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.
Slippery surfaces and below zero temperatures.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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!!
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
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.
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.