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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are all enjoying this spell of warm weather and spring has arrived. However it is not so good for the maple season. The sap has been running each day but the flow is decreasing and we need a change in weather with frost to reset the trees and draw fresh sap up from the roots. Warm spells in March are not uncommon but this is of longer duration than we can recall. There is cooler weather in the forecast so we hope the season will continue. The good news is that the syrup we have made to date is of good quality ranging from Golden to Amber.
The snow in the woods is rapidly disappearing and the trails are almost bare and easy walking. The red shouldered hawks have returned to both our sugar bushes and often scream at us as if we are in their territory. The hawks have returned each year around the 20th of March for along as we can remember. They will be selecting a nesting site and going through their courtship ritual. They need a large area of mature woodlot and a sugar bush is an ideal location.
Our camp is open from 10 to 4 daily for syrup pickup. Should a lockdown occur we will continue with curb service. The trails are open but our usual demonstrations and taffy on the snow are not available this year. Let’s hope we can get back to normal next year.