This past year certainly has been a rough ride for the whole world. With the Covid 19 vaccines now rolling out I sure hope things can return to more normal in a few months. Guesses are maybe 6-8 months for the US. In the meanwhile, forgo the big family get togethers, learn to Facetime those you love or some other non contact method until this all passes. Stay at home, or go for a long walk in the woods. It will give you a peaceful moment. If you are in snow country, try snowshoes or cross country skiing.
We will be in the woods a lot, starting next week we will begin making repairs on our tubing system. We need to replace all taps and fittings in the lines, remove trees and downed limbs from the lines and then start tapping. We try to be tapped by late Jan or very early Feb. Then we will be ready for the sap to start flowing. The sap flows when the weather conditions are right. First we need freezing weather, followed by a warm day. The best flows seem to happen when the temperatures fell to 27F or colder, then 40-45F during the daytime. If the temperature stays above freezing for overnight, sap will flow for 2.5 or 3 days. Then we need another freeze thaw cycle for it to flow again. The more freeze thaw cycles we get in succession the higher the sap sugar % gets. Our long time average is between 2.0 and 2.1%, a few years ago it was the lowest we ever had, the season’s average was 1.25%. Since the finished sugar % in pure maple syrup is 69%, the lower the sap sugar % the more sap it takes to make a gallon of maple syrup. At 2% it takes 43.5 gal of sap, at 1.25% sugar in the sap it takes 69.6 gal of sap to yield 1 gal of syrup. Thus it not only needs to boil longer which also consumes more firewood. We do use Reverse Osmosis (RO, pronounced R-O) too. The sap goes thru that first, to get it at least 8 and up to 12% sugar then the rest is done by boiling. The characteristic flavor of pure maple syrup is developed on the bottom of the pan, as it caramelizes.
The length of the season varies widely. In the past years, since 2003, when we started to make maple syrup for more than just our immediate family the seasons have been as short as about 15 days and as long as 7 weeks. Generally the later in the year we get first sap, the more likely the season will be shorter. Our latest first boil was March 28, and it ended April 14th that year. As a general rule however, our greatest period of sap flow in usually the last week in March and the first 4-5 days in April and the average length of our season is between 3 & 4 weeks.
Time will tell what 2021 will bring. I do have help fixing lines from generally 3 people, first my brother In law (BIL) and my oldest son (ROB) along with his significant other (RO pronounced row). Since they work during the week, their help is usually a Saturday or 2. All 3 also assist with the boil, my BIL most every day and Rob and RO on weekends.
When Covid first started moving in in March 2020, I told all help to stay home and I did all boiling, finishing, packing in SS barrels or in retail jugs and bottles by myself. I could not risk getting Covid and bringing it home to my wife who since she had Chemo and Radiation for cancer back in 2008, has had an extremely low white cell count ever since.
This year I’ll repeat the same. Helpers will work different areas of the sugar bush (maple woods) but I’ll boil solo. Hopefully this will not be necessary in 2022. The boiling etc. goes much smoother and faster when 2 are working together in the sugarhouse.
Right now my inventory is very low, I finally sold out of the 38 gallons of Amber I made in 2020 but I still have 1 barrel of dark left, out of the 7 barrels made in 2020 (each SS barrel holds 26.5 gal. In addition to those 7 barrels I also packed about 25 gal into retail containers during last season. In 2020 I ended up with no Very Dark. Most of my dark was on the lighter side of that grade. I had batches of 47%, 43%, 39% and 35%. Those are % of light transmission %LT) thru a very specific test vial. 49% down to 25% is dark as long as it had good flavor. Regardless of % LT it is commercial if the taste is not appropriate for that grade. Commercial can never be sold retail. If I ever get commercial it can only be sold to re-processors in bulk. Fortunately I’ve made no commercial in years.