Final Last Day

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!

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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.

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.

 

 

 

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!!

 

End of Season

Our maple syrup season has come to a close.  What a rush this season has been though!  From start to finish this season has kept me busy fulfilling some responsibility or another.  We had a busy Saturday April 12 boiling the last draw, then I made the decision Sunday April 13 to pull the taps.  When we got out to the bush my decision was confirmed by what I viewed in the first couple of buckets; just enough sap to cover the bottom of the bucket, not enough to justify another boil though.   Moreover, my decision to pull the taps Sunday instead of Monday was further validated by the steady downpour of rain Monday brought.  So I finished my final batch Monday, then tallied up our syrup production for this year.  Our total yield for 2014 is a whopping 70 Litres of syrup!

Now I have 150 each of buckets, spiles and lids to wash; the evaporator to scrub out; the finishing unit to scrub out; bottling equipment to clean; the collecting tank, the boiling instruments, the filters, the holding tank; all of this equipment needs to be cleaned before storing them for next year.

After buckets have been washed, we set them out to dry (or hand dry) before stowing them for next season

After buckets have been washed, we set them out to dry (or hand dry) before stowing them for next season

 

This year was a whirl-wind adventure and, while the learning curve was steep I’ve gleaned several important points for next season, including that if I try and drive across the field when it’s muddy after the thaw I will get stuck and need my neighbor to help push me out.  I’m excited for next year.  I have my eye set on a workshop or two in the coming months, that teach about maple syrup production to hobbyists, and forest management.  For now though, I’m content with finishing cleaning up and catching up on some well-needed rest.

Maple Syrup Season

It has been a unique season, I’ll say that much.  An uncharacteristically cold March, followed by what seemed to me to be a rapid spike in temperatures has not boded well for the maple syrup season here in Eastern Ontario.   With the temperature warming up so quickly, the significant snowfall we have experienced this year is now melting, quickly!  Left in the snow’s wake is mud.  Tons of mud!  Enough mud to make sap collection with a motorized vehicle not possible without getting stuck in the mud.  Back to basics for us!  Armed with an 8-gallon milk jug, two collecting pails, a sled to transport everything and the will-power of true Canadians we set out to collect as much sap as our milk jug would let us.  We headed for the furthest trees first and worked our way forward from there.  Hauling everything there was more than half the battle – we dealt with steep inclines, a tippy sled and lots of sticky mud!  We filled our jug from 30 buckets… only 110 buckets to go!  Time to trek back to the house.

At the risk of losing our sap, we opted to travel a different route back, a route with less tipping hazards.  We pulled the sled across the pasture instead of in front of the treeline.  At the ridge we carefully guided the jug of sap down the path to the front field, checking the ridge-buckets along way.  They were over half full and needed emptying too.  We had to go back to the house to get the 50 gallon holding tank and UTV, not merely an 8-gallon milk jug to collect all this sap.  Off we went, across the snowy field, taking turns pulling the sled or holding the jug upright while pushing the sled.  Whose crazy ‘let’s make maple syrup’ idea was this anyways?  I sheepishly grin and avert my gaze.

Music to my Ears

Sweet sap dripping from a maple tree

Spring sun gently warming the trees quickens the sap flow.  Plunk, plunk, plunk.  Sounds of droplets hitting the bottom of the buckets echo through the woods as the contents are collected and the buckets re-hung.

Sunny days of gathering, with crisp weather hovering at about the 3 degree Celcius point are wonderful days to be out in the woods.  Such days engage my senses.  I get to view nature in its purest, capture snapshots of tranquillity as I set out to gather this day’s harvest.  Sun glistens off of the snow, light sparkles through icicles.  Sap tastes like sweet snowflakes.  As I progress, a calming steady rhythm begins -droplets of sap hitting the bottom of buckets.  The beat picks up the more buckets I empty – plunk plunk plunk, plunk plunk.  It turns into an orchestra of plunks with me as maestro.

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!