Tapping this year was more challenging than usual The deep soft snow for the first two days was very challenging and then lots of buried lines needed to be dug out. On one line a large tree had blown over before the snow came and almost 200 yards of pipeline (180 meters) was on the ground and had to be restrung. The leaks we have missed will show up with the first run of sap
The weather may finally warm up on Thursday, March 14 and Friday, March 15 and we can finally open the camp. The Kettle Boys and Shanty Men also hope to open on Saturday and Sunday 22nd and 23rd but once again this depends on the weather.There will be an update in this blog each day on our progress.
The first step each at the start of a new season is tapping the trees. Its necessary to make a new hole each year for each tap. The old tap holes are in the process of being sealed off with new wood and no longer will run sap.
The snow in the sugar bush has accumulated to about 75 cm or 3 feet and very soft which has made it very difficult to move about even on large snowshoes. The brief mild spell with rain showers earlier this week has been a blessing. The crust is now firm enough to support a person on snowshoes and tapping is now much easier. We are about 40% completed and should finish well before the expected first run of sap sometime after March 10.
Eric Boysen, one of our helpers, is tapping one of our trees with an electric drill. Over the 46 years we have been tapping we have progressed from manual tapping with brace and bit to tapping with a modified chain saw. Then to a lightweight gas powered tapper followed by an electric drill with NiCd battery and finally to an electric drill with lithium ion battery as shown. This is the perfect outfit as it is lightweight, powerful and the battery is long lasting. It’s almost fun on a nice sunny day like it was today, not too cold and with a crust to walk on over the deep snow.
We are looking forward to that taste of fresh syrup.
We are having a traditional Canadian winter this year. With 3 feet (76 cm) of snow in the sugar bush snowshoes will be necessary for tapping which will begin next week. Based on the long term forecast we do not expect the first sap run until the second week of March, also the traditional start date for this area.
This year we have had some squirrel damage to our tubing system. For some reason, in one section of the sugar bush, the squirrels clipped the spile adapter from the end of the drop line as well as the pin on which it is connected to seal the tubing system between seasons.The photo on the left shows the damaged drop line missing the adapter and pin. Also shown is a drop line without damage and the drop line pinned for storage.Somewhere the squirrels have stored these pieces of plastic and will be disappointed when they try to salvage them for a lunch this winter. About 100 drop lines were damaged and they have been replaced. There is always something new and interesting in the sugar bush but it also adds to our annual work load
As usual at this time of year we are in the process of getting ready for another season. This will be our 46th year of making maple syrup and there have been many changes in the sugar bush and in the production process over that period. Many of our older trees have died in part due to damage from the ice storm but are quickly being replaced by younger trees. We are fortunate that our two sugar bushes have a good understory of younger trees ready to grow rapidly when there is a break in the canopy.We have kept up with the evolving production techniques which have improved our efficiency and reduced the amount of fuel required and the green house gas emissions.Some things never change which is joy of working in the sugar bush and the taste of fresh maple syrup.
When you visit our camp this year you will find a much enlarged parking lot. Wolf Grove Road was repaved this year and it was convenient to have the road crew widen our parking lot at the same time.
We have been reflecting on the past season and the length of eight weeks is the most significant aspect. Usually the season is four weeks with more intense runs of sap. This year the sap ran in smaller batches but steadily, with only a couple of breaks, for the entire eight weeks. Also the sap ran several days when the temperature hovered around 2 degrees C which is unusual. Normally 4 or 5 degrees is needed to produce a good run of sap.In any case we had an excellent year and we are very grateful.
Lots of people came to visit our operation and we particularly enjoyed talking to several groups from overseas. This was their first experience with a maple syrup operation. We would like to thank all our customers for their patronage. Some have been coming since we opened in 1973 and have supported us through all our ups and downs. We have a Wall of Honour in the camp with the names of people who have been coming for 10 years or more. We may have missed some people so if your are a regular check the list next time you are at the camp as we would don’t want to overlook anyone.
So now its time to rest a bit then look ahead to next year. There are always repairs and improvements we can make to the operation that keeps us busy year around. We keep syrup on hand all year long so if you run out or need a gift for a special occasion give is a call.
We are open this week and on the weekend and then thereafter by appointment.
The sap stopped running yesterday so we are shutting down. We had a very good season. It lasted eight weeks which may be a record for this area.
The next step is washing up which will take a week or two. The lines need to be flushed with water then the spiles will be pulled, isopropyl alcohol injected in the tubes and the system sealed until next spring. The alcohol sterilizes the tubes and it is flushed out with the first run of sap. We also need to wash all the tanks, rinse the reverse osmosis system and clean the evaporator.
Our camp will be open this week and next weekend. After that we may only be open by appointment or by chance when we are working at the camp.
With the warmer weather the sap is running well but not as hard as earlier as some of the tap holes in the smaller trees on the hillsides have stopped producing. We made enough Dark and Very Dark syrup today to fill our back orders. These syrups have a strong flavour mainly due to the fructose sugar in late season sap that breaks down during boiling mainly to caramel.We expect a strong run of sap tomorrow and to continue for a few days as some areas in the sugar bush are still covered in snow and are slowly thawing out.
Another migrant bird, our resident phoebe, appeared today. The bluebirds are back at the bird house and seem to be building a nest. The winter birds are very busy at the feeder as food seems to be scarce after such a long winter. Birdwatching has nothing to do with making syrup but we find it very enjoyable to take time from our busy schedule to note the comings and goings of our feathered friends.
Our equipment has been working well but we had an outage today when a relay in the control system for our vacuum pump stopped working shutting off the cooling fan. We were able to bypass the relay and get back in operation. Not the best arrangement but better than not being able to use the vacuum pump. Vacuum helps to stimulate sap flow and also keeps the lines free of sap. A new relay is in the mail.
We are in the process of phoning or emailing those people who ordered Dark or Very Dark syrup. If you don’t here from us for some reason send us a reminder or call at the camp and we will fill your order. We will be open from 10 t0 5 daily.
Spring may actually arrive this weekend and we are looking forward to a big run of sap as the trees in our cold gullies finally thaw out. The hillsides are free of snow and the trees there may start to bud as soon as the temperature rises next week as forecast. This will bring a quick end to the season as “buddy” syrup has a very unpleasant taste. In the meantime the sap keeps running and there was a significant run from 5 pm yesterday until the temperature dropped to zero around 2 am. Our tanks were more than half full this morning.
It should be a good weekend to visit a sugar bush. Lots of syrup and maple products are now available at the camps and birdlife on the trails is picking up as the migrants return.There is still snow available for taffy on the snow for that special taste of spring.
We will be open as usual from 10 to 5 daily on the weekend.
We were very pleased to see the bluebirds checking out their nesting box yesterday. It’s always a pleasure to see these beautiful birds and watch them as they go about raising a new family. Sometimes we get to see the fledglings take their first flight. We know the maple season is near the end when these birds appear. The next sign that the season is over is when the frogs begin to sing.
There will be no frogs singing today. We have about 4 cm of fresh snow and freezing rain in the forecast for this evening and tomorrow. We expect one more run of sap when warmer weather returns on Tuesday or Wednesday. So far no Very Dark syrup which some people prefer It may come this week.
In spite of the winter like weather we had several visitors at the sugar bush yesterday including some overseas people making their first trip to a sugar bush. We will be open again today as usual.
With somewhat warmer temperatures and with the help of a low pressure system that moved in on Thursday we had an excellent sap runs this week . However, for the next two or three days winter returns and we will have another break. We think the sap runs will taper off next week and the season will come to an end after nine weeks of almost continuous action.
In spite of the possibility of snow showers the Shanty Men will operate their small wood fired evaporator and provide an educational experience for visitors. The Kettle Boys have closed for the season.
A robin appeared this morning singing aggressively to claim his territory. I hope he finds something to eat during the next three days of below season temperatures.
We will be open as usual from 10 t0 5.
We are now in our eighth week of making syrup and it looks like it will continue for at least another week. We have made only a small quantity of Dark syrup and as yet no Very Dark syrup. Unless the weather warms up the syrup we make will most likely to be Amber. We cannot control the colour or flavour of syrup as it is dictated by the quality of the sap. With warmer weather some of the glucose sugar in the snap converts to fructose and glucose. The fructose sugar breaks down during boiling to produce caramel and other byproducts which is the main reason for the darker colour and stronger flavoured syrup towards the end of the season.
Still very few migrating birds have put in an appearance. They must be waiting south of the Great Lakes . The red shouldered hawks continue to call, particularly in the morning, and a large flock of crows made a real racket this week harassing an owl. The chickadees and woodpeckers continue to come to the feeder as food is scarce after such a long winter. Hopefully next week we will see some robins, song sparrows and maybe bluebirds.
The weekend does not look promising with more cold weather and possibly snow in the forecast. We will be open as usual and who knows the weatherman may be wrong. Lets hope so.