Archive for March, 2010

There Is More To Syrup Than What Comes Out Of The Bottle!

Tap in Tree with Sap Dripping

Sugaring, the first harvest of the year.  Amazing stuff really:  Drill hole in tree, insert tap… CAREFULLY, place bucket under tap, boil contents of bucket, enjoy the fruits of your labor!

The harvest this year started great, but eventually slowed to a dead stop. we are now seeing a bit more action, but nothing like we did at the start of this season.  overall we are down about 30% of our total production… not where we wanted to be as we contemplate next year and possibly not sugaring…

Buckets in Wood

As you have no doubt gathered (pun intended) this is not an easy hobby.  The above picture shows a small number of our buckets placed out in the woods.  Generally they do have to be checked everyday.  Is the tap loose? Do we need to collect? Do the taps leak?

Taps leak?  Remember we said that the taps need to be placed in the tree CAREFULLY.  If you think of the tap as a nail and pound it into the tree as hard as you can, you will crack the cambium layer of the tree and all your sap will leak out of the tree, above and below your tap.  Instead, you need to think of it as nailing a feather into the tree.  Light taps, listening as you go.  The tap and tree will let you know when you have gone far enough.  Huh? yup there the tap will make a rather high pitched noise before it is “seated” when it is seated correctly this noise changes to a more solid/dead ring.  Sounds crazy, but its true, they do tell you when to stop. As you dump buckets, they may loosen a bit, simply re-seat them but it is one of those constant maintenance elements of the job.

Seating the tap is also important because you can either do a small amount of damage to a tree or a HUGE amount of damage.  If you simply drill a 5/16′ hole and seat your tap you may wind up with dead wood 3″above and below your hone and 2″ in. If you break the cambium, you are looking at damage 6″ or more above and below the hole.  If you want to tap your trees forever you need to make sure you limit the damage done.

Mother Natures Reverse Osmosis

With sugaring today, many of the HUGE producers do not want to stand in front of their mammoth evaporators all day and night boiling their thousands of gallons.  As a result, they utilize a filter called a reverse osmosis filter.  The sugar maker can  actually program this device to let molecules of a certain size pass through the diaphragm forcing the larger, sugar molecules to stay behind.  The water is actually waste and the now concentrated sugar solution is boiled into syrup.  Sap comes out of the tree between 1 – 3%. Think of the boiling time saved if you could get the sap to  8% or even higher?

Those of us with smaller operations, rely on Mother Nature to do this work for us when the weather is right.  If conditions are right, when we collect, we can actually pull these large chunks of ice out of the buckets.  Because sugar freezes at a much lower temperature than water, the liquid left in the buckets is concentrated sap! We are not always lucky enough to benefit from this but is is indeed nice when it happens! We currently have about 50 gallons of this super sweet sap to boil.

More is not necessarily better though.  As you remove more and more of the water from the sap through this mechanical filtering process, we believe you are also removing some of what makes Maple Syrup so great.  We believe that some of its character gets flushed away with the waste water.  Though we like to benefit from this small natural concentration, overall it does not change our final product.

Mother Nature and our trees are fickle and surprisingly delicate.  Treat them with care and you will reap their rewards.

Bucket and Tap with Sap

Posted on 30 March '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Maple. No Comments.

Protected: Its Cute Now But Later?… Not So Much!

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Posted on 23 March '10 by Counselor, under Private. No Comments.

Fire Is Hot! and What Determines The Grade

Click image for video

Well, after three days of boiling, we seem to have reached a weather induced hiatus. After five firings where we seemed to be able to make nothing but fancy and medium grade syrup, yesterday was a Dark Amber day.

What determines the grade? As spring dawns, the sugar maples will initially draw water from the ground, through the sugars stored in their roots, up the tree and either out your tap hole, or into the developing leaf bud. As spring progresses and the weather warms, the trees will begin to pull more and more minerals etc. from the soil when you boil this sap, its the quantity of those minerals that are partially responsible for making the sap darker in color.

The weather here had been great for sugaring and the last couple of days we have not had nights below freezing and as a result, the trees have not recharged themselves and we are out of sap to boil. Who knows if the season will come back or if it will essentially be over.  Our suspicion is that it will come back briefly for another week or two at most.

If you have ever wondered how hot things were in the sugar house, the video link above tries to define that a bit for you.  Needless to say, it is HOT! Good gloves and the oh, so fetching face shield are a must. As of today, we have made over 12 gallons of syrup and are at the moment ready for a break.  Lets hope that things pick up though because we are going to have company and they want to see things in operation!

Posted on 14 March '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Maple. 2 Comments.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Click image for video

Back at the start of the sugaring season, we indicated that we would like to meet or surpass our previous season best, 28 gallons of syrup. This year, we have only boiled three times and have already made seven gallons. Not bad for our 120+ tap operation. So far this year the sap is running about 1.6% sugar which does help. However, things are changing here and that is making for a fun but stressful season.

Previously, we have hauled our sap to the sugar house by hand in 5gal. buckets. This was generally not a problem, but it could prove to be difficult at times.  This year, we are not able to do that as much and it is tough to both collect and watch the evaporator, so one person must collect and one oversee the boiling.  A ton of work for one of us and a ton of stress on the other.  That said, we are indeed having fun!  Monday night we boiled again after our rather messy Saturday and in three hours made just over two gallons of Medium Amber.  We decided that it was some of the best syrup we have ever made and promptly put most of it in storage. The past two days, we have focused on collecting, putting away close to two hundred gallons for us to boil over the next couple of days.  So, we think we will come close to our goal if the season holds.

Speaking of the season, it has been good, but not as good as it could be.  Maples need the cold, below freezing nights and warm days for the sap to move up in the trees.  They also need there to be little to no wind and for there to be plenty of moisture in the ground.  Though it may be hard to believe, after all the snow this winter, but around the base of the trees, where this moisture needs to be, it is quite dry.  Not to mention that it has also been rather windy of late, further reducing the potential total sap.

This is mother natures first harvest and a true sign that spring is on the horizon, so who really has the right to complain, especially if you are having fun and making money at the same time. Speaking of money, we settled on pricing for the 2010 crop:

  • $46 a gallon
  • $28 a 1/2 gallon
  • $16 a Quart

What is driving up the cost of syrup you ask? quite simply foreign demand. the far east is buying syrup in incredible quantities and paying incredible bulk prices. Bulk prices are hard to predict but after hearing people talk, we expect it to settle out at $3 a pound, a record price indeed.  This trend may not last forever though.  There are a record number of people who see nothing but $$$ when they talk about syrup. As a result local companies that build the worlds only sugaring equipment are seeing a record increase in the number of people starting to sugar.  Sugaring is not a cheap hobby, nor is it an easy one, and we think that only the die-hards will survive.  So while the price may level off in a couple of years, when these overwhelmed newbies decide that they have had enough, prices may go even higher.

For now, let us hope for good weather, some precipitation and a good low pressure system to settle over our little hilltop. Lots of long days and nights on our horizon, but we’ll keep you posted.

Posted on 11 March '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey, Hilltop Maple. No Comments.

The Offending Solder Joint

The Offending Solder Joint

You may be asking yourself, what the heck am I looking at?  This is/was one big headache Wednesday evening and yesterday (March 6) Morning.  Essentially, what you see is a nice newly soldered joint where the flow from the back pan enters the front finishing pan. Wednesday night, we noticed that this joint was leaking, but pushed on, thinking that we would be able to make a “quick repair” before our next boil.  After several failed attempts to fix this ourselves, the quick repair turned out to involve an emergency trip to Swanton where we begged the kind folks at Leader Evaporator to make the repair for us. $16 later we were on our way repaired pan in tow.

Boiling

This small “issue” occurred when we were expecting to gather over 100 gallons of sap to go along with the 100 or so that was in the sugar house already.  We had anticipated a bit of a long day, but could have done without the stress that this created. Once fixed though, it really was a perfect day for making syrup.  The fire was running nice and hot, producing a great boil and quick evaporation.  The quicker you can get the sap processed the better your finished product will be.  Yesterday, we produced over 3 gallons of some of the best tasting syrup we have ever made. Prior to that, we had made a little over a gallon of fancy, we hope there is more of that to come.

Today, March 7, is predicted to be another great day for sugaring.  We will not have enough to boil today but the sap should really run.  After a brief check early this AM we already had buckets 1/4 full so we should be in it again today and boiling tomorrow evening. We’ll keep you all posted

Drawing Off

Posted on 7 March '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey, Hilltop Maple. No Comments.

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