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!

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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.

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.

Maple Syrup Season 2

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!

Maple Syrup Season 2: Tapping

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. 🙂

 

 

 

Maple Butter Creation

AJ wasn't keen on being recruited to make maple butter even before his arms hurt!

AJ wasn’t keen on being recruited to make maple butter even before his arms hurt!

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 Anticipation

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.

Winter Anticipation 2

‘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!

Fall 2014 Recap

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!