Our store and trails will be open on the weekend, March 4th and 5th from 10 to 4pm. After that, we’ll be open on the weekend until the maple season begins properly.
We hit the woods on Tuesday to install our taps for the 2023 season. During the stretch of unseasonably mild weather that we had over the past two weeks the sap was running. With the return of cold weather, we are now on a normal path to the start of maple syrup production in early to mid-march. If warmer winters become the norm, we may have to tap earlier, around the beginning for February, to catch all of the major sap runs.
Back to tapping trees. Every year, a new tap hole must be drilled in the tree. There have been significant changes over the past 50 years in the tools and equipment used to tap trees and gather sap.
The first and most important change has been from buckets to pipelines. Pipelines greatly reduce labour in the collection of sap as well as the need to drive heavy equipment through the sugar bush when the ground is soft in the spring. This is much better economically and environmentally.
Secondly, the addition of vacuum pumps to create suction in the pipelines increases sap flow enabling consistent levels of production without any harmful effects on the trees. Additionally, vacuum helps to keep the tapholes open longer as sealed pipeline systems do not allow air into the tap holes. Air dries out the taps restricts sap flow.
Thirdly, and most recently, with pipelines and vacuum systems we have been able to significantly reduce the size of our tap holes and spiles.
When tapping with buckets and our first pipeline systems we drilled tap holes 7/16 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep. We now drill holes 5/16 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. This reduces our impact on the surface of the tree by 35%.
This is important as the column of wood above and below the taphole becomes stained and will no longer conduct sap. This mean less wood is damaged by tapping, and more of tree’s stem or tapping surface remains productive. Plus, those smaller and narrower tapholes require a lot less energy to drill. So, we no longer require gas powered drills, which are heavy, noisy and emit exhaust.
We find tapping enjoyable as we are working outside in the woods, spending our days hiking along the pipelines and visiting every tree. Trees are assessed for their health and size which determines the number of taps.
We start tapping healthy trees when they are 10 inches in diameter at chest height. A second tap is placed in a healthy tree when it is 18 inches in diameter and a third at 26 inches.
New tap holes are located at least six inches horizontally and 10 inches vertically from the previous year’s tap hole and we move around and up and down the stem over the years so that we are always tapping into fresh wood.
We all have favourite trees and sections of the sugar bush and it is satisfying to see so many of our trees growing well and supplying us with volumes of sap. Our largest tree is 42 inches in diameter and is estimated to be around 400 years old!
Forests of trees of this size and age are rare and it is remarkable to consider that old have been tapped for maple syrup for well over 100 years.
We look forward to seeing you at Fortune Farms when we open this coming weekend, March 4th and 5th from 10am to 4pm!