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

Category: 2012: Season 95 Page 1 of 4

Thoughts on Season 95


We should have started earlier.  If we had tapped by February 14 we would have had more sap.  Likely even an average to above average season.  The week of February 14 had the freeze/thaw cycles we need:  20s at night and 40s during the day.   In future years we will be ready to move earlier if we have warm winters.  The trend may be warmer winters too with climate change.  

Still we were fortunate.  With 51 gallons we had 85% of an average crop.  Other producers did much worse with 25% to 30% of a crop.    We are thankful for the crop we got.

The big disappointment was the R/O.   We don’t regret getting it.  It was how the order was handled by the vendor.   We understand its a piece of industrial equipment.    We are not gong to walk into our local Ag supply store and walk out with an R/O.  But we did order it October 6, 2011 and the vendor said it should arrive without problem for the season.  

During the off season we have a number of projects to complete.  Build an addition to the syrup building for the R/O.  Its needs 240 volt power and insulation so it does not freeze.   We need a new smoke stack on the evaporator.   We just got by with the current smoke stack as its rusted and burnt through in a number of places.  We are still surprised we had no smoke in the building.    We will put in a new gate to the woods.  And we need to start a tree transplant program to get young maples in the areas around the syrup building.   The area has mowed for the past 15 or more years.  There is no young growth only mature trees that are fast coming to their end of life.

In October we will attend the North American Maple Syrup Council annual meeting in Connecticut.    We plan to be back here in February or March of 2013 for season 96.

Song of the Season: Broken Hearted, Karmin

R/O Arrived

Our equipment dealer arrived about 11:30 AM with the R/O.  Yeah!  We can see it and touch it even though we can’t use it until next year.  Its neat to have this.  Its the start of a transformation of our maple syrup operations.  Our current operations are 1950s/1960s technologies.  Buckets, spouts, visiting each tree to collect sap.   A low efficiency evaporator.   The quantity and quality of the syrup reflect the 50s and 60s and was good for that time.  But newer technologies have come along that improve both the quantity and quality of maple syrup that can be made of even a small sugar bush.  And reduce the manual labor.  The R/O was the one thing we could do that would have the biggest impact on the operations so we started there.   It will reduce firewood use.  Decrease cooking time.  Improve quality of the syrup because less cooking time means lighter grades of syrup.  And as a bonus give us water to use. 

Over the coming years we hope to install a vacuum tubing system and upgrade the evaporator.   This will all take a few years to accomplish.  But it has begun.

Out of the Woods at 5:30 PM

We are done.  

Its always a bittersweet moment with conflicting feelings of satisfaction for completing the season and also sadness that its over.  One of the last tasks is unplugging the radio and taking down the clock.  Then one last picture of the syrup building from the road.

Today’s tasks were cleaning the bottling pan, washing the floor,  sealing up the gas burners and disconnecting the propane tank.   We also brought back to the house various pieces of equipment including the filter press, collecting pails, milk cans, pump, scoops and strainers.

The off-season will be busy with setting up the R/O.  We need to add a room to the syrup building for it.  It can not freeze so it needs to be insulated.  We also need to get 240 volt power to the building.

After a few days reflection we will write up a season summary with our observations and insights.

51 Gallons

We finished bottling today.   17 quarts.  When we total up the syrup for the season we get 51 gallons.   This batch of syrup was dark, grade B.  Some people like it.  And its good for cooking and baking. 

After bottling we went to work on the cleaning the nitre from the finishing pan.  Its kind’a like ring around the collar with nitre on the pan.  Its a ring of nitre about 1 ½ “ up around the pan.    All the nitre is off.  The pan is the cleanest its been in many years.   Nitre is not harmful to the quality of the syrup.   But it does cause a dull film on the stainless steel.  And on the bottom of the pans a buildup of nitre can cause weird heat distribution.

Into the woods by 9:00 AM to get the syrup on the finishing pan.  Started bottling by 12:45 PM.  Back to the house by 6:00 PM.  While waiting for the syrup we cut up limb wood for the wood shed.  It rained this afternoon. 

It looks like the R/O will arrive on Sunday.   Our equipment dealer is going to bring it. 

We have one more day of cleaning.   The season is not done until all the cleaning is done.

The Newspaper

The local newspaper came today to do a story on the season and take pictures.   We were bottling so there was something to show.   In a “normal” season we would have been busy with collecting, cooking and bottling. The third week of March is usually among the busiest of a normal season.  With this early season we don’t have much to show since we are pretty much done.   It was nice of the reporter and photographer to come.

Into the woods by 10:30 AM.  Picked up limb wood.   There were several pieces we have walked over for two season now so it was good to get that picked up.   It makes good firewood so there is no reason to let it decay in the woods when we can use it.

By 1:00 PM we emptied a milk can into the finishing pan.   By 2:30 PM when the reporter came we were ready to bottle.    We bottled 15 quarts and 1 pint.  We have about 47 gallons so far for the season with one milk can left to finish and bottle.    By 4:00 PM we were back to the house.

Evaporator Clean

Into the woods by 10:30.  Back to house by 5:30.   The evaporator is clean.  Front syrup pan.  Big flue pan.  Arch is swept of ashes.  The pans do not look 35 years old.   If you did not know, you might guess 2 years old.

Tomorrow we bottle the remaining syrup.  The local newspaper wants to come out to do a story on maple syrup.   We told them they missed the season but they want to come anyway.

First Day of Spring

And places in land away from Lake Michigan are reaching 80 degrees.   We had about 63.  Its too warm.   We can not make assumptions about the future based on one year.   But if warm winters happen a few times a decade that could adversely effect maple syrup seasons.

Into the woods by 9:00 AM.   Back to the house by 5:30 PM.  Worked on cleaning the evaporator all day.   The small syrup pan is the cleanest its been in years.  We took the time to get all the nitre off.  There was a ring of nitre building up about 1 ½” up the pan.   It was at the level we boil sap in the pan.     Its all off now.   The stainless steel polishing pads do a nice job.   Also cleaned all the soot from the bottom of the pan facing the fire.  The bottom is just as clean as the inside.  

The inside of the big pan is clean.   About 2/3 of the bottom remains.   It is a dirty task cleaning all the soot off the bottom.  Scrap with a sharp putty knife.   Spray with oven cleaner.   Polish with the polishing pads.  

If you did not know, you would never guess these pans are 35 years old.  They look like new.

We noticed the robins are quite fat.   The warm weather must be making it easy to find food.

Visit to Local Syrup Makers

Into the woods by 9:30 AM.  Back by Noon.    We started cleaning the evaporator pans today.   While the pans were simmering with cleaning solution we started picking up limb wood.

This afternoon we went to visit two other local syrup makers around the Whitelaw area.  During the season we are all busy and can not get out to see other operations.  They too are cleaning up after the season.    One had 200 taps the other about 300 taps but he was on vacuum tubbing  and made about 200 gallons.   Vacuum systems really make a difference for sap yield.   Hopefully we will get a vacuum system too in a few years.

Cleanup Continues

Into the woods by 9:00 AM.  Back to the house by 5:00 PM.   Filled the collecting tank with water to use for cleaning.    Got the big pan off the evaporator and rinsed.  Then back on the evaporator and filled with water and cleaning solution.    The cleaning solution needs heat to work.    The evaporator is not too coated with nitre.  When we make less syrup there is less boiling so the pan does not get as coated.   The big pan is heavy and awkward.  We place a ramp on the side of evaporator to slide the pan off. 

All the buckets and covers are picked up and back in storage.   The storage tanks are cleaned.   Getting the valves off was a challenge.  The wrench was not turning them loose.  Had to get the WD-40.   The sugar in the sap must have dried and caused the threads to stick. 

Heard from our equipment supplier.   He is farther North and still making syrup.  He is also on vacuum tubing which helps keep the tap holes fresh.  Syrup makers the north of the state may have some season left.  It can even get cold and snow here yet but the sap has already moved in the trees. 

All the sap from the evaporator is now in the front pan.  It will be a dark batch of syrup.  But some people like dark syrup.   It will simmer over night and should be ready to go to the finishing pan by tomorrow.

Spouts Pulled Out

Into the woods by 9:00 AM.  Back to the house by 4:30 PM.   All the spouts are pulled from the trees.   The buckets are still upside down by the trees to dry out.  Tomorrow we hope to pick them up.

Also worked on cooking down the sap in the evaporator.    We fire to a light boil then let it simmer.  By late afternoon it was cooked down quite far.  Tomorrow we will fill the big pan with water then add milk stone remover which we use to clean the pans.  We consolidate all the sap into the front pan while the water and milk stone is in the back pan then light a fire to cook the sap.   The milk stone remover needs heat to work its magic so this arrangement works well. 

Tomorrow we start the day with a  water run.  We fill the 200 gallon collecting tank with water so we have enough for cleanup.

The pipes from the storage tanks to the evaporator are down and rinsed.

Up to 63 today.  Farther from Lake Michigan its getting into the 70s.  Even with this warm weather the buds on the trees are still dormant.   That’s surprising.

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