The period when sap flows is aptly called the run; the sap runs through the trees and out the taps, the sugarers run around the bush trying to collect buckets fast enough before they overflow.
I’ve been getting all of my ducks in a row these past few weeks. Since we tapped the trees 2 weeks ago, I have been stacking wood, cleaning tools, organizing equipment…and waiting for the sap to flow. And waiting some more. Since that week of sunny days with above average highs, the temperatures have dropped again (and I dare say plummeted last night to -15° Celsius with a wind-chill of -25°Celcius). Needless to say I’m antsy; I want to have a boiling day! I’ve been keeping myself occupied by double-checking that all of our equipment is in order, and doing beekeeping research (a story for another day). In particular we’ve been fine-tuning our sap-transportation process. Since the RTV has mini-caterpillar tracks on it meant for getting around in the bush now, it’s inefficient to be driving it back and forth to the house to empty the 50 gallon collecting tank out. I purchased a bigger tank (over twice the size at 125 gal) this winter that we will situate in the truck bed instead. So we will be dumping the buckets into the RTV tank, pumping sap from the RTV tank to the one in the truck, driving the truck to the sugar shack and then pumping the sap from the truck tank to the holding tank outside the sugar shack. We mulled over the best way to do this given the equipment that we already own and settled on purchasing an additional pump to leave in the second collecting tank for the season. Getting the proper sized fittings and tubing and quick connects has been a trial. At Canadian Tire and then at Home Depot we went in search for the correctly sized brass fittings – no dice. They had male 1/2 inch converter for garden hose, and a female 3/4 inch for vinyl tubing. Plastic and pvc but not brass. I reined in my compulsion to pull my hair out in frustration. The only purchase that resulted from that excursion was garden seeds for pretty flowers. We finally accepted that the most reasonable and economical solution is to duplicate the system that we already have instead of buying additional converters to fit the extra tube that we have lying around. Meaning, we simply need to buy more tubing with the right inner diameter. Big sigh.
Ducks! Attennnnntion! And waddle!
Let the season begin! This week we’re tapping our trees. The high temperatures are going up past zero degrees Celcius for the whole week, meaning the sap will be flowing. From now until the end of the season I’m going to be riding a high that has been building all year. Yesterday we set out on the RTV with three friends to tromp through the snow, drilling trees, tapping in spiles and hanging buckets. We got a chunk of the bush tapped; today AJ and I are heading out to tap some more. Photos to appear shortly.
I’m excited to report the filter stand I ordered from the welding shop is ready to be picked up (just in the nick of time!). It will improve our efficiency, alleviating one individual from the burden of holding the filter with 30+ lbs in it aloft for half an hour. My arms will enjoy the respite. 🙂
With my second maple syrup season approaching quickly, thoughts of the sugar bush have been consuming my mind: sustainable woodlot practices, food preparation, equipment preparation… The list goes on. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of selling some of my maple syrup. In designing the sugar shack we included a set of Dutch doors on one side of the entry way. For me these doors bring to mind visions of old bakeries and other food producing kitchens where consumers could approach a kitchen and purchase food within minutes of it coming out of the oven. I value the notion of goods going straight from producer to consumer. Now, our operation is too remote (and muddy) to expect people to come knocking on our door looking for syrup, beyond a couple sales to friends at a pancake breakfast I plan on hosting but it’s still fun to include the Dutch doors design element into our sugar shack. Since we are located close to Carp, selling at the Carp Farmer’s Market is the next best thing to selling straight from the sugar shack.
For fun I designed a logo to put on my bottles. The design is a simple drawing; pencil, very flat style. Basic yet distinct. I chose these elements to convey the traditional, back to basics nature of our methods; and the unique flavors of pure maple syrup. (What’s more is unlike some commercial brands my syrup is made from 100% maple syrup and doesn’t contain a plethora of ingredients that you can’t pronounce!) Since I’ve got the design figured out, my next step is to find some label paper that I can print on and set up a printer template. I’m thinking that I want an arched top, however that may cut off a lot of my drawing. Maybe I should add some more tree limbs to the top…. Back to the drawing board!!
Who knew making maple butter was so much work! I really wanted to make maple butter yet I don’t own a maple butter machine, so I made up my mind I’d do it by hand. Of course by ‘I’, I mean ‘we’ and AJ was recruited to help me. The recipe instructed, “churn maple syrup for 12-15 minutes with a maple butter machine. Lacking a maple butter machine, we used a wooden spoon instead, plopped down on the floor in front of the TV and took turns stirring. We’re not nearly as efficient churners as a maple butter machine; 45 minutes later we had maple butter. Our arms were defeated, yet I was invigorated. I can’t say the same for AJ!
Winter 2015 has seen some pretty extreme weather. -40 with the wind-chill? I’ll stay inside thank you very much. I heard on the radio that this winter has seen the coldest temperatures in 114 years. We went for a walk in the sugar bush yesterday and found that a new path branching off from the main road had been roughed out with the RTV by my Dad. We walked it while I excitedly counted maple trees. “1 tap in that tree, 2 taps in that tree….” I thought to myself as we slogged through the snow. My rough estimate is we will get 15-20 more taps from the trees down that path. Us being as horribly unoriginal as we are, none of these paths have names. We’ve come up with ‘the treeline’ to refer to the path along, you guessed it, the treeline. Or the main road we’ve called ‘the main road’. I want to name this road something more exciting than “new path”. Maybe the rabbit path… We’ll see. More on that later.
‘Tis the season! The season to get excited about spring. Maple syrup season round 2! In eager anticipation of this monumentous season I decided to go to Montréal to buy maple syrup equipment. Julia, why wouldn’t you just buy it from somewhere around here, you ask? I’d done my research and found that Montréal was the cheapest place I could get a bulk order of bottles and a holding tank from. But wait, there’s more! Montréal is where the Dominion and Grimm headquarters is, Montréal is where the dealz are, I answer! I picked one of the worst driving days this season to go it seems, but that’s beside the point. I borrowed my Dad’s truck and struck out for the promised land! There were so many tools of the trade on display at Dominion and Grimm that I was like a kid in a candy shop. I saw the Hurricane evaporator on display that can reach temperatures of 2100 degrees Farenheit (evaporates 2.7 gallons of water per minute!), I saw hulking reverse osmosis machines. I saw a bottling machine with 4 spouts for increased efficiency. I saw big coils of bright green and bright blue tubing. I was blown away by the sophistication of some of the equipment. Clearly some of that equipment was beyond the scope of my 200 tap, traditional collection operation. Maybe some day I’ll have a need for all that jazzy equipment but not today. I bought 20 used buckets, spiles, and cleaning equipment that will make the back-breaking clean-up in April easier. After packing my purchases into the back of the pickup we slowly made our way back home through the storm. Crossing the city in rush hour traffic with lots of precious cargo in a snowstorm was nerve-racking. Next time I’ll make the trip in the summer!
November 13 – This year’s first snowfall is underway. Beautiful day today, about -3 and sunny; the grass is still green. Outside, with the sun beaming on my face I obliviously thought ‘for this time of year that sure is a lot of pollen floating through the air’. I then continued about my business. It took about 10 minutes before I stopped short and put two and two together, realizing that those white clusters drifting through the air were snow clusters.
I am proud to announce my maple butter won first place at the Carp Fair! There was plenty of competition in the syrup categories. I scoped out what the winners syrup looked like in each category. They were all about a shade lighter than mine so I conclude that I should have entered all of my syrups a grade lower: my extra light should have been in the light category, light in the medium category etc.. Live and learn, now I know for next year. As I’ve got time now I’m revisiting my list of improvements to make for next year. Two weeks ago AJ and I built a folding shelf under a window in the sugar shack. Today we bought some hardware to attach some cement slabs to the wall in the corner so we can safely tuck the finishing unit in closer to the wall. Mundane tasks I know, but the hope is they will make our process more efficient when the time comes. Only 4 months to go!
Fall is in the air. The cold descends at night, coating outside in a crisp, white veil of frost. A deceptive way of introducing colder temperatures and preparing us for winter. Still, fall invigorates me; I convert garden produce into a variety of edibles and delights. Tomatoes into salsa, cucmbers into pickles, horseradish roots into, well horseradish. And the list goes on. Tomatoes I find very versatile. From salsa and chutney to tomato sauce, tomatoes are the base for such a diversity of foods. Last year, with the garden abounding in tomatoes, I tried my hand at making sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. While I only got one 500 mL jar from about 5 lbs of tomatoes, each morsel exploded with flavor and tasted out of this world. This year the tomato plants didn’t fare as well and I didn’t have enough to make everything I wanted to. And this year someone in the family planted potatoes. (Personally, I didn’t really want to do potatoes because I didn’t want to be the one digging them up but I digress…kind of). Now the planter is 8 months pregnant and has been ordered on bed rest so it looks like I’ll be the one digging them up after all. She planted them along a fence. In a field. I know where the field is, and I know where the fence is, but that is the extent of it. I’m begrudgingly going to dig up the ones I can find today before the frost turns them all into mush. If it hasn’t already. For many people around these parts Fall means time for the Carp Fair, a local tradition. The Carp Fair is both gardeners’ and farmers’ chance to display their pride and joy – their livestock, their produce, and their preserving abilities. This year I’m entering hot salsa, my maple syrup, maple butter, and a stuffed baby toy (knitted stuffed caterpillar) I made for my brother’s soon-to-be-newborn. (I have a sinking suspicion that if I were to sneak up on Mike and his baby spending quality nap time together, I’d find Mike snuggling with the caterpillar instead of the baby 🙂 ). I had my tags printed off earlier in the week and I’m submitting my entries tonight. They will be judged tomorrow. I don’t mean to boast or anything but my maple syrup is pretty fantastic – it’s got good clarity, color, outstanding flavor. The only thing I’m unsure about is the density. Thick maple syrup is what I grew up on, what I consider to be the standard. But I’ve heard others say that runnier maple syrup with a more delicate flavor is considered to be better. And I think I’m going to have some pretty stiff competition. There are a number of well-seasoned maple sugarers around these parts who know a lot more about making maple syrup than me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. If it turns out runnier is what they want all the better; next year I’ll draw the syrup off earlier and run less risk of my pans foaming over 😛
Usually by this time of year the sun is blazing in all it’s glory. The garden abounding with beans, tomatoes, zucchini and the like, the lawn turning an attractive mustard, burnt color, Ahhh the heat. That is certainly not the case this year. Due to the late spring this season’s harvest seems delayed – by a lot. Both the tomato plants I started from seed in January, as well as the tomato plants that I bought in May have only yielded a handful of produce this year, whereas in other years there have been grocery bags full of ruby red tomatoes of all sizes by this time. After hearing newscasters this winter and spring go on and on about a ‘polar vortex’ that was taking place, and predicting milder temperatures in the coming months I was skeptical. It sounded a bit made up to me, I may have even scoffed a little. Well, it’s time for me to eat my words of disbelief, they may be the only things to ripen this year.