I had with the head beekeeper of the Ottawa Community Beekeepers Association stands out in my head. He told me to always be thinking about the next winter – in the fall, do the bees have enough honey stores in the hive? Winter is coming. Is there enough brood for the winter cluster? Winter is coming. In the summer, do the bees have enough to forage on? Winter is coming. Are the bee pests at a manageable level? Winter is coming. In the spring, is colony build up happening fast enough? Winter is coming. Is my queen healthy and strong? Winter is coming. The list goes on. He stressed to always be two steps ahead in terms of preparation. As with most things in life, my honey production will depend on my preparation and anticipating my bees needs.
Well true to my word I have been testing out maple recipes. My oh my I have found some that are good … knock-your-socks-off good. I am aiming for the perfect balance of sweetness. So far I’ve found decadent recipes for maple cones, maple fudge, and just last night I made a dynamite recipe for maple pie – not too sweet, perfect consistency, lavish maple flavor.
I find it interesting to note that while bottling, taste-testing each batch (for quality assurance purposes of course) revealed an array of flavor notes (purely sweet, strongly maple, lingering sweetness, etc.). These flavor notes are strongest when the syrup is sampled on its own, or on an ice cream parfait. If you’ve got an idea of a recipe for me to try, please leave me a comment :).
We bought a drill press at Ottawa Fastener and Supply Shop’s ‘April Tools Day’ event on Thursday. The worker who helped us, Bruce, was a wealth of information on buying the right tool to meet our needs, assembly, use, limitations, and care of the piece. He listened to our requirements, helped us decide on the right model, and even helped us save some money too. My hat goes off to him for a job well done.
Yesterday, AJ, myself and my Dad convened in the garage to put it together. It’s a mighty good thing that Bruce gave us such a good tutorial because the instructions that came in the box certainly left much to be desired. Regardless, we got the thing together. Ooohh it’s a beaut! We’ll be able to use it for cleaning buckets, putting together bee-hives and so many other tasks. Picture of drill press in all of it’s glory soon to follow.
This has been the longest maple syrup season for us so far. We have nearly finished all of the processed syrup. This past week we’ve had some 14 hour boils and even one 16 hour boil. And now a drum roll please – we were at a total of 294 Litres and Sunday’s finishing pushed us over 300 Litres. What a season! Now it’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work marketing my maple syrup and maple syrup products.
Today is our final, last day of maple syrup production. I feel like I’ve been a broken record about that lately; I’ve said this is our final day for three days now. To elaborate, we can only finish so much syrup at a time in our finishing unit. Then we take that batch of syrup in to be bottled. All in all, it takes roughly 2.5-3 hours for us to finish a batch. We managed to get three done yesterday before calling it quits. We are finding the “bottleneck” in our process is the filtering stage; when it was cold out I could understand how the syrup would cool down too much to flow well through the filter, but we’re finding even in the warmer weather it’s still getting hung up and slowing us down. I will focus on brainstorming improvements in this area for next year.
Getting back to my point, today is our final, last day. Whew!
I am looking outside at a snowstorm. It is April 6 and it is snowstorming outside. Brrr. It has been too cold the past few days for any sap to flow. The forecast for tomorrow is promising for good sap run.
I am torn between feeling elated that I’ll be able to get at least one more boil in before the end of the maple syrup run, and feeling angst about the cold weather’s effect on the health of the bees’ that I am ordering. Talk about a new feeling, being worried about bees. The bees are not even in my possession yet and I am already worried about them. I must remember that the bees I am ordering from my local supplier, Mahmoud at Forestdew Honey (www.forestdewhoney.com), are overwintered in an indoor, climate controlled ‘beedome’ so they will not be subjected to the erratic weather conditions outside. The bees I have ordered are New World Carniolians. While half of the colonies I am getting will have imported queens, the other half will have Ontario queens. (My reasoning behind this: why not?) I will take note of which are which and make observations on whether the colonies featuring imported or domestic queens perform better. Courtesy of my Opa, the beeyard will host several homemade hives, as pictured below. What a craftsman he is. The bees will be ready for pick-up in late May. In the meantime I have more beehives to assemble and a bee yard to prepare for their arrival. That, I believe will keep me busy as a bee until they arrive.
I thought we were nearing the end of our season here in Eastern Ontario. However, upon checking the ever-changing weather forecast it appears to be lasting at least one more week. Everything in my life has been revolving around maple syrup for the past month. From checking the weather forecast about 5 times a day to even muttering in my sleep about the float level of the evaporator, this is an all-consuming hobby of mine.