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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Updates on Facebook
During the maple season, watch for updates on our Facebook page and here.
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.
Open10 – 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.
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.
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.