Maple Syrup on the Brain

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.

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Maple Syrup Season 3

We are in the middle of our 3rd season now.  With a lull in the weather and pretty slippery conditions outside I thought I’d write a little update.

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Slippery surfaces and below zero temperatures.

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Our family dog Molson couldn’t get much closer to the fire if he tried.

A couple of weeks ago the forecast had me worried that it would be a very short season indeed, however such predictions have thankfully proven untrue.Karen McCrimmon and I

I was given the great opportunity to feature my maple syrup at the Kinburn Easter Pancake Breakfast on March 19.  On top of that I held my own pancake breakfast for friends of mine on site.  What successes these events were!  In Kinburn I received compliments on the delicious flavor of the syrup and an appreciation in keeping with the traditional bucket collection of the practice.  Karen McCrimmon, our local MP stopped by as well, whom I had my picture taken with by a local reporter for the West Carleton Review.

We had a very good run of sap earlier in the week.  In fact, we hit capacity in terms of holding tank storage one day.  As a result, AJ and I had a full day of boiling.  Normally we start boiling in the late afternoon, after the temperature has warmed up for the sap to flow, and we’ve collected enough by the late afternoon to warrant it.  Not Wednesday though.  Wednesday we started boiling early in the day, kept the roaring fire hot with dry wood and managed to boil off over 500L of sap in our continuous flow evaporator.  We drew off 3 times which, for those of you who are wondering is A LOT!  Since we wanted to process as much sap as possible before it froze in the holding tank the next day, we set the drawn off syrup aside to be finished the next day and kept stoking the fire.  The syrup that we drew off was practically done, very little need for time in the finishing unit.  That batch was 27.5L; the clarity of that batch, and all the batches so far is excellent too.  I’ll update more later.  Right now it’s time to get back to work.

 

 

 

Equipment

Our venture to Toledo, Ontario for maple syrup and beekeeping equipment was successful today.  First, I bought 30 more sap buckets, spiles and lids to make my grand total number of taps to 300.  We’re going to put my evaporator (150-300 tap capacity) through its paces that’s for sure.  Next, I visited a beekeeping equipment supplier who equipped me fully for my beekeeping endeavors.  What a day!

Abuzz About Bees

I ordered my bees!!  Wow, I’ve got so much to think about and do and prepare for my their arrival now!  My mind has been buzzing, hatching new plans about this until they arrive.  Now I get to wait.  Until May.  Wait and brainstorm until May when they arrive.  Maybe wait and scheme conjures a better mental image.  I’m excited!

We planted some apple trees last year close to where they’ll be situated.  I know there is an abundance of other nectar sources around as well and I’d like to be able to identify them as I walk around so I’ve been doing lots of research on that.  The beekeeping course I took at Algonquin College last year was very informative and made me feel ready to get my own hives this year.  “Attracting Native Pollinators”, “The Hive and the Honey Bee”, “The Backyard Beekeeper”, “The Quest for the Perfect Hive” are a couple of the books I’ve been reading to educate myself on what I’m getting myself into.  Since I work in a library, finding books on the topic is a cinch.  In fact I’m up to my eyeballs in beekeeping literature.  Finding the time to read everything is the hard part.  Luckily I’ve got a couple of more months to get through the deluge of bee info before they arrive.

2016

My mind is abuzz with questions about how the bizarrely mild weather so far this winter is going to affect the sap flow.  If we don’t get a very deep freeze the season will likely be very short indeed.  A recent trip to Montreal’s Dominion and Grimm warehouse has me enchanted with the amount of specialty equipment there is.  I reigned in the urge to splurge on all the spiffy equipment and gadgets that appeared essential to have.  If everything goes according to plan this year, I’ll add 20-30 more taps if I can.  More on that later.

In other news, my excitement about beekeeping is mounting as I put together my order for equipment and hives.  I’ve been in touch with a man I can order my bees from too.  Oooohh I can’t wait until the spring!

Kinburn Community Christmas Craft Sale

Here we are getting unpacked for selling maple syrup and maple products at the Kinburn Christmas Craft sale.

Here we are getting unpacked for selling maple syrup and maple products at the Kinburn Christmas Craft sale.

This past weekend marked my second market experience, this one where I grew up in Kinburn, Ontario. And what a fun experience it was, and successful too!  I sold maple syrup and other value-added products like maple fudge, maple butter and maple cones.  Held in the Kinburn Community Center the craft sale brought back memories of my childhood and my Dad teaching me how to make maple syrup, going on school field trips to sugar bushes, and joining a maple syrup 4h group and much more.  And the Kinburn Community Center holds some special memories for me too: I can remember going to family dances as a child in the very room I sold maple syrup in, taking tai kwon do classes, and so much more.  And I reconnected with a number of people I had not seen in years!  I felt like I was at the right place at the right time this weekend.  Thank-you to the organizers for ‘fitting me in’!

Constance Bay Community Market

Here I am standing at my booth in the Constance Bay Community Market on a crisp Thanksgiving weekend.

It was a crisp, Thanksgiving morning I made my debut appearance at the Constance Bay Community Market.

I took the final step towards fulfilling my slogan From my trees to your table this Thanksgiving weekend by becoming a maple syrup vendor for the first time at the Constance Bay Community Market.  What a delightful experience it was!  I enjoyed talking to people about making maple syrup and enjoyed hearing others’ connections to this rich Canadian tradition; some used to make it themselves years ago; others know a friend of a friend who taps his/her own trees.  The connections were plentiful.  Having grown up in West Carleton, I was happy to partake in this community gathering and encounter such connections so close to home.  Next I’ll be attending the Kinburn Christmas Craft Show in November.  I will strive to add more products to my repertoire by then, including maple jelly and maple fudge!

For those who want more maple syrup, please leave a comment below.

Beekeeping: A New Hobby

My newest venture is beekeeping!  Even though my adventure into the world of beekeeping will commence next year when the bees arrive in the mail, my preparations for their arrival have already begun. As with any other hobby or study of mine my first steps are to immerse myself in literature on the topic. I am up to my eyeballs in beekeeping books; I have scads of research on seasonal nectar sources. And the sketches have started. A doodle in a margin here, a quick drawing on a pad of paper there.  Anytime my mind wanders I start doodling.  Plus, I have a book on order that is considered by many to be the source for all beekeeping knowledge.  “Hive and the Honeybee” by Lorenzo Langstroth himself, the man who revolutionized beekeeping with his hive design.  I am going to start my bee-yard with one or two pre-assembled hives, then using those as models try to construct my own.  I attained instructions on how to build Langstroth hives and I’ll start on construction of those this fall.

While meandering the woods my mind is also at work devising where to put my bee yard; access to water, nectar, and shelter from the wind are musts.  Just the other day I came across a big bear paw print in the mud along a path.  The fact that we have a bear living in our woods I must consider in my beekeeping plans as well.  While the idea of Winnie the Pooh stealing honey from my hives is humorous, real bears do not exhibit Pooh’s docile manner.  They will rip my hives apart to get at the honey and nectar inside.  In order to protect against the destructiveness of bears and other vermin I’ll need to get vermin boards and an electric fence to surround my hives.  I’m excited to start harvesting honey yet I think it’s a good thing that I am starting my preparations a year early.  There certainly is a lot to learn and think about.

Summer Maintenance

Summer is finally just around the corner, the veggie garden is planted and I am daydreaming of the plump tomatoes they will yield in the weeks to come. Though to many maple syrup season may be a thing of the past, or too far into next year to bother thinking about for some people it is what is on my mind. In the off-season maintaining a healthy sugarbush is as important as syrup production in the spring – there will be less sap to harvest in years to come if we do not perform seasonal upkeep. Walking through the forest I make mental notes, identify strong, healthy tree stands; plot additional collection routes; tag trees for removal. Though they may seem mundane these tasks are important to a healthy sugar-bush.

Upon first blush tagging trees for removal may seem counter-productive to the beginner sugarer, especially precious maple trees; maple sap comes from maple trees so why would anyone in their right mind want to take them out? What I’ve learned over the past few years from attending workshops, courses, and repeated walks in the bush with a seasoned land owner is that selectively cutting trees in a stand can indeed benefit the overall health of a forest, even a sugaring operation that depends on harvesting sap from maple trees. Take a lone tree in an open area that is in well-drained soil and has lots of sun exposure for instance. You will see it many strong branches and an abundance of leaves (known as the ‘crown’). That large crown will photosynthesize much more sunlight than a tree with a small crown. Photosynthesis promotes growth by taking sunlight + water + CO2 and converting them into O2 and sugar, meaning the more sunlight a tree gets, the more photosynthesis that is likely to take place, the bigger the canopy and root system grow. Now imagine flipping that tree horizontally so that the crown is facing down; this is what size the tree’s root system should be approximately. In other words the size of the crown is roughly the size of the root system. Apply this principle to a tree in a densely crowded forest: a tree that is crowded or gets very little sunlight has limited crown growth, meaning it’s root growth is limited as well. Since the root system is where the water is absorbed from the ground in the warmer months, and where over the winter the tree stores the sugars needed to feed itself and grow come springtime, crowded trees do not have as big of a sugar reserve, hence they produce less sap.  By selectively cutting damaged trees, weed trees, or even an overcrowded area, one opens up the forest canopy, letting the sunlight touch leaves, encourage photosynthesis, foster crown and root growth. The more vigorous the growth, the better the sap flow! Over the summer I will continue to meander through the woods, observe and note.