We bought a drill press at Ottawa Fastener and Supply Shop’s ‘April Tools Day’ event on Thursday. The worker who helped us, Bruce, was a wealth of information on buying the right tool to meet our needs, assembly, use, limitations, and care of the piece. He listened to our requirements, helped us decide on the right model, and even helped us save some money too. My hat goes off to him for a job well done.
Yesterday, AJ, myself and my Dad convened in the garage to put it together. It’s a mighty good thing that Bruce gave us such a good tutorial because the instructions that came in the box certainly left much to be desired. Regardless, we got the thing together. Ooohh it’s a beaut! We’ll be able to use it for cleaning buckets, putting together bee-hives and so many other tasks. Picture of drill press in all of it’s glory soon to follow.
This has been the longest maple syrup season for us so far. We have nearly finished all of the processed syrup. This past week we’ve had some 14 hour boils and even one 16 hour boil. And now a drum roll please – we were at a total of 294 Litres and Sunday’s finishing pushed us over 300 Litres. What a season! Now it’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work marketing my maple syrup and maple syrup products.
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.
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.
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’!
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.
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.
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. 🙂