A Day in the Life…
My name is Donna and my husband is Serge. Together we run the process of making the maple syrup at April’s Maple (April is our daughter).
The spring of 2013 marked our first year making maple syrup. We had (and continue to have) so much fun as we go about each day but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t made our share of mistakes and learned our fair share of lessons along the way! Remember, the sap only runs for about 20 to 30 days each year depending on the weather. This means that all of our maple syrup for the year needs to be produced within this window, so we don’t have much room for error. We welcome you to come visit us and see firsthand what a spring day is like for a sugar-maker but in the meantime the following is a typical day for us:
Waking up before the rooster crows. The sap starts to run when the weather is just right. In the spring, we prefer cold nights (below freezing) and warm days (above freezing) as this makes the sap flow best. Once the sap starts to collect, it needs to be processed right away so that we can produce the highest quality syrup for you. This means that each night we wake up at about 1:30 am and check the temperature outside. If it is still below freezing we go back to bed, if it is above freezing it is time to get out of bed and head to the sugar house!
Taking an unplanned sap bath – how we get ready to make syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup as sap is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar. Our first step is to get our sap to the sugar house and remove some of the water from it. We have two sets of tanks that hold sap, one is at the sugar house and the other is two miles up the road. We start by checking the one up the road. Once the tank starts to fill, Serge starts the reverse osmosis system to remove some of the water from the sap. This shrinks the volume that we need to haul to the sugar house, which is two miles away. Once the sap is at 4% concentrate, it is pumped into a transfer tank that can hold 1,000 gallons of sap. (We learned the hard way that we needed a good hook-up to get the sap into the transfer tank. We had a few incidents where the pressure pushed the tube from the transfer tank resulting in the tube whipping around wildly in the air spraying sap over anyone in a 50 foot radius!)
Once we get the sap into the transfer tank we haul it to the sugar house with a ski-dozer (which looks a little like a groomer you would find on a ski mountain but can work in the summer months too). The round-trip is about an hour and in any given day we may do that trip as many as five times, depending on the sap flow. We have two 5,800 gallon holding tanks in the sugar house for the sap that is hauled down in the transfer tank and the sap that runs directly to the sugar house. Once the sap is collected Serge runs the reverse osmosis again, concentrating to 11% sugar this time.
Take a stroll in the woods. We have a vacuum system that runs when the weather is above freezing. The vacuum system helps us improve our production and it is important we monitor the pressure of the system. We know that when the pressure drops below a certain level we probably have a leak in our maple sap tubing lines (maybe a moose decided to stroll through the lines and take a few down along the way). When the pressure drops, we strap on our snow shoes and start the search for leaks in the 60 – 70 miles of tubing that connects our maple trees to our sugar house.
Fire up the evaporator and get the steam going! It is now around 2 pm and we are ready to turn on the two oil fired burners that power our evaporator. The evaporator consists of two syrup pans that are filled with sap. These pans sit over a fire which heats the sap and causes it to boil. As it boils, some of the water in the sap turns to steam, which rises out of the sugarhouse. (This is how you know we are boiling!) As the sap boils, it becomes thicker and sweeter. We know the maple syrup is ready when its temperature reaches seven degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water. (I watch the sap as it boils to be careful it doesn’t burn.)
Once the syrup is the perfect consistency (and sweet enough to pass our taste test), Serge runs the syrup through the filter press to take out the “sugar sand” which accumulates as sap boils. Sugar sand is just minerals and nutrients that concentrate as the excess water is boiled away. If it is not filtered out, the maple syrup will appear cloudy.
It is now around 6pm, Serge and I have been at this for about 16 hours and we have some amazing maple syrup to show for our efforts!