End of the 2023 Sugarbush Season

Our 50th production season has come to an end and we are pleased to report that we had a good year.  The volume of our crop was above our long-term average and the quality is excellent.  We did not make as much dark and very dark syrup as we wanted, but that is beyond our control. The unseasonably hot weather brought the trees out of dormancy very quickly, changing the chemistry of the sap and rendering it unusable.

It was a challenging season in the woods dealing with the effects of last summer’s derecho and then the ice storm in April.  This is the fist time we have experienced damaging ice conditions during maple season as well as a prolonged power failure.  We managed to clear the fallen branches and trees and get the pipeline systems back into shape over three days and gathered a lot of sap once the power was back on.  We will investigate back up power options as electricity is critical in all aspects of our production systems. 

We enjoyed seeing all our friends and customers and appreciate your positive feedback on your experience at the farm and our maple products.  It’s so nice to connect with folks every year and catch up on news and events!

Once we stop collecting sap, the cleaning begins.  All the taps are removed from the trees, our lines are back washed with water and then injected with alcohol to sanitize the network.  The alcohol vapours remain in the pipelines, keeping them clean until we tap our trees again next spring.  We scrub our sap collection tanks, clean the pump houses and service our pumps (there are many pumps!).  The  evaporator is drained and cleaned carefully as well as the reverse osmosis machine and membranes.  All the clean-up takes about three weeks and seems to go quicker when we’ve had good production.

In the forest, the leaves are emerging and we are pleased to see flowers on some of our maples.  The wind and ice storms have created many openings in the canopy and a good crop of maple seeds means that future generations of maple trees will be established where others have fallen. The woods are alive with birds, who unlike us, are looking forward to the arrival of insects.

Buying / Ordering Syrup

As of May 1, we will no longer have daily hours in the store but plan to be open on Saturdays from 10 to 2. 

Syrup can be ordered and picked up anytime at the farm from our lock boxes.  We have also started making deliveries and ship syrup around the world to customers far and wide.  We have a good supply of golden, amber, and dark syrup as well as our other maple products.

The Fortune Family, the Kettle Boys, Shanty Men and staff at the farm would like to thank everyone who visits the farm and enjoys our products.  Sharing maple season with you is a tradition we all enjoy.

Warm weather has arrived along with dark maple syrup

It’s been a very busy time at the Farm!  It took us four days to clear trees and branches and repair our pipeline networks following the ice storm.  We missed a couple of days of production as we were without hydro, however, we had lots of visitors at the Farm over the Easter and it seems that a good time was had by all. 

The warm weather has reduced the flow of sap. It is still running this morning, April 12.  We expect that the end of the production season is close.   We will make this decision to turn off the pumps and start  clean-up based on the conditions of the sap and the quality of syrup that we are producing.  With no frost at night and high daily temperatures, the trees will start to come out of dormancy, and when they do, the sap will change chemistry and the syrup will be bitter and unpalatable.  The surest sign that the season is over is the signing of chorus frogs and spring peppers – none yet in our area!

Golden, amber and dark syrup from Fortune Farms

Golden, amber and dark syrup from Fortune Farms

The early mornings are special at this time of year as birds are in full chorus marking territories and attracting mates.  We also have a yellow-bellied sap sucker trying to drill holes in an aluminum ladder at the camp – not sure what it’s thinking, but it is persistent!  Our bluebirds are back at the farm and have claimed their nest boxes.  They are a joy to watch as they raise their broods throughout the summer. 

With the warmer weather we have started to make dark syrup.  This is good news for our customers who have been waiting for the darker grades.  I’m not very confident that we make much very dark grade given the weather forecast, but we will see what happens over the next couple of days.  We are filling our orders for dark syrup now and will be contacting customers for pick up.  We are open daily from 10 to 4.  Our phone is also working again if you want to give us a call – 613 256 5216.

The Ice Storm and Fortune Farms

As I began writing this on Wednesday evening, our power was off and the sound of breaking trees could be heard all around us. I wrote: “Hopefully, the forecast is correct and the temperatures will rise overnight and the ice will melt from the trees.  Our next wish is that our hydro crews are able to work safely and restore our power in the morning as predicted.  We need electricity to run of our equipment, for sap collection to syrup production. “

When the sun came up on Thursday morning, we found a heavy coating of ice on the trees. There were many broken stems and limbs from white pine and some damage to the maples and beech.  Thankfully, the ice did not accumulate as much on the slender hardwood branches.  Unfortunately, there was no electricity.

Eric, Jeff, and I went to work on the trees and branches and we cleared dozens of lines and have the farms back in shape so we can gather sap again once the hydro comes back on (hopefully soon!)  This was hard work and we are fortunate to have skilled workers to help us in the bush.  A big thank you to Eric and Jeff!

Open for the Easter Weekend

Looking ahead to the long weekend, the weather looks very good for people to visit the farm.  We are open daily from 10 to 4.   

This will be the last weekend for the Kettle Boys and Shantymen so plan a visit if you would like to see them. 

There is still plenty of snow in the forest and the additional rainfall means waterproof footwear is a must!  The hiking trails are soft and difficult to navigate so we recommend snowshoes if you would like to travel any distance beyond the demonstration area in the woods.

A photo of Ray and Ruth Fortune standing outside of the main building at Fortune Farms with a group of friends.
Ray and Ruth (centre) visiting with friends at Fortune Farms.
A picture of broken trees at Fortune Farms following the early April 2023 ice storm.
This is typical damage from the ice storm. The tree stem broke at a weak area due to ice build up. Whenever a tree falls in the forest, it always lands on a pipeline!

Our syrup supply

We have an ample supply of golden and amber syrup as well maple taffy and our regular products. Syrup quality is excellent this year and we have experienced strong runs of sap this week.

We expect to be making the dark grades of syrup next week if temperatures rise as predicted.  We can fill all our orders once we have all grades of syrup and will contact you when your order is ready.

Our birds are coming back

Our Red Shouldered Hawks appeared on schedule this week to our Clayton property as well as at the Lanark Farm.  These birds are philopatric, meaning they will return and nest in the same area year after year.  Prime habitat is old/mature hardwood forest with high crowns. 

The Derecho damage at the farm occurred in the vicinity of one of the traditional nesting sites so we will see if this disturbance affects where the hawks eventually settle.  The hawks have a characteristic cry and can be regularly seen and heard circling above the woods.

I have seen the first bluebirds perched on the wires along the roadway.  They regularly use  the nesting boxes around the neighbourhood, including a couple at the farm.  We’ll watch to see when they set up shop.

On Wednesday morning, large flocks of migrating Canada geese were passing high overhead.  Geese leave the wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast and head north to breeding areas as ice melts and food sources become available.  These flocks were heading east – likely in search of open water and food as the lands further north remain ice and snow bound. 

There are plenty of robins, turkey vultures, grackles, and blackbirds about and we have also seen sandhill cranes and blue herons. The sun is getting stronger and the snow continues to recede.  The birds are telling us that warmer weather is coming!

We experienced the heaviest sap flows to this point in the season on Tuesday and Wednesday and were busy making amber grade syrup.  The winds and snow squalls on Wednesday evening were dramatic and a few branches came down on pipelines requiring inspection and repairs. 

Looking at the forecast, it looks like the sap will be running well.  We are open daily from 10 to 4 with our trails, Shanty Men and Kettle Boys all operating.  There is still plenty of snow in the woods, so we recommend people wear winter footwear and dress accordingly.  We are celebrating Maple Weekend as well.

In Memoriam: Tom Stephenson

With a very heavy hearts we announce that our dear friend, mentor and kettle boy leader Tom Stephenson passed away early Sunday morning, March 26th.  Tom was a close friend to our family as he made Fortune Farms his spring home for the last 25+ years.

I met Tom at Forestry School at Algonquin College in Pembroke in 1981.  Tom was a unique professor, stressing the need for human relationships, attention to detail and pragmatism.He had a low tolerance for slackers and challenged many students over the years to do better. He focused on the need for useful skills in forest fire fighting, forest industry operations, safety, and surveying.  He had an extensive network of contacts and helped many of his students secure their first positions with the Ministry of Natural Resources and launch their careers. Tom’s infectious enthusiasm and energy were contagious, and we became good friends.

Tom Stephenson with Jamie and Sherry Fortune at Fortune Farms sugarbush.
Tom with Jamie and Sherry Fortune at Fortune Farms in March 2020, explaining how tapping affects trees.

In the 1990s when Tom’s “sugar bush” at Achray Station was closed down, I invited him to bring his kettles to our farm.  Not only did he bring his kettles, but he also brought countless handmade toys and a few of his friends. 

My mother, Ruth, branded Tom and crew the “Kettle Boys” and the rest is history!  The Kettle Boys entertained hundreds of people each spring at the farm and branched out to cameo appearances at Winterlude, local fairs, and maple events.  Tom traveled far and wide collecting maple items, making friends and telling stories the whole time. He is widely known and will be fondly remembered by many.

Tom was a character with many names – the “Jigger”, “Red”, “Soupy” (his middle name was Campbell),  and Kettle Boy “Shorty”.  I have a vivid image of Tom one Easter weekend walking from lunch to the Kettles wearing his Easter bunny ears fashioned from old fire hose, his coveralls, felt hat, and a fluffy white cotton tail while yodeling. What a guy!

We gathered at the kettles Sunday evening and toasted Tom with fresh kettle boy syrup, recognizing how he brought us all together and that his legacy lives on. 

We are grateful for Tom’s friendship and the wonderful times we had together and extend our sympathies to his family.

Jamie Fortune

A productive week in the sugar bush

As spring continues to ease its way in, the temperatures are inching up and the snowbanks are inching down. Snowshoes are still required when working in the woods off our trails and there is plenty of winter left in the woods. 

The sap has been running. No overflowing tanks, just steady flows of sweet clear sap.  We are making full flavoured amber and golden grades and we expect the colour to remain light until the daily temperatures increase. 

When we are boiling and filtering, we are collecting a lot of fine white niter – or “sugar sand”.  This is composed of minerals, mostly calcium, which were dissolved in the sap and precipitate out as the water content is reduced by boiling. 

It looks like fudge when packed in the filters, but it tastes like gritty sand. Always a disappointment to those who try it! We collect the niter and spread it back out in the woods after the season is over.

Open daily for the season!

The Kettle Boys and the Shantymen are back and are boiling on the weekends. Dress for the weather and wear winter footwear when you visit.  We are open daily now from 10 to 4. 

This Sunday, March 26th is the annual Union Hall Pancake Fest.  Local volunteers serve a terrific meal of pancakes and raise funds to maintain this vital, historic place. 

Please travel safely on the roadways as the weekend arrives along with yet another storm warning and we look forward to seeing you at the farm.

A stainless steel tray with fine white niter from the sap to maple syrup process.
Find white niter, also known as “sugar sand”

The Sap is running and so are we!

With the slightly warmer temperatures this week, the sap started to run!  We boiled for the first time on March 13th and made syrup on March 16th and again today, March 17th

The quality is excellent and we have fresh amber and golden grades now in stock.  The sap is still running on Friday evening as I am writing this and I expect it will run until freeze up in the middle of the night. 

The Kettle Boys and the Shantymen have set up their operations and were at the farm boiling away this past weekend.  

We are open daily now from 10 to 4. 

There is still a lot of winter hanging around here  you will need winter footwear and clothing to walk around the woods.

It’s great to be back at the sugar camp making syrup and we look forward to seeing our many friends and customers over the coming weeks.

The Fortune Farms building

Winter continues…

Our trees are tapped and we are waiting for warm weather to bring on the sap!

Our farm is open to visitors 7 days a week from 10 to 4  starting March 11.  There is plenty of snow in the woods so wear winter boots.  The Kettle Boys and Shantymen won’t be operating their demonstrations until we have sap – so stay tuned to our blog for updates.  Orders can be placed online anytime or by calling the farm at 613 256 5216.

While we are waiting, I thought I would share some experiences we have had this season.  Our forests have many old trees in various stages of health. 

If the tree is still growing it produces sap, but it can also have rotten and hollow sections which are important for wildlife. 

Hollow trees like this one below are often used as dens by mammals such as squirrels, raccoons, porcupines and mice. 

Jamie Fortune with his dog Dale in front of a tree on the sugarbush.
My dog Dale knows there is something living in this tree.

As I walked up to this old tree to tap it, I looked inside and found two young raccoons nestled together dozing. 

We drilled our holes, tapped in the spiles and these residents didn’t seem to care at all! 

A raccoon nestled inside an old maple tree.

Another species which depends on old trees and rotting wood is the pileated woodpecker.  These large noisy birds are common in our old growth forests. 

Here is a picture of a large tree with a rotten section which the birds are excavating in search of insects – usually large grubs. 

The bird would not pose for the photo while we were in the area, but it will return and continue working until it has explored all possibilities for food.

A large tree with a rotten trunk section, holed by birds.

With the warmer winter weather until the end of January, and the limited snowfall deer tracks were a common sight at our Lanark Farm (where the sugar camp is). They were browsing in our maple forest and on the surrounding farm fields. 

However, with the arrival of heavy snowfalls in February, the deer moved into their winter habitat – lowland cedar areas and hemlock thickets.  Deer do this as a survival strategy.  There is safety in numbers and groups of deer walk along the same trails creating pathways in the deep snow. 

Trees in winter, along with deer tracks, on the Fortune Farms sugarbush.

While in wintering areas or deer yards the animals feed on woody hardwood stems (especially sugar maple) and the green branches of balsam and white cedar.  Due to the concentration of feeding deer, they eat everything they can reach, creating a stark browse line.  Our Clayton farm is a deer wintering area and you can see  the effect of deer on the trees. 

A tapping we will go…

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. 

Four members of the Fortune Farms maple tree tapping team standing out in the snow.

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!

 Preparing for the 2023 Syrup Season

We are excited to start our 2023 maple blog!

Time sure does fly by.  We have been very busy with the farm and our family over the past months.  Now with warmer weather upon us, we are quickly preparing for syrup season.

Sherry Fortune and helpers putting lines back up in one of the Derecho damaged areas. Great snowshoeing!

As we reported in May, the Derecho storm crossed our home farm.  Many large trees were uprooted or broken and about a third of our pipeline system was damaged.  By August, tree growth had slowed so we went to work with our chainsaws and forestry equipment and cleaned up the downed and damaged trees allowing us to safely access the pipelines.  Damaged lines have been replaced and our system is set and ready to go for the upcoming season.  We lost over 100 of our large maples and we have been able to replace the production from these trees by adding new taps on others that have grown to be of tapping size (10 inches in diameter). This is a benefit of managing a forest so that it contains trees of all ages.

The unusually warm winter weather that we have experienced to date in February has us thinking that maple season may start earlier than normal. New holes must be drilled in each tree every year and we like to do the drilling or ”tapping” just before the weather warms up, in the latter part of February.  This year there is little frost in the ground beneath the snow in the woods so the trees will be able to draw water through their roots freely when sap flow weather conditions arrive.  We are excited, optimistic, hustling about the woods, and looking forward to a productive season!

The Kettle Boys and the Shanty Men are also anxious to get back into the sugar bush and they will be joining us once the sap starts to flow.

We are celebrating 50 years of maple production at Fortune Farms. Ray and Ruth bought the farm in the summer of 1972 and made their first syrup here in 1973.  To celebrate our 50th season, we have developed a commemorative label featuring Ruth’s original artwork from 1973. We hope that you will share this milestone with us by visiting the farm.

We welcome orders through our website or by calling the farm.  We will let you know when your order is ready and look forward to sharing our experiences on our blog throughout maple season.