Maple Syrup: Nature's Spring Tonic. -- Since 1918

Memories of Cyclone Domoina January 29-31, 1984

My journal entries during Cyclone Domoina January 29-31, 1994. We did not get any warning about this storm. I refer to the storm as a typhoon, but the correct term in this region is cyclone. I was determined to get my overdue electric bill paid at Siteki so my electricity would be restored. Without any warning this was a cyclone, I set off to Siteki to pay it as the eye moved over Swaziland. While I did successfully pay the bill in Siteki, the return home could have been disastrous if not for some lucky breaks. My electricity was reconnected about two days later.

Romona is the volunteer I replaced at Mkapa. Ian is a Canadian teaching auto mechanics at the vocational technical school at Mpaka.

29 January 1984

9:28 am
We are having an amazing rainstorm. For the about the past 12 hours it has rained. My house seems to be pretty much encircled with water, just like a mote around a castle. The wind whips the rain against everything also. But there is no thunder or lightning, just rain and wind. 9:33

3:44 pm
The rain continues. We seemed to have a small 2 hour break between 11:00 and 1:00. The sky became much lighter; I almost thought the sun would come out, but now we are back to heavy downpours. I think in parts of Swaziland flooding is soon going to be a problem. 3:47

6:38 pm
It has stopped raining again. Oh, just as I write this sentence I hear rain on the roof again. I was out walking in the very worst of it before. It even rose up over my sidewalk in front of my house which as at least 150 mm. In many places as I walked the water was ankle deep or more. My guess is that the rain is coming from a storm out in the Indian Ocean. Tomorrow I must see about getting my electricity back. 6:49

30 January 1984

7:19 am
It is still raining, maybe even harder then before. I don’t know if I will make it to Siteki today to see about my power being reconnected. 7:22

7:02 pm
I just made it back in time: the sky has let loose again with another tremendous downpour. We had about a 6 hour break from the storm; the sun was even shining the temperature rose to 33. During that time I went up to Siteki. My suspicions about this being a typhoon have been confirmed. It came in from the Indian Ocean and just about wiped out Maputo. We have had about 250-300 mm of rain already. The period of calm today was the eye of the storm. It passed about 100 km to the north of Swaziland, actually, less than that. It passed through Kruger Park in SA. Now comes the backside of the storm. The wind has shifted from the South to the North. We are getting lightning with this part now. All I can say is batten down the hatches and hang on for another 30 hours. 7:11

7:35 pm
I just watched an amazing electrical storm go through here; I am not sure if it’s finished either. I could have been out in that. [Side note: during this lightning storm Matt ran by on the way to his house. He ran the 1 km from the bus to his house dodging lightning bolts.]

Events that happened two months ago are effecting my life today because when Romona left, the electric bill wasn’t properly handled. I went out today to pay it. There just happened to be a typhoon passing through. The road washed out, but it was only a temporary road built to bypass the bridge over the railway while they expanded the lines. The road would not have washed out otherwise. All of these events, seemingly independent, combined causing me to sit by the road waiting for a bus to Siteki. I was going to take the bus back from Siteki but no more were leaving. It was now 5:45 pm. Alright, fine I thought, I’ll walk back. It is only 23 K and I could have been home by 10:00 pm. Luckily for me someone was going to Mbabane and picked me up. We got to the washed out road just as the grader was finishing leveling fill for the road. After stopping by Ian’s for a cup of tea, I left and made it to my house just before all hell broke loose from the sky.

Now when I was in Siteki I was determined to make it home even if I had to walk. But there is no way I would have ever walked through that storm. I’m not sure what made me get lucky to get back home safely. Maybe that Babe who stopped me in Siteki had some effect. He kept asking about what he could do to help me. He wanted to give me money or buy me a meal. Finally he said he would pray for me. The moral of all this is to pay the electric bill on time.

This is the second time that I have gone up to Siteki while strange things were happening. Last time it was the “election.” There is still lightning in the distance but not much rain. I make no prediction for the rest of the night. The sad part is they will probably forget to reconnect my electricity in the end because it will get lost in shuffle of all the other repairs that are needed. 8:14.

31 January 1984

8:33 pm
Our typhoon seems to be over. We got 14-16 inches of rain! It is quite unbelievable. Many bridges in Swaziland are gone. It will be awhile before things return to normal.

The first day of school was very slow. We, Matt and I, were working on the timetable. Now I want to sleep. Oh, it was about 5:00 am when I would say the storm ended. It went from Saturday evening to Tuesday morning. 8:38.

A Remarkable Season

2023 was a remarkable season. We had the best quality and highest yield we ever recall. We made three milk cans of Grade A Golden, Delicate Taste syrup. The rest of the crop was just over the Golden standard at the higher end of the Grade A, Rich Taste scale. No dark syrup. We didn’t do anything different for processing, so mother nature had her own reasons for the quality. Before March, we had an open winter with little snow. We had good weather patterns for sap in March, but nothing exceptional so weather patterns don’t explain the better quality either.

The yield of 2 pints per tap was exceptional. We could have made more syrup, but once the Brix dropped to 1 or below it’s a lot of processing for a few gallons of syrup. The R/O makes it possible to cook, because we can get 5 or 6 Brix before cooking, but it’s still a lot of processing. It was unsettling to dump full buckets of sap like we did on March 28, but the sap was 1 Brix or below. While we tapped the end of February, sap likely flowed much of February due to favorable weather patterns. So by the end of March the sugar the trees had stored was depleted even through there was water available to make sap: with less sugar available, the sap had lower Brix. We can mitigate that by tapping earlier.

The R/O was a problem again this season. The impeller on the feed pump breaking was unfortunate, but once we saw the impeller was plastic, breaking was inevitable because bark or other matter does get into the sap and will damage the impeller. While the new feed pump it all stainless steel and tougher, it feeds a larger volume of sap into the R/O causing temperature problems during the wash cycle because the larger volume of water passes through before friction heats it. We’ll see La Pierre, the R/O manufacturer, in October at the NAMSC annual meeting in MA and ask about how to mitigate the heat loss during the wash cycle. We’ll likely need to try an insulation wrap around the wash tank and a cover. The wash tank is open to the air and could radiate a lot of heat.

Hopefully only more more season on buckets. Planning for upgrades to a vacuum system and new evaporator by 2025.

85 Today

Sunny and warm today. Temperature up to 85. We’re in a 3-4 day warm spell. Average for April 12 is 50. We’re memorializing it to draw attention to climate change. Unexpected and large changes in temperature, both up and down, are signs of climate change. By the weekend it turns cooler with possible snow flurries.

Finished Cleanup

Into the woods by 8:00 AM to finish cleanup. Washed the floor. Got all the tanks in the building. Brought equipment back to the farmhouse. Done in the woods by 1:30 PM. Then put away equipment at the farmhouse and washed milk cans and pails. Finished by 2:45 PM.

Cleanup stretches over almost two weeks because we can’t focus the entire day on it because of our other work. Cleanup can be completed in 3-4 days if we dedicate the days to it. Next year we should be able to dedicate the days to it.

We’ll write a reflection piece on the season in a few days.

The Evaporator Is Clean

Into the woods by 8:00 AM to clean the evaporator. It cleaned up without much effort. Pans done by 1:00 PM. After lunch cleared the firebox, then the finishing and bottling pan.

Tomorrow clean the floor, bring tanks into the building, clean the milk cans and bring all equipment back to the farmhouse.

A coating to 1” of snow was forecast for overnight, but we didn’t get any snow or rain. 40 overnight. Cloudy and cold this morning. Sun appeared around 1:00 PM. Temperature up to low 50s.

Back to the farmhouse by 3:00 PM.

Used 6.9 Cords Of Wood

Into the woods at 12:30 PM to bring in the R/O. Later in the afternoon we prepared the membrane for off-season by adding SMBS to the storage canister. We’ll send the membrane out for cleaning again.

Measured the empty space in the woodshed. We burned 6.9 cords of wood. That’s the consequence of the failed R/O feed pump.

Tomorrow we clean the evaporator.

Tanks And R/O Lines

Into the woods at 4:00 PM. Washed storage tanks. Brought R/O lines to the farmhouse. Washed with bleach solution to sanitize for off-season storage. Also took down the pressure gauge on the tree.

32 overnight, but cold wind at dawn caused ice on puddles. Sunny, windy and 50 today.

First Syrup And Last Syrup Of 2023

First Syrup and Last Syrup of 2023

On the left, first syrup of the season. On the right last syrup of the season. As the picture shows, we had outstanding quality all season. Too many seasons the “Last Syrup” is how the season starts or very soon after the season starts. No dark syrup this season.

Into the woods by 5:00 AM to finish and bottle the last half milk can of syrup. Just over 4 gallons. Season total: 56 gallons, 3 quarts. Rounding up to 57 gallons. Kept track of the total during bottling because if we bottled 3.5 gallons, we would achieve 2 pints/tap (1 quart/tap.) That’s the highest yield we’ve ever had.

Finished bottling and cleanup and back to the farmhouse by 7:45 AM.

Mid 40s overnight. Rained. By 7:15 AM we had another downpour. Rain subsided by 7:30 AM. Cloudy most of the day but sun appeared after 4:00 PM.

Back into the woods by 4:00 PM to disconnect the R/O. All lines disconnected. The R/O is draining now. Plan to bring it back the farmhouse on Friday.

Back to the farmhouse by 5:00 PM.

Bottled At Dawn

Into the woods by 5:00 AM. Half milk can into the finishing pan. Returned wood to the wood shed while waiting for the syrup to finish. Filtering by 6:00 AM. 4 gallons and 6 pints. Completed clean up. Back to the farmhouse by 7:45 AM.

Repeat this tomorrow with the final half milk can of syrup and get the season’s total syrup crop.

All Buckets And Covers Are In

Into the woods at 3:45 PM to collect buckets and covers. It was a nice day. Sunny and up to 58. Clouds moved in by 4:00 PM, but still nice. Got all the buckets and covers in while there were dry. Too many years we’ve had rain and the buckets took too long to dry.

Back to the farmhouse by 4:45 PM.

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