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 here is a bit about what we do...
It's time to tap the trees. The sap runs when we have spring like conditions, in the Northeast Kingdom that means we make maple syrup between February and April. April is known as the sugaring month up here as that is when we make most of our maple syrup. Since we have a limited window to make our maple syrup we like to tap our trees before there are any good sap runs so we start tapping at the end of January. My husband, Sage takes a crew of four out to get the job done. We have around 13,500 trees to tap across our 813 acres of land, over 300 miles of tubing! The job gets tougher as winter snow builds up. Even with snowshoes you can find yourself buried in waste-deep snow as you try to make it from tree to tree.
Where is the sap? Taking a stroll through the woods. The sap runs best in the spring when we have cold nights (below freezing) and warm days (above freezing). 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 constantly. We know that when the pressure drops we 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 hundreds of miles of tubing that connects our maple trees to our sugar house.
Filling up the tanks. Once we have the right weather conditions the sap starts to run and collect in our sap tanks. We have sap collection tanks at the sugarhouse and two miles up the road on maple sugar hill. The tank on Maple Sugar Hill holds 3,500 gallons of sap, once it has 2,500 gallons of sap a pump starts up and pumps the sap to the sugarhouse. The sap travels 1.9 miles underground to get to the sugarhouse tanks. 2/3 of our trees are connected through Maple Sugar Hill so most of our sap runs through the underground tubing network.
Removing water - Round 1. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup as sap is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar. That is a lot of water to remove! We start with reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis helps us as it it much quicker than boiling all of the water off. Also, it is more cost effective and environmentally friendly as it uses only small amounts of electricity. We concentrate the sap to about 13% sugar this way, removing about 80% of the water. My dad, Serge runs the RO.
Fire up the evaporator and get the steam going - Round 2! It is time to turn on the two oil fired burners that power our evaporator. My mom, Donna and I run the evaporator together. The evaporator consists of two syrup pans that are filled with concentrated 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 it is the right thickness, or density.
Once the syrup is the perfect consistency (and sweet enough to pass our taste test), we run 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.
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