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.

Wind Storm – May 21, 2022

Like many areas in eastern Ontario, the maple forests of Fortune Farms were in the path of the “derecho” or “very high winds running in straight lines” on Saturday, May 21st. 

Thankfully, no one was hurt but our maple forests have been damaged.  

Ecologically, windstorms are a factor in the regeneration of old growth hardwood forests. The gaps in the canopy created by large fallen trees allow for the establishment of new seedlings.  Practically, as maple farmers and forest managers, we respect natural forces, but they create danger, along with a lot of work and expense!

The damage is quite dramatic.  Trees with stem defects or weak branch joints snap off at various heights while others, despite their expensive root systems are uprooted and tipped over.

There is also a “domino effect” when one tree hits another and pushes it over.  As the branches and trees fall, they land on our pipeline systems and trails. 

Clearing the fallen trees is hard and dangerous work which must be done so that we can repair and replace the tubing systems.

When you visit Fortune Farms and walk the trails, you will see the effects of this storm for years to come.

Picture of a maple tree uprooted in Ontario's May 21, 2002 derecho.
A completely uprooted tree along with other fallen trees.
Maple trees and tubing lines downed at Fortune Farms sugarbush in Eastern Ontario in the May 21, 2022 derecho.
Felled trees and sap tubing lines.
Another picture of maple trees toppled in the wind storm of May 2022 that whipped across Ontario and Quebec.

The 2022 Maple Season Ends

Yesterday was the last boil of the 2022 maple season. The sap was still running a bit but the syrup turned “buddy” in flavour. This means that the buds are starting to swell and the maple trees are are coming out of winter dormancy.

It has turned out to be a very good season and in fact our best year to date in terms of quantity and quality. We now have all grades in stock and a good supply in inventory to carry us through until next season. The season lasted four weeks with almost continuous production. The weather has been very favourable as we have missed the big storms in other regions.

The next job is the clean up, which means pulling the taps and back flushing all the lines. All the lines including the tubing to each tree and the connector lines are then sealed until next year. It will take us a week or so to complete the operation.

All our back orders are now filled and are waiting for pickup. The camp will be open over the Easter weekend through Monday. Call ahead to 613 256 5216 if you wish to confirm or change your order.

Thanks to everyone for another successful year at Fortune Farms.

A Big Run of Sap

  Since Friday of last week and over the weekend the weather was ideal for sap flow and we boiled steadily to keep up. Sap flow is continuing this week, but not as hard, and may continue through this weekend as there is still some snow in the sugar bush and frost in the ground.

As soon as the frost is out and the ice in the ponds melts the frogs will come out of hibernation and strike up their springtime chorus. The sound of frogs singing is a sure sign that the maple season is over and its time to start the cleanup operation. 

Lots of visitors took advantage of the nice weather, particularly on Saturday, to visit the sugar bush.

Sometimes we are surprised by the questions asked by our visitors. On one occasion my wife Ruth was in the front yard in summer time and a car with two ladies drove in to talk to Ruth. They said “We are from California and we are looking for a sugar bush and we have not found one. Can you help us?” They had come to the area specifically to see a sugar bush which they had read about. Ruth explained that they were standing under a very large maple tree. Turns out that the couple were looking for a small bush and were amazed to find that bush is another word in Canada for a woodlot and a maple bush is really a maple woodlot.  Needless to say they were a bit embarrassed. Everyone had a good laugh.

  There is still time for a visit to the sugar bush as the Kettle Boys will be here one more weekend. We have lots of Golden, Amber and Dark syrup available as well as other maple products.

The Happy Crew at Fortune Farms

Grades of Syrup

Yesterday with the return of warm weather the sap began to flow about 2 pm and continued all day and night. Our test tree with a bucket and spile ran about 10 litres and was still running this morning. We expect the sap will continue running until the temperature begins to fall later today. Our tanks at the camp are full and we will be boiling steadily today to catch up.

The colours and grades of maple syrup is often confusing to average person. Here is a brief explanation that may help. The official colours and grades are Gold, Amber, Dark and Very Dark  The colours are based on the amount of light transmittance through the syrup. Golden 75% or higher, Amber 50% to 74%, Dark 25% to49% and Very Dark 24% or less.

All maple syrups regardless of colour have the same amount of sugar ie 66% to 68%. There are three types of sugar in maple syrup – sucrose, glucose and fructose. Sucrose and fructose are the most common. Sucrose is stable at the boiling point of syrup but fructose breaks down to caramel and other byproducts. It is the caramel that gives maple syrup it’s colour and stronger taste. As the weather warms the amount of fructose in the sap increases and darker syrup is usually made at the end of the season. So far this year the weather has been on the cool side and the syrup we have produced has been Golden or Amber with a small amount of Dark. We expect that to change this weekend as the weather warms.

Everyone has a preferred taste of maple syrup and we are often asked which is best. There is no right answer to this question and it really depends on how you plan to use the syrup. Golden is like confectioner’s sugar and is good for a maple glaze.  Amber is like white sugar and is a good general purpose table syrup, Dark syrup, like brown sugar, is good for cooking, and Very Dark is like molasses and good for curing ham or bacon. These are general guidelines and a taste test is really the only way to choose which syrup you like the best!

This weekend is Maple Weekend so many camps will be open for visitors. It’s a perfect time to head out to the county and enjoy the Maple Season.

A Welcome Break in the Action

Due to the recent spell of cold weather, the maple season has been on hold. The temporary pause in the action has given us a chance to rest a bit and get ready for the next run of sap later this week. The weekend looks promising with frost at night and seasonal daytime highs. We are hoping for another week of syrup making before the warm spring weather arrives. All our usual activities will be available this weekend.

Spring is Slowly Making an Appearance

The recent long spell of cool cloudy weather has been good for sap production. The cool weather helped keep the sap cool and as a result the syrup has been Golden or light Amber in colour and taste. We expect these conditions to continue until Friday evening when cold weather returns just in time for the weekend. We are not sure why every weekend brings cold or stormy weather, but that seems to be the rule. We will be open in any case.

Migratory birds are now returning to this area. A migratory robin was singing in our yard yesterday morning proclaiming his territory for the coming season. The red shouldered hawks are back right on schedule and once again planning to nest in our woods. Sand hill cranes and geese are flying over looking for open water. A neighbour reported blue birds checking out his boxes. The crows are busy making their usual cawing racket and the chickadees are signing their spring song. Lots of bird activity to keep us entertained!

The snow continues to disappear and is now only 2 or 3 inches deep in the woods and sheltered areas. We may get some fresh snow on Sunday which will be good for the sugar bush and trees.

Not too busy at the camp so its a good time to visit and pick up your syrup. Call ahead to 613 256 5216 to check on your order.