Virtual Tour of Fortune Farms

1) Sugar shack

The  modern sugar shack was built in 1990 with pine lumber produced on the farm. It meets Federal health standards for maple syrup production. The original building burnt down in October 2006 due to a fire started accidentally while working with a propane torch. A replacement building was erected on the foundation, with lots of help from friends and neighbors, and was ready in time for the 2007 season. The building accommodates some sap storage, the evaporator Fortune Farms Sugarbusharea, a syrup packing area, a storage room and a sales display room. In 1998 a sap storage building with a room for the reverse osmosis system was added to the site.

We produce up to 7500 litres of syrup per year from 7000 taps, plus maple sugar candy and maple butter. It takes about 40 litres of sap to produce one litre of syrup.

A reverse osmosis machine removes over 65% of the water from the sap before boiling begins The automated oil fired evaporation system is large enough to process the enriched sap from the reverse osmosis system and evaporates at a rate of about 5 gallons a minute. The evaporator is equipped with an automatic temperature and syrup drawoff unit. To improve efficiency the steam produced by evaporation is used to heat the incoming sap.

2) Corduroy Road

This trail was established in 1993 using polewood from a red pine plantation thinning. It is similar to the pioneer corduroy roads across swampy areas. A layer of gravel was added to form a tractor useable road bed.

3) Maple Forest

This area shows how mixed hardwood stands, with trees of all ages, can be thinned to improve maple syrup production, as well as timber and wildlife habitat. Thinning opens up a stand, reduces competition for light and nutrients and creates space for maples to develop large crowns. Trees with large crowns produce more and sweeter sap than trees with small crowns. In 1993  healthy young maples were selected and retained to be future sap producers. All trees with crowns that touched the crowns of the selected maples were cut. Some of the shrubs and small plants were also removed from around the around the selected trees to discourage mice and other rodents from feeding on the saplings. A wide variety of trees were retained including hemlock, beech, basswood, cherry and cedar.

Thinning at the sapling stage makes a sugar bush more productive, but it isn’t recommended for a timber stand. When there is competition at the sapling stage, saplings grow taller, straighter trunks with no branches. The characteristics make them more valuable as sawlogs. Timber stands are best thinned when they reach the polewood stage.

Wildlife Trees

Wildlife trees provide birds and mammals with food, shelter, roosting sites and havens from predators. There are many kinds of wildlife trees including cavity trees. Management of cavity trees is an important part of keeping wildlife in your forest.

Cavity trees are living or dead trees with holes for nesting or denning, feeding and escaping. Woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches make cavities in live trees for feeding and nesting. Excavated cavities and cavities created by decay and broken branches provide habitat for birds and mammals that can’t excavate cavities of their own. These include American kestrels, saw-whet owls, barred owls, southern flying squirrels, raccoons, martens and fishers.

Mast Trees

Mast is the fruit or seed of trees and shrubs. Mast trees are important sources of food for wildlife. Hard Mast species have a shelled fruit. They include oak, beech, butternut and hickory. Soft Mast species have a soft fruit. They include apple, black cherry, ironwood and mountain ash.

Supercanopy Trees

Tall hemlocks, and white pine poke through the canopy, providing nesting and resting places for birds such as eagles and ospreys, escape spots for young bears, and landmarks for songbirds.

Nesting Cavities

Wood ducks, woodpeckers, saw-whet owls, grey squirrels, martens and other species rear their young inside nesting cavities. These cavities have circular openings that lead to hollow chambers.

Denning Cavities

Bears and small mammals rear young and hibernate in cavities in hollow and under trees that have tipped over.

Feeding Cavities

Pileated woodpeckers and other excavating birds create irregular, rough-edged cavities in trees as they search for ants, beetle larvae, and other insects. These cavities don’t lead to hollow chambers.

Escape Cavities

Hollow trees with several openings in the trunk are ideal places for birds and mammals to escape from foxes, owls, and other predators.

4) The Beaver Pond

With a little ingenuity, beavers and people can live together… In the late 1980s, this area was flooded by a beaver dam. The higher water levels made it possible for the beavers to reach more food without straying from water and exposing themselves to predators. However, the flood waters would have killed the the maples and other trees around the pond.

When beavers are a nuisance, landowners have only two choices. They can take steps to reduce the damage or they can remove the beavers. But the second option doesn’t usually work for long. As long as attractive habitat remains, new beavers are likely to move in. But they won’t stay long if they can’t control the water level. Unfortunately over time, the beavers decipher the system and work like “beavers” to cover the outlet.

A beaver baffle has been constructed under the roadway and dam. It is partially successful, but beaver have had to be removed from time to time.

5) The Ecology of the Hemlock Grove

This hemlock stand provides shelter and food for wildlife. Pure hemlock stands have a dense canopy that reduces the depth of snow on the forest floor. In the winter, white-tailed deer gather in hemlock stands like this one. Ruffed grouse, wild turkey and many other species also depend on hemlock for food and shelter.

Hemlocks are slow-growing and long-lived. They can take 250 to 300 years to reach maturity and can live for 800 years or more. Hemlocks regenerate slowly and only germinate in moist conditions.

6) Remnant of a Mature Forest

This four-hectare area of the farm is being preserved in its natural state without thinning. In 1997 a wind storm toppled many mature trees and in January 1998 the ice storm severely damaged many of the remaining trees. As a result the canopy, which was formerly fully closed, was opened and regeneration is now very prolific. It will be 100 years before the woods is restored to the condition before the storms.

The old growth forests of southern Ontario were not vast expanses of ancient trees. Old trees were probably common, but most pre-settlement forests contained trees of all ages, sizes and species. They also contained grassy meadows and other openings of various sizes. These openings were created by falling trees, wind, fire and other disturbances. Stands of old trees only occurred where the forest had not been disturbed for hundreds of years.

Most of southern Ontario’s old growth forests were destroyed by logging, settlement and forest fires. Many of today’s second growth forests developed naturally after these major disturbances. Second growth forests share many of the characteristics of old growth forests. However, old growth ecosystems have a greater variety of species and habitats.

Many layers of life and special features must be present in a forest before it is considered old growth. Look for these layers and special features when you are out walking through a forest:

Layers of Life

  • Organic Litter
  • Ground Cover
  • Shrubs and Saplings
  • Understorey Trees
  • Canopy Trees
  • Supercanopy Trees

Special Features

  • Decaying Wood
  • Pits and Mounds
  • Canopy Gaps
  • Wildlife Trees

The first picture above shows the forest as it appeared in 1996. The trees are large and dense and the crowns are in good shape. The picture on the left, below, taken in 2003 from the same location, shows considerable damage to the crowns due to the ice storm in 1998; it also shows some missing trees which died due to the combined stress caused by the ice storm, wind damage in the summer of 1997 and severe drought in the summer of 2001 and 2002.

The picture below on the left shows more clearly the wind damage which toppled and stripped the branches off trees in a one hectare area. More of these trees, particularly the beech which seem to be most affected by the drought, are expected to die. The intent for this area of the forest was to let nature take its course as would have occurred prior to settlement. We did not expect nature to deliver such a devastating series of blows in such short order. It has been necessary to remove the fallen trees in order to have access to the forest area. About 40,000 board feet of lumber plus 100 cords of firewood has been salvaged from this area.

7) Shelterwood Management in a Sugar Bush

This area shows how the shelterwood management system can be used in a sugar bush to stimulate natural regeneration of maples and provide wood for lumber and fuel. The shelterwood system removes all of the trees in two harvests. The first cut removes half of the canopy. The remaining trees provide seed to regenerate the stand and the cool, shaded conditions many hardwoods need to grow. The second cut is done about 15 years later. This method produces a fast growing forest with trees that are all about the same age. The shelterwood silvicultural system was chosen for this stand because it lacked maple regeneration and needed more maples to become a productive sugar bush. In 1984, the first cut removed mostly basswood and beech.

Sugar maple, beech and white ash saplings are growing in the shelter of the remaining trees. If the stand was being managed for timber, the remaining canopy would be removed in one cut to enhance the growth of the saplings. Because the system is being applied to a sugar bush, the canopy trees will be cut slowly over time to maintain sap production.

8) Pine Trees – Remnants from Our Past

Two tall white pines at this site may be as old as 250 years. In the mid-1800s, loggers removed the tallest and straightest of Ontario’s white pines to make ship masts for the Royal British Navy. These pines survived the river drives because they are far from the water. Although they contain about 1,700 board feet of valuable timber, these pines will be conserved.

Remnants of Ontario’s original white pine stands are reservoirs of the species genetic heritage and diversity. They are important sources of seed for natural regeneration and for breeding seedlings. Bear cubs hide from predators in the tops of giant white pines. Eagles and ospreys use them as places to rest. Songbirds also rely on these super-canopy trees as landmarks in their everyday travel.

9) Woodlot thinning

Thinning of saplings has been carried out in this area. The saplings were measured for sweetness and the sweetest trees were retained. Thinning was first carried out in 1991 at the same time the maple plantation was established. The transplanted saplings and the saplings in the thinned area were about the same size. The saplings in the thinned area are on average about twice as large in diameter as the transplanted saplings. This is due to the fact that the transplanted saplings required 3 to 4 years to re-establish their root system. The conclusion we reached is that if time is limited, priority should be given to the existing woods. Ideally both methods should be done. The pictures which follow show a portion of this area in the summer of 2002 and winter 2003.

10) The Maple Sap Experiment

Do maples with big crowns really produce greater volumes of sweeter sap? That’s the question the experiment at this site is trying to answer. The sap from two test plots was measured and analyzed for sugar content. Tree growth was was also being measured. One test plot is thinned regularly to grow trees with big crowns. The other is being left alone for comparison.

After 5 years the sap sweetness from the managed plot as compared to the control plot was increasing and after 7 years had improved by about 10%. The total volume of sap from each plot has changed each season but the ratio of volume between plots has not changed. A preliminary conclusion is that trees large enough to tap should not be removed in a thinning operation. Sweetness will improve with larger crowns but the combination of sap volume and sweetness will favour higher taps per hectare. Thinning should take place before the trees reach tappable size.

11) The White Pine Stumps

This area shows how stands regenerate naturally after clear cutting. About 400,000 board feet of white pine timber were harvested from this site during World War II. All that remains of the original stand is 650 decaying stumps. The harvest allowed sunlight to reach the floor and stimulated the growth of maple saplings. The maples were thinned in 1981 to give the crowded polewood-sized trees more room to grow. By 1988, the maples were large enough to tap for sap.

12) The Plantations

By preventing soil erosion and creating the cool, moist conditions hardwoods need to grow, conifer plantations can be the first step in restoring old growth forests on marginal   farmlands.   Pine   and   larch plantations were planted here in 1974 under the   Ministry   of   Natural   Resources Woodland Improvement Act program. If the plantations are thinned and tended, oak and maple seedlings will begin to grow in the shade when the pines are about 40 years old.

In a century or two, the original, mixed hardwood forest will be restored through natural regeneration. This process can be speeded by cutting trees to create canopy gaps and by transplanting hardwoods into the openings.   When they mature, these hardwoods will provide seeds to regenerate a mixed forest.

13) The Maple Orchard

Imagine growing maple trees with the same care we give to apples and other commercial fruits. That’s what we are doing in these old fields to creating a highly productive sugar bush of fast-growing, extra-sweet maples that are the ideal distance apart. Creating a sugar bush from saplings takes a lot of hard work and commitment. Maples take about 30 years to grow big enough to tap.

In 1991 and 1992, we transplanted 600 maple saplings from a nearby sugar maple stand. The saplings, 1.2 to 2.4 metres tall, were planted  about six metres apart. About 5% per cent of the trees died in the first few years and were replaced.

Before planting,  the 2.4 hectare site was mowed and herbicide was applied to protect the saplings from competition with other plants for sunlight, water and nutrients. Mulches were also placed around each tree to hold back competition. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) used the orchard to test the ability of plastic and newspaper mulches, as well as herbicides, to improve tree survival and growth by reducing competition.After five years the trees were measured. No statistical evidence was found to support any specific mulch treatment. The trees with the herbicide mulch may have had a slight advantage.

The maple orchard is growing well in spite of drought in 2001 and 2003 and again in 2013 and 2014.A few of the  trees on shallowest soil did die due to drought and other  trees showed considerable stress but survived.The trees have grown from 5-6 foot saplings to 15 to 30 foot trees. Some sun scald damage occurred on the south side of the trees which weakens the trunk and makes the tree susceptible to wind blow down. Sun scald can be reduced by painting the tree white on the south side or using some form of sun shield. The maple orchard is considered to be a success. The trees may be large enough to tap by 2020 if the current growth rate continues.

14) The Kettles

Almonte sugarbush activities at Fortune FarmsDuring the spring sap season maple syrup is made at this location in iron kettles over an open fire. Three kettles are used as the sap sweetness is increased it is ladled to the second kettle and finally to the syrup finishing kettle. This speeds up the process which is very time consuming and not very efficient. However it was a big step forward from boiling using hot rocks in the sap as practiced by the natives.

15) The Old Sugar Shack

Farm owners made maple syrup here from the 1940s to1990. The labour-intensive operation used about 30 cords of wood a year to boil the sap from 2,000 taps.

Cupola and Chimney

The cupola is a venting system that allows the steam from the boiling sap to escape from below. The smoke stack, or chimney, allows the smoke to escape from the fire below. It is also very important in creating an updraft effect on the fire. This updraft sucks air from below over the fire and up the chimney. The moving air continuously fans the flames of the fire, keeping it burning very hot.

Inside the Old Sugar Shack

almonte-sugarbush-activities_FortuneFarms-150403-0385Here you see the evaporator in action.

Sap is boiled down to syrup in this large stainless steel pan. This process takes approximately 5 hours from raw sap to finished product.

On average, it takes 30 to 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup. The pan is large and shallow so that there is maximum surface area of sap being heated by the fire below.