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!

Advertisements

Maple Syrup Season: Round 2

Sugarshack Dutch Doors

Wistful thoughts of mine include hanging my shingle beside this door and selling maple syrup straight from the sugar shack.

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.

Here is my label design in all of it's glory.

Here is my label design in all of it’s glory.

 

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!!

 

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!

Boiling Day Preparation

Big days in maple syrup production are the boiling days.  I should preface that statement, noting that ALL days in maple syrup production are big days from the many labor-intensive duties the process requires (fuel needs to be collected, the trees need to be tapped, the sap needs to be continually collected, the equipment needs to be sterilized), but I deter.  The BIGGER days in maple syrup production are boiling days.  As can be deduced from what is described below, it takes a lot of preparation!

Boiling days typically last from 8am to 3pm or later.  On boiling days, one needs enough firewood to feed the fire in the evaporator approximately once every two minutes.  For a full day of boiling that requires a lot of wood.  To know roughly how much wood we will require let’s do bit of calculation: now, a cord of wood is defined as 12 inch pieces of wood piled 4 feet deep, by 4 feet high, by 8 feet long.  Maple syrupers say that when using dry, split hardwood, evaporator efficiency is about 25 gallons of syrup per cord; 15 gallons of syrup per cord with dry, split softwood.  We’re using some soft and some hardwood so I’ll average it out and say 20 gallons/cord.  We have bout 125 taps up that will each produce on average 20 gallons of sap over the season.  This will yield a grand total of 1875 gallons of sap (20 gal. x 125 trees = 2500 gal.).  Divide that yield by 40 (40:1 sap:syrup ratio) and you get 62.5 gallons of syrup.  Finally, divide 62.5 gallons by ~20 gallons per cord and you get 3.12 cords.   All that is to say we will need a little more than 3 cords of wood this year.  Now, all of these calculations are based on dry wood.  This means before the boiling even takes place enough damaged trees need to be cut down and cut into logs which are then split, stacked, and dried.  Drying wood takes more than a weekend, or even a month.  Drying takes about a year of sun shining down on the wood, slowly evaporating moisture from the densely packed wood fibres.

Tree Cutting

Making maple syrup is not for the faint of heart. It requires lots of work, including felling, cutting, splitting and stacking wood for fuel the following year.

This year is going to be a bit unconventional for our maple syrup production.  Since we just bought our evaporator this year, we don’t have that much stacked and dried fuel set aside specifically for burning in the evaporator.  Luckily, we have some extra that hasn’t been used to heat the house this year that we can use for evaporator fuel.  To be better prepared for next year my Dad and I have been in the bush a number of times lately, felling dead trees for fuel, cutting the wood into logs and splitting and stacking the wood to dry.

On boiling day, dry fuel wood burns furiously.  The chimney attached to the rear of the evaporator in the sugar shack rises high above the roof-line to catch the airflow of the wind.  This airflow draws the flames from the firebox of the evaporator, stretching the flames from the ‘arch’ as maple syrupers say, toward the back of the evaporator to the chimney.  Since the evaporator is so long and the fire is positioned near the front, the flames get stretched/drawn-out almost horizontally towards the chimney, to almost a metre in length at times (witnessing the power of the blaze once it gets going is awe-inducing and makes me very glad we mounted a fire extinguisher on the wall within an arms reach for if things were to go awry!).  It is this draw from the chimney that heats the length of the flue pans that sit atop the firebox and increases the efficiency of an evaporator.  If wet or green wood were to be used instead of dry wood, the crisp, roaring fire that makes an evaporator so efficient would be replaced by a smoldering, smoking mess.  Smoldering wood does not create nearly enough heat to evaporate sap into syrup, hence all the fuel preparation maple syrup requires!

Maple Bush

Maple Bush

As twilight falls, the maple bush burns a mesmerizing pink or gold color. Do not be fooled by the warm colors though: there was nothing warm about the biting temperature!

Our path winds along the side of a field, then cuts into the forest and climbs the slope of the ridge. The path curls through the trees, strategically passing by stands of maples for easier collection in the early spring when snow drifts hinder bucket brigading efforts that our traditional maple sap collection process involves. The warmer temperatures in early March certainly had us fooled – after I motivated 4 family members to help tap some trees the temperatures plummeted to lows of -20C some nights. Getting to take in views like this help make up for my over-eagerness I hope!