Warm weather has arrived along with dark maple syrup

It’s been a very busy time at the Farm!  It took us four days to clear trees and branches and repair our pipeline networks following the ice storm.  We missed a couple of days of production as we were without hydro, however, we had lots of visitors at the Farm over the Easter and it seems that a good time was had by all. 

The warm weather has reduced the flow of sap. It is still running this morning, April 12.  We expect that the end of the production season is close.   We will make this decision to turn off the pumps and start  clean-up based on the conditions of the sap and the quality of syrup that we are producing.  With no frost at night and high daily temperatures, the trees will start to come out of dormancy, and when they do, the sap will change chemistry and the syrup will be bitter and unpalatable.  The surest sign that the season is over is the signing of chorus frogs and spring peppers – none yet in our area!

Golden, amber and dark syrup from Fortune Farms

Golden, amber and dark syrup from Fortune Farms

The early mornings are special at this time of year as birds are in full chorus marking territories and attracting mates.  We also have a yellow-bellied sap sucker trying to drill holes in an aluminum ladder at the camp – not sure what it’s thinking, but it is persistent!  Our bluebirds are back at the farm and have claimed their nest boxes.  They are a joy to watch as they raise their broods throughout the summer. 

With the warmer weather we have started to make dark syrup.  This is good news for our customers who have been waiting for the darker grades.  I’m not very confident that we make much very dark grade given the weather forecast, but we will see what happens over the next couple of days.  We are filling our orders for dark syrup now and will be contacting customers for pick up.  We are open daily from 10 to 4.  Our phone is also working again if you want to give us a call – 613 256 5216.

Our birds are coming back

Our Red Shouldered Hawks appeared on schedule this week to our Clayton property as well as at the Lanark Farm.  These birds are philopatric, meaning they will return and nest in the same area year after year.  Prime habitat is old/mature hardwood forest with high crowns. 

The Derecho damage at the farm occurred in the vicinity of one of the traditional nesting sites so we will see if this disturbance affects where the hawks eventually settle.  The hawks have a characteristic cry and can be regularly seen and heard circling above the woods.

I have seen the first bluebirds perched on the wires along the roadway.  They regularly use  the nesting boxes around the neighbourhood, including a couple at the farm.  We’ll watch to see when they set up shop.

On Wednesday morning, large flocks of migrating Canada geese were passing high overhead.  Geese leave the wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast and head north to breeding areas as ice melts and food sources become available.  These flocks were heading east – likely in search of open water and food as the lands further north remain ice and snow bound. 

There are plenty of robins, turkey vultures, grackles, and blackbirds about and we have also seen sandhill cranes and blue herons. The sun is getting stronger and the snow continues to recede.  The birds are telling us that warmer weather is coming!

We experienced the heaviest sap flows to this point in the season on Tuesday and Wednesday and were busy making amber grade syrup.  The winds and snow squalls on Wednesday evening were dramatic and a few branches came down on pipelines requiring inspection and repairs. 

Looking at the forecast, it looks like the sap will be running well.  We are open daily from 10 to 4 with our trails, Shanty Men and Kettle Boys all operating.  There is still plenty of snow in the woods, so we recommend people wear winter footwear and dress accordingly.  We are celebrating Maple Weekend as well.

In Memoriam: Tom Stephenson

With a very heavy hearts we announce that our dear friend, mentor and kettle boy leader Tom Stephenson passed away early Sunday morning, March 26th.  Tom was a close friend to our family as he made Fortune Farms his spring home for the last 25+ years.

I met Tom at Forestry School at Algonquin College in Pembroke in 1981.  Tom was a unique professor, stressing the need for human relationships, attention to detail and pragmatism.He had a low tolerance for slackers and challenged many students over the years to do better. He focused on the need for useful skills in forest fire fighting, forest industry operations, safety, and surveying.  He had an extensive network of contacts and helped many of his students secure their first positions with the Ministry of Natural Resources and launch their careers. Tom’s infectious enthusiasm and energy were contagious, and we became good friends.

Tom Stephenson with Jamie and Sherry Fortune at Fortune Farms sugarbush.
Tom with Jamie and Sherry Fortune at Fortune Farms in March 2020, explaining how tapping affects trees.

In the 1990s when Tom’s “sugar bush” at Achray Station was closed down, I invited him to bring his kettles to our farm.  Not only did he bring his kettles, but he also brought countless handmade toys and a few of his friends. 

My mother, Ruth, branded Tom and crew the “Kettle Boys” and the rest is history!  The Kettle Boys entertained hundreds of people each spring at the farm and branched out to cameo appearances at Winterlude, local fairs, and maple events.  Tom traveled far and wide collecting maple items, making friends and telling stories the whole time. He is widely known and will be fondly remembered by many.

Tom was a character with many names – the “Jigger”, “Red”, “Soupy” (his middle name was Campbell),  and Kettle Boy “Shorty”.  I have a vivid image of Tom one Easter weekend walking from lunch to the Kettles wearing his Easter bunny ears fashioned from old fire hose, his coveralls, felt hat, and a fluffy white cotton tail while yodeling. What a guy!

We gathered at the kettles Sunday evening and toasted Tom with fresh kettle boy syrup, recognizing how he brought us all together and that his legacy lives on. 

We are grateful for Tom’s friendship and the wonderful times we had together and extend our sympathies to his family.

Jamie Fortune

A productive week in the sugar bush

As spring continues to ease its way in, the temperatures are inching up and the snowbanks are inching down. Snowshoes are still required when working in the woods off our trails and there is plenty of winter left in the woods. 

The sap has been running. No overflowing tanks, just steady flows of sweet clear sap.  We are making full flavoured amber and golden grades and we expect the colour to remain light until the daily temperatures increase. 

When we are boiling and filtering, we are collecting a lot of fine white niter – or “sugar sand”.  This is composed of minerals, mostly calcium, which were dissolved in the sap and precipitate out as the water content is reduced by boiling. 

It looks like fudge when packed in the filters, but it tastes like gritty sand. Always a disappointment to those who try it! We collect the niter and spread it back out in the woods after the season is over.

Open daily for the season!

The Kettle Boys and the Shantymen are back and are boiling on the weekends. Dress for the weather and wear winter footwear when you visit.  We are open daily now from 10 to 4. 

This Sunday, March 26th is the annual Union Hall Pancake Fest.  Local volunteers serve a terrific meal of pancakes and raise funds to maintain this vital, historic place. 

Please travel safely on the roadways as the weekend arrives along with yet another storm warning and we look forward to seeing you at the farm.

A stainless steel tray with fine white niter from the sap to maple syrup process.
Find white niter, also known as “sugar sand”

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

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

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