Tapping Completed

It’s always a big relief to finish tapping and know we are ready for the first run of sap. Winter seems to be staying with us for another week or so and it may be a late start to the season. All we can do is wait patiently for that first taste of fresh syrup.

Tapping looks easy until you have spent a day in the sugar bush on snowshoes moving from tree to tree and drilling several hundred holes in hard maple. We now have battery powered electric drills and special tapping drill bits that make the task much easier. In the very early days the pioneers did as the natives were doing and simply cut a gash in the tree with an axe and used a sliver of wood to direct the sap into a bucket on the ground. Effective but very hard on the tree. The next evolution was to use a two handed auger to bore a hole in the tree and a hand whittled hollow spile to direct the sap to a bucket on the ground.

The spiles were often made of sumac which has a soft central pith easy to remove to create a hollow spile. The augers handmade at the local blacksmith shop were an inch or so in diameter and also quite damaging to the tree. So smaller spiles were tried and  7/16” became an industry standard. Cast metal or rolled sheet metal in many specialized shapes were developed with much promotion that a particular shape enhanced sap flow. Hooks were added to hang the bucket and hold a bucket lid.Tapping bits were also improved and the brace and bit replaced the two hand auger. Things stayed this way until the 1960’s when the first plastic tubes and spiles were introduced.

Plastic tubing is now so common that it is hard to believe that it took 30 years or so for the switch to  tubing to become popular. Early tubing became brittle due to ultraviolet damage. It was prone to sag and required a lot of maintenance. Also syrup producers were reluctant to change from the way their family had made syrup for generations. However, with tubing that will now last 20 years or so and much better fittings and spiles, it is now the new standard.

About the same time that plastic tubing was introduced concern was growing about damage to the maple tree due to tapping and often overtapping. It takes 4 or 5 years for a tree to grow new wood to fully seal the hole of a 7/16” spile. Experiments were conducted on smaller hole sizes and a new size 5/16” has been adopted as the industry standard. A 5/16” hole will seal in two years on a healthy tree. Some producers are experimenting with 3/16” spiles and tubing but results are mixed. Vacuum assist is now used extensively on tubing systems to stimulate and increase sap flow. High vacuum, over 25” of mercury, will draw sap horizontally around the tree as well as vertically. This means the number of taps in a multi-tap tree can be reduced with no loss of sap flow. Another step forward in protecting our trees.

The most commonly asked question by first time visitors to our sugarbush is. “Do you have to put a new hole in the tree each year?”. We are surprised by this question but it appears that even people with no maple experience are concerned about the damage to the tree. And that is a welcome thought.

The next time you are in a sugar bush, take a look at the trees that have been tapped for several years.  You will see old tapholes and have a better appreciation as to why we are putting time and effort into better tapping equipment and methods.

Various spiles
Various spiles

Tapping Underway

With over a foot or 30 cm of snow, snowshoes are needed to move about the sugar bush this year. Snow in some parts of New Brunswick is over ten feet or 300 cm and we are glad we don’t have to contend with those conditions. It’s a reminder of the winter of 1971-72 when we had snow up to the eaves. We were able to tap the trees that year but almost needed a ladder to remove the spiles after the snow melted.

The next full moon is March 18 and this will be the “sugar” moon. Over the years we have noticed that sap flow does seem to some degree to follow the moon cycles. The Farmer’s Almanac forecasts fair weather and moderating temperatures the first week of March. So we expect to be making syrup by the first or second week of March.

Over the years we have found it’s best to be ready to start by the first of March. These traditional forecasting methods are right about 50% of the time. They have to be right, sometimes, to keep the folklore alive.

With the easing of Covid restrictions in Ontario our camp and trails will be open to the public. Capacity restrictions will apply indoors and social distancing outdoors. We are looking forward to once again welcoming visitors.

Joel Fortune and dog Maple out helping to tap maple trees at Fortune Farms sugarbush
Joel Fortune and Maple helping tap the trees

The 2022 Maple Season

Maple Season is fast approaching.   We thank everyone for your support throughout the pandemic. We have missed the opportunity to mingle with our visitors  and we hope this year  to be open this year with necessary Covid protocols.  Please follow our blog for regular updates as the season progresses.

This will be our 49th year making syrup on this farm.  Where do the years go? 

Our forests are proving to be resilient and with careful management continue to be healthy and vigorous despite the ice storms, windstorms, droughts and hordes of caterpillars that we have encountered over the years  Areas that were fields are now forests and seedlings have grown to become tappable trees.  It is truly remarkable and gratifying when we consider just how much our trees have grown over the years!

The long-range forecast looks “normal” so we will start tapping during the last week of February, and we typically gather our first runs of sap in the second week of March.  Plans change in a hurry if warm weather arrives.

Last year we introduced an online ordering system which worked well.  We invite you to place orders anytime for our 2022 crop online or by calling the farm at 613 256 5216. 

Fortune Farms in winter

Updates on Facebook

During the maple season, watch for updates on our Facebook page and here.

Fall colours at Fortune Farms

Fall has arrived and with it lots of rain which will be good for our maple trees. Fortunately,the gypsy moth does not like maple tree foliage and so our sugar bush was spared severe damage which was very intense on other tree species in this area.

With the warm weather and lots of sunshine this summer the trees should have produced lots of starch which will turn to sugar and hopefully result in extra sweet sap next spring.

The trees are just starting to turn colour with the soft maples showing quite a bit of red foliage. It’s a nice time to take a stroll through our sugar bush and our trails will be open this Saturday and Sunday and also next weekend for the Fall in Love with Maple sugar bush visitation event across Ontario.

Our camp will also be open with appropriate Covid protocols and we still have Amber and Dark syrup for sale.

Open 10 – 4pm for two weekends:

Sat, 25 Sept & Sun, 26 Sept
Sat, 2 Oct & Sun, 3 Oct

Your sweet tooth doesn’t have to wait until spring!

Fall in Love with Maple at Ontario sugarbushes from September 25 – October 3, 2021.

Fortune Farms will be open on the both weekends during this time.

Season Over for 2021

Warm May-like weather seems to have arrived early this year. Such a contrast from last year when we had a long, drawn out and cool March and April.

Tuesday was our last day of making syrup for this year. The maple buds are now well advanced and the trees are taking on a greenish hue. The frogs are singing, another sure sign that spring is here.

The Wood frog in the picture was spotted in our beaver pond by Jim Robertson our local photographer.

We have had a fair season with production a bit above our long term average. Hopefully enough to fill our orders until next year.

Our camp is open daily from 9 to 4 with the usual Covid restrictions. We also have curbside pickup if preferred.

Easter Weekend

The maple season is winding down. However, there will be several degrees of frost on Saturday night so we may have a final run of sap on Easter Sunday.

Then the weather turns warm, the tree buds will begin to swell, and that will mark the end of the season. This past week, with the warm weather, the syrup continued to darken so we now have an ample supply of Dark and Very Dark syrup.

The migrant birds continue to arrive at the farm. The resident Phoebe is back and nest building. A friend was able to take a very good picture of our resident bluebird and along with his mate they are also busy nest building. It’s amazing how these birds find their way back each year.

Our camp is open this weekend from 9 to 4 each day. The new lockdown rules in Ontario do not affect our operation as we are a food establishment. There is a limit on the number allowed access to the camp at one time.

A blue bird
Birds of spring

Full Tanks of Sap Mean a Late Night at the Camp

It’s remarkable what a bit of frost will do. Last night the temperature dipped to minus 2 and reset the trees. Today the sap gushed and our tanks are full and we will be boiling late into the night.

Earlier this week in the warm weather, with no frost, the sap flow decreased to half or less than the normal amount. The fact that the sap ran was in part due to the vacuum system on the pipe lines. Bucket systems did not do so well.

Tomorrow may bring some showers and mild weather. We will be working hard to catch up to today’s large run of sap, plus the sap that comes tonight and tomorrow.

Next week looks promising, with frost some nights and warm days. It is shaping up to be a good year for syrup production, but we can’t be sure until it’s over.

Our camp will be open tomorrow, Sunday, March 28th, from 9am to 4 pm for syrup pickup. The trails are clear of snow and good for walking. Dogs are welcome on a leash.

A male robin and a male bluebird arrived this week to claim their territory and the red shouldered hawks are around but hard to spot. Social distancing and masks are mandatory when walking around the property. We look forward to seeing you.

A Full Tank of Sap
A full tank of sap

A Warm Spell

We are all enjoying this spell of warm weather and spring has arrived. However it is not so good for the maple season. The sap has been running each day but the flow is decreasing and we need a change in weather with frost to reset the trees and draw fresh sap up from the roots. Warm spells in March are not uncommon but this is of longer duration than we can recall. There is cooler weather in the forecast so we hope the season will continue. The good news is that the syrup we have made to date is of good quality ranging from Golden to Amber.

The snow in the woods is rapidly disappearing and the trails are almost bare and easy walking. The red shouldered hawks have returned to both our sugar bushes and often scream at us as if we are in their territory. The hawks have returned each year around the 20th of March for along as we can remember. They will be selecting a nesting site and going through their courtship ritual. They need a large area of mature woodlot and a sugar bush is an ideal location.

Our camp is open from 10 to 4 daily for syrup pickup. Should a lockdown occur we will continue with curb service. The trails are open but our usual demonstrations and taffy on the snow are not available this year. Let’s hope we can get back to normal next year.

Pipeline Maintenance Underway

The return of cold weather has stopped the sap running and we are enjoying a short break. Warm weather returns tomorrow and the longer range forecast looks very promising for a large sap run. Hopefully the sap sweetness will increase as the trees and roots thaw out.

Last week on Thursday night there was a very strong wind storm which blew down a couple of dead trees as well as branches. Of course these trees and branches always fall on pipelines and must be removed. A chain saw is one of the necessary tools for the syrup producer. The picture shows the work required to remove one of these trees.

The syrup we have made so far is all of Amber grade with good flavour. If the sap sweetness improves we expect to make light Amber or Golden syrup as sweeter sap requires less processing time.

Our provisions for coping with Covid 19 are working. Our camp is open but the number of people at one time is limited. The trails are still a bit snow covered but passable and may be mostly bare by next weekend. No Kettle Boys or Shanty Men this year, which is a major disappointment.

Fallen maple trees after a storm
Removing dead trees

The camp is now open daily from 10 to 4 and there is fresh syrup for sale.

Perfect sap weather

Warm days and cool nights makes for perfect sap weather and the sap is running. After a few minor glitches all the equipment is performing well and we have collected enough sap for our first production run of the season.

The picture shows the first syrup running into the filter tank on Thursday morning. The next step is to do a final filtering on our filter press prior to packing.

The sap sweetness is less than 2% sugar.  As a result the sap to syrup ratio is about 50 to 1 rather than the more normal 40 to 1. This makes a big difference in the amount of fuel required to produce syrup.

With the reverse osmosis machine we can compensate by concentrating longer. The low sugar content of first run sap is typical as the tree roots and much of the tree trunk are still frozen. The sap we are collecting has been stored on the outer rings of the tree trunk. The sweetness will improve as fresh sap is drawn up from the roots.

That first taste of fresh syrup this morning made all the tapping effort and equipment start up well worth while. Now for some fresh baked bread and fresh maple syrup for a real delicious dessert at dinner this evening.

Sap in the filter tank at Fortune Farms
Running into the filter tank