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

Category: 2010: Season 93 Page 1 of 4

Thoughts on the Season

Patience.  Without patience the season would have been a bust.  The weather started out very favorable the first days of March.  The last week of February had the same weather pattern and we would have benefited from tapping about five to seven days earlier.  But March 9th the weather changed: first foggy and warm with no freezing night, then sunny and warm with no freezing nights.   It wasn’t until March 20th that the weather pattern changed back to freezing nights.  That saved us. 

We knew this was an El Nino year which creates warmer winters in the Mid-West.  Still, we wonder what the longer term impacts of climate change will have on maple syrup production.  We need that alternating freezing/thawing cycle for sap runs. 

57 ½ gallons is 96% of an average season.  So pretty much an average season.  From our contacts with other producers we were fortunate.  Producers in Vermont are reporting 1/3 of a crop.   Even other Wisc producers are reporting poor crops.  All of Wisc had the warm weather pattern.

We collected 2440 gallons of sap.  We made 57 ½ gallons of syrup.  That works out to 42 to 1 for the ratio of sap to syrup.  And an average of 2.02 Brix for the sap.

We started tapping March 2 and were completed by March 3.  We put out 423 taps.  We pulled taps on March 30th so we had  29 days of potential sap.

There is a question about next season.  Our hope is to do some upgrades: replace the concrete floor in the syrup building.  Maybe get a new evaporator.   But some events, that we don’t control,  need to work themselves out.  We will make syrup next year, but maybe not the way we hope.

The annual meeting of the North American Maple Syrup Council is in London, Ontario in October.    We plan to attend again.  And we will be back here in late February or early March 2011.

Done

At 4:10 PM the season was officially done.   That’s when we walked into the house after finishing all the cleanup.    All the equipment is cleaned and stored for next year.  Today was mostly cleaning a lot of small stuff:  disconnecting the LP gas tanks and bringing them into the building,  sealing the gas burners, cleaning the storage tanks, etc.

We also counted the spouts that we pulled.  It turns out we had 423 taps out.  We also seem to have lost four of our stainless steal spouts.  We should have had 400 of them, but we only counted 396.

We will write up our season summary and comments in a day or two.  Tomorrow we fly back to Washington, DC.

Getting Dirty to Cleanup

The biggest cleanup task is done.   Cleaning the evaporator, especially the bottom that gets exposed to the fire, is the hardest and dirtiest job.  Scrapped off a layer of burnt on soot first with a  putty knife.  Then sprayed with oven cleaner.  Finally used the metal scrub pads on the pan.  The bottom of the evaporator looks like new.   Its nice and shiny now.  Cleaner then even past years.  Turned out that it wasn’t as hard to clean as past years either. Using the putty knife first to scrap off a layer of soot made the difference.   But its still is a dirty job.  The scrapped off black soot blows around.  The wash water gets black with the soot.  And the cleaning chemicals are hard on the hands.

Also swept and washed the floor.   Only a few items remain for cleanup tomorrow.

Final Syrup Tally

57 ½ gallons (230 quarts) of finished maple syrup.  Started the finishing pan by 9:30 AM.  But 1:00 PM we had syrup and bottled 16 quarts giving us the final tally of 230 quarts of maple syrup for 2010.

Only clean up is left.  The inside of the evaporator pans are done.  We have to clean the bottom yet.  That’s a much harder job because of all he burnt on soot from the burning wood.  Oven cleaner, a stainless steal polishing pad and muscle power usually does the job.  The storage tanks need to be washed out, floors washed, spouts washed and few other odds and ends to clean up.

Not a Single Snowflake

March ends without a single snowflake falling all month.   Normally we would get about 9” of snow during the month.  This is the first month without snow since weather records were kept.  While unusual, we wonder if it foreshadows what may happen in the  future with climate change.  The warm weather during the month was difficult for sugar makers.   This is an El Nino year so that would account for  some of the warmer weather.  But if all El Nino years become this warm maple syrup could become an even more challenging crop because of the unique weather pattern we need.

We got all the buckets and covers brought in from the woods.   They are all stored away now until next season.   We also worked on the remaining sap in the evaporator.  We got all the sap out of the flue pan.  We replaced it with water and cleaning solution then we started a fire to both heat the water and cleaning solution and boil down the remaining sap.  Tomorrow we hope to finish all off and bottle the remaining sap and get final production totals.    We also filled the collecting tank with water so we have water for cleanup.  

It was up to about 55 today.  Tonight it will only go down to the 40s.  Tomorrow is forecast to be even  warmer, in the 70s.  The normal for this time of year is 47.

Every Last Drop

A late start to the day.  Into the woods by 10:00 AM.   Today we were going to take down the taps.   There is always a hesitation to get started with that task.  Removing the taps really does bring an end to the season.   Its a sad task to get started. 

By 11:00 AM we started.  Usually we dump to the ground any remaining sap in the buckets.  There is not much and what is there is quite bad.  But today things were different.    It was cold again last night: down to 25.   Quite a few buckets had a quart or more of sap.  And good quality sap.  We started dumping but changed our mind.  Went back to get a milk can and collecting pail.  We emptied the bucket first, then pulled the tap.    By the end of the day we had about 80 gallons of sap.   We emptied into the evaporator as the day progressed so we got it boiled down right away. 

All the taps are off now.  Tomorrow or the next day we will collect the pails from the woods.  We have to boil down and finish the sap remaining in the evaporator so we don’t know final numbers yet.   Clean up  remains too.   But we certainly did try to get every last drop of sap for the season.

The Season End is Near

Into the woods by 9:00 AM.  By 9:30 we had a boil.  But there was a build up of nitre on the pan that caused the syrup pan to foam up while boiling.  Its difficult to boil hard when there is a constant fear of boiling over.   The only thing to do is take the pan off and clean it.  So this morning was a false start.    After the pan was cleaned boiling was much better. 

We took a batch off the evaporator about 11:30 AM.  We were hoping for a second batch today too.   We had to mange that carefully because we did not have a lot of sap in the tanks.  We pulled the siphon in order to get the batch done sooner.  With the siphon out no fresh sap came into the pan and it could boil down to destiny.    By 5:30 PM we took the batch off.  There was just enough sap in the tanks to fill the evaporator at the end of the day. 

Then we finished and bottled both batches.  22 quarts 1 pint and 1 250 ml bottle.  We now have about 214 quarts:  53 ½ gallons.

We did head out with the tractor and milk cans to collect what ever sap might be there.   A few taps are running some yet.   We ended up with 30 gallons of sap.   This is pretty much it.  We will likely pull the taps starting tomorrow. 

The weather forecast for the week is for much warmer weather.  By the end of the week into the 70s.   That is not sap weather.   Its pretty clear this will be the end of the season.

A Day of Boiling

Into the woods at 8:00 AM.  Started the fire under the evaporator.  By 8:30 AM the pan is boiling.  230 gallons of sap were boiled down today.      Here is how the day progressed.

8:00 AM  22 ½ inches of sap in the tank
9:00 AM  20 ¾ inches of sap in the tank
10:00 AM  18 ¼ inches of sap in the tank
11:00 AM  15 ¾ inches of sap in the tank
12:00 PM  13 ½ inches of sap in the tank
1:00 PM  11 inches of sap in the tank
2:00 PM   9 ¾ inches of sap in the tank
3:00 PM   7 ½ inches of sap in the tank
4:00 PM   5 inches of sap in the tank
5:00 PM   3 inches of sap in the tank
6:00 PM   tank empty

And we picked up an additional 130 gallons of sap today.   But this is likely the last collection.   We are heading to warmer weather and that is going to end this season.

We  also finished and bottled anther 26 quarts, 1 pint, and 1  250 ml bottle.

Collected Today

It was warmer today, about 45 although it was cloudy and windy.   It did however warm enough to melt most of the ice in the buckets.  We went out collecting about 2:30 PM.    Picked up 230 gallons of sap.  But this may be the end.   A lot of taps are dry.   Next week the weather patterns turns much warmer.  

We brought in the bottled syrup from the woods.  Its always satisfying bringing the crop in from the woods.  

Tomorrow we will boil and there should be more syrup to finish and bottle.

Ice Today

It was down to 15 last night.  Only got to about 37 today.   Yesterday we had liquid sap in the buckets.  Today we had ice in the buckets.   It would have been better to collect yesterday.   Now we have to wait until tomorrow for the sun to do its magic and warm things up.  Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer.   We are hoping to collect tomorrow afternoon. 

We resolved all our labeling today.  We had an incorrect phone number on the labels for the 250 ml and 500 ml bottles.   We had a sticker printed with the correct phone number.   Now we can get the 250 ml and 500 ml bottled labeled and available for sale.

Next week’s forecast is for a big warm up:  60s during the day and 40s at night.  That will end the season.

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