Archive for March, 2012

Clear Sweet Sap

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

With several years of maple syrup making under my belt, I’ve become somewhat of an authority about the topic among my friends. Many folks are interested in the subject, and can tell from the bags under my eyes when the season is in full swing. So they ask questions, and I do my best to answer. I look them in the eye, puff out my chest, and tell them how it is. The topic this season was the warm spell we had early on. I got about a week of sap production, and then the trees gave cloudy and/or yellow sap, and then slowed to a trickle.

The Red Maples and Poplars budded and blossomed. I told everyone that would listen that the season was over. Once the buds come out on the Red Maples, that is it. Apparently, the Sugar Maples didn’t listen.

Yesterday I went out to pull my taps. I had bucket after bucket with decent amounts of clear sweet sap. I tasted some of it, and it would have made very good syrup, in my opinion. Unfortunately it may have been sitting for several days since I’d moved on to other projects, and hadn’t checked for a while. And I didn’t know if there would be enough to justify starting up the evaporator again. So I proceeded to pull my taps and dump several buckets of good sap.

A couple of lessons were learned. The trees know what they are doing, and even a multi-year observer of their behavior is only a good guesser. And also, in future years, I’ll keep making the rounds even when I’m sure the season is over. The trees are smarter then I am.

Bottling Day

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I spent all day today bottling syrup. I just finished doing a first swipe of the cleanup too. I’d say I spent 12 hours on and off today on the project. It is one of those projects where you can do other things while it is going on, but you’d better not get too involved in anything else, because you can lose a lot of work in a hurry if you let something slip out of control. It takes me longer because I do it on the kitchen wood stove.

I got 20 pints, which translates to 2 1/2 gallons if I do the math correctly. Last year I got 12 gallons plus a quart I think, so this year was pretty disappointing. That said, I only spent about a week in the woods this year, where it is 3 or 4 weeks most years. So I guess it is reasonable that I got such a small return.

Of this year’s pints, I got 11 that were pretty clear, and 9 that were darker. That makes sense to me because the last 9 came from the emptying of the evaporator, and the latest sap of the year was in that batch. Some of the sap was getting cloudy and even a bit yellow, which darkens the syrup and strengthens the taste.

I’m so glad once again I started doing this maple syrup thing. I’m surely never going to make any money at it on the scale I’m doing it, but I am picking up a valuable skill, and I believe I am really improving the forest by spending time out there. One of my favorite sayings is, “the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps.”

Buds

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

I got very little sap today. Some trees are still going, but many have shut down. The Red Maples and Poplars are budding, which is a sure sign the season is closing. If true, I’ll probably get about 3 gallons of syrup this year, which is a quarter of last year’s crop. It got so warm and stayed warm this year that the trees decided spring was here. I hope they are right.

The equinox is coming up soon. I looked for the sun to set in the notch of our east/west road tonight, but the clouds prevented me from seeing it. I’ll try again tomorrow night. It amazes me to think that everyone on the planet sees the same east/west rise and set only on the two equinoxs.

Sandy Eyes

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

It was a good day today. Alice and I celebrated our 38th anniversary a day late by going to the Feedmill diner in Tapiola for breakfast this morning. The place was packed. There was one poor waitress doing her best to hold everything together, but she was fighting a losing battle. Being a regular, we got our coffee and food in record time. I especially enjoyed looking around while eating and chatting with Alice. There was a table of 4 just in front of our table that looked like 2 parents and 2 adolescent children. I was impressed by the way they all talked to each other, and looked interested while the other was speaking. Often adolescents can seem sullen in such circumstances, but you could tell these four liked each other’s company. Good for them.

After we came home from the diner, we each did a couple of hours of our own projects, and then headed out to the sugar bush. It was a pretty good gather again. We boiled for about 3 1/2 hours today, and drew off another couple of quarts from the evaporator. We now have about 1 1/2 gallons of “near syrup” in the fridge ready to finish off and bottle. So far I haven’t had to spend any marathon days out there yet.

Every day now when I come in from boiling, I feel like I have sand in my eyes. I need to take a shower and wash my hair to get all the sugar off my body, and from my goopy eyes especially. The temperature in the sugar shack got up to 122 degrees at one time today, again with both vents and the door wide open. Heck, I’ve been in cooler sauna’s than that!

Maple Centric

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

If my posts recently seem to be about one topic, it is because this time of year, pretty much all I do has to do with maple syrup. I rush through my chores in the morning and work the syrup operation all afternoon until it is time to come in for supper. When the season really gets going, I have to be out there morning, afternoon, and even after supper. Fortunately there aren’t too many days like that.

It is warm outside for this time of year, but that is nothing compared to the temperature inside my sugar shack. I took a picture just to prove how warm it gets in there when the evaporator really gets smoking. And bear in mind this is the temperature with both my peak vents open and the door wide open too.

I had another pretty good gather of sap again today. Probably less than 30 gallons, but plenty to keep me busy all afternoon. Between gathering the sap, hauling and splitting wood, firing the woodstove, and testing the syrup for sugar content, I’m kept pretty busy. I also enjoy having my little radio out there. I believe I read a study somewhere that maple trees like to hear classical music 🙂

Franco is in his glory this time of year. In the winter we spend quite a bit more time inside, and I think he gets bored. When we spend the day out in the sugar bush, he brings his stick to me every few minutes, and never seems to tire of chasing it. Unfortunately his direct path to the stick tends to take him through muddy puddles and streams… unfortunately for me, not him, because he doesn’t seem to mind at all. That is until the end of the day when I have him stand by a snowbank so I can get most of the mud off him. He’s laying beside me asleep right now, and I predict he’ll sleep all night. I make a similar prediction for myself.

First Gather

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

I gathered my first crop of maple sap this afternoon. I expected a small return, which is usual early in the season. After gathering quite a bit of sap from the first 5 trees, I had enough to put an inch in the pan, which meant I’d better start the evaporator. After I lit the fire, the chimney seemed uninterested in conveying the smoke outside. I noticed that it had come apart where the insulated section of pipe goes through the roof. So I grabbed the ladder and made the repair.

I expected results when I put the ladder away, but the smoke was still not going where it needed to. I wound up just playing with it until the chimney warmed up enough that a wisp of smoke crowned the chimney. I knew then that I had it, and went about my business. I made 4 trips from the bush to the holding tank, and estimate I collected over 30 gallons of sap. So instead of making a quick run around the bush and calling it a day, I would up staying out to boil for around 4 hours. The liquid on the syrup side of the pan was starting to turn amber already. It is a good time of the year.

Tapped

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

The weather report has been saying, “unseasonably warm” for days now, and I’ve been uneasy about the maple orchard. I would have liked to have tapped the trees before this past weekend, but I had EMS training Saturday and Sunday. I could have tapped sooner than that, but I didn’t get home from this year’s Grand Canyon hike until the wee hours of Thursday morning, and was pretty jet lagged Thursday and Friday. Then I had the double whammy of Daylight Saving day on Sunday.

It was a nice sunny day today. I made 3 trips out to the maple operation. The first in the morning to take Franco for his morning walk. I hauled about 3 gallons of water out there to use in rinsing out the evaporator and storage barrel. Both were washed thoroughly this summer, but I like to rinse them out once more before I start using them.

The second trip I took out the cordless drill and other odds and ends, and started tapping. Working from the sugar shack where everything is stored, I take 5 buckets, spiles, and lids each trip. When I use them up I head back for more. I kept at it until both batteries of the drill died. Then we came in and had some lunch, a nap, and then it was back out there with fresh batteries and the determination to finish tapping. The tap tap tap of sap drops falling into buckets followed me around as I made my way through the sugar bush. I was all done by about 6:00 pm. Then back inside for some supper. Tomorrow, if the weather stays like this, I should be able to fire up the evaporator for a spell.