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.

The ins-and-outs of sap production

Today the sap is flowing steadily and we expect a good run. The maple tree cell structure is somewhat unique in that the cells contain both carbon dioxide and liquid. The cell structure is quite complicated but for our purposes the fact that the tree contains gas is the reason the sap runs even when the tree is still dormant in the spring. Under warm conditions the gas in the tree trunk, limbs, and twigs expends creating a pressure inside the tree which pushes the sap to the tips of the branches and also down the trunk and out the tap hole.

The sap runs when the pressure around the tap hole exceeds the atmospheric pressure and usually stops in the afternoon as the tree cools and the gas pressure decreases. As the temperature continues to fall the gas contracts further and the gas pressure inside the tree actually turns negative pulling fresh sap up from the roots and stores it in the tree ready for the next day’s sap run.

Sap is also pulled back out of the pipe line as well. This is not desirable as this sap is often infected with algae from the pipe line which hastens the healing and sealing of the tap hole, decreasing the sap flow. Usually, however, the temperature drops quickly below the freezing point and the sap is held in the pipe line with no problem.

This simple explanation of gas expansion and contraction does not fully explain all the reasons for sap flow but it is the major factor, and warm days and cold nights are eagerly awaited by the sugar maker.

The tank of crystal clear sap shown in the photograph contains 2000 gallons of sap and will make about 50 gallons or 200 litres of syrup. 1600 litres of water will be removed from this sap in the reverse osmosis (RO) machine and a further 350 gallons during the boiling process. The RO has made a major improvement to the efficiency of our process as it requires only 10% of the energy needed for the boiling process! Small RO units are now available so even the producer with a few hundred taps can consider this addition to his or her operation.  A boiling step is still required to produce the distinctive flavour of maple syrup, however.

A tank of maple sap ready for processing into syrup

Spring is here

Spring has officially arrived but we are still experiencing a period of wet weather and mild conditions. Not the best for maple sap but with vacuum on our tubing system we have been able to stimulate some sap flow and will be boiling today. Cold weather returns tonight which should reset the trees and provide another sap run on Monday and Tuesday.

The snow is slowly melting, and about 6 inches still remains in the sugar bush and shady areas. Rubber boots are still needed for a walk in the woods. The Shanty Men and Kettle Boys will be operating today and there will be taffy on the snow for a taste of maple syrup. Maple syrup and other maple products are available for sale as well.

Warm weather on the way

Warm weather is coming this weekend. If there is no frost tonight, we expect the sap to run all night and provide an ample supply for syrup making tomorrow. So far sap runs have been modest but the sweetness is steadily increasing from 1.4% to close to 3%. This makes a big difference to the production of syrup, as the amount of water that needs to be removed from the sap is substantially decreased.

Plans are underway to once again open our camp and trails to visitors with some Covid-19 protocols in place. The Shanty Men and the Kettle Boys will be operating, as well as the main camp. Lots of snow still on the trails so suitable footwear is essential.

A big pileated woodpecker created this hole in one of our maple trees at the road while searching for ants. If you see this illusive bird maybe you can snap a picture!

 A fresh pileated woodpecker hole

First Taste of Syrup for 2022

With the warm weather on Friday, we had a run of enough sap to start the RO and the evaporator.  Warm weather is expected again on Monday and we are ready for a really good run of sap to fill our tanks to the brim. We are now enjoying our first taste of fresh syrup.

Fresh maple syrup tastes oh so good
With fresh baked bread and butter
Just like down on the farm
When they were made by my mudder!

Ray Fortune
Fortune Farm Maple Sugar Bush

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