When the kids were growing up, we tried to give them a glimpse into the process of making maple syrup. Around 1976 we went into our yard and put in a few taps. At the time we had 1 mature sugar maple and 3 box alders (also known as Canadian Maple, or ash leaf maple). We put in about 6 or 8 taps.
We drilled the holes and hung various containers on the taps. Back then our sole source of heat for our home was with wood so we chose to evaporate on the wood stove. Even though it rarely boiled, we did concentrate the sugar by removing water. After the bulk of the necessary evaporation took place on the wood stove in all sorts of pots, we combined the rest and finished it on our gas kitchen stove. That year we made about 1.5 gal of syrup and we all enjoyed it on pancakes, waffles, French toast and ice cream. We then took a couple of years off and did it again with a few more taps. The second time around we made about 2 gal.
Then in 1982 our oldest son and 2 of his friends from Boy Scouts decided to make some maple syrup. They set out in our woodlot, with tents, drills, buckets and the camping gear they needed to camp out during winter break from school (the last full week in February). The boys put in about 24 taps on a small grove of sugar maples and 1 huge red maple. They collected often and boiled over an open fire in large pots to concentrate the sap. I think in that short span of time, from a Saturday morning and for nine days following, they camped in the woods over open wood fires and made syrup. At the end of the 9 days each of the 3 families had almost 7 qts of rather dark syrup needing a good filtering. It had more than a hint of smoke taste, but it all got consumed. That adventure was their last hurrah.
Now, moving to more recent history
Dave semi -retired by selling his business in 1999 (had been in partnership with his brother for 22 years). At this point he started driving school bus. It soon became obvious that bus drivers have a lot of idle time between runs and in January, 2003 we (Dave& Joan) decided to make syrup again.
Dave went to a woodlot we own and surveyed the sugar maples to see how many we could tap. He came up with about 125 taps. We went to a maple equipment dealer to see what we could do. The dealer had a lead on an existing producer who had a “Half Pint” evaporator, (about 2’ wide and 3’ long , about 5-6 gal per hour [gph] evaporation). They were looking to sell it because they were expanding. We bought that 1 or 2 year old evaporator and set it up on our patio with a tarp canopy over it and the smoke stack exiting one end, leaning outward and braced to the railing on an adjacent deck. That first year with this “new” evaporator we were not sure how many taps we could handle. We started by installing 28 taps and waited to see if we could handle more. Every few days we put in a few more taps, until we had installed 69 taps and then a BIG RUN of sap came and we almost drowned in it!
Our transport for sap that year was an SUV and several 5 gallon cooking oil jugs from a local Chinese Restaurant. We thoroughly washed the jugs, and used a few for containers to set on the ground by the trees. These containers were fed by 5 or 6 little tubing lines. Dave then made a carrier rack for our little 20 horse 4×4 tractor to carry about 12 jugs at a time and our “commercial” production of pure maple syrup was off and running. That year we made 10.5 gallons. We used some for home and friends and sold the rest. We were hooked.
A sugarhouse for the Klish’s.
It quickly became evident that if the operation were going to continue to expand we were going to need more permanent digs. In the summer of 2003 Dave started cutting some hemlock logs to take to a sawmill to get milled for building a 16′ x 24’ sugarhouse. It took far too long to get our lumber back and we found ourselves getting started on building the sugarhouse the day before Thanksgiving. We had holes dug by an excavator for the poles to be set in the ground and a large pit where a foundation would be poured to support the evaporator. By New Years Eve day we were ready to raise the homemade trusses onto the 10’ high walls.
We got a work party of our kids, their families, their friends, and a neighbor with his friend. We had a New Year’s Eve day “party” and by day’s end we had set and anchored the very heavy rough cut homemade trusses. Dave added the spaced roof boards during the next week and the following weekend our oldest son, Rob came and helped put up the steel roofing. We officially named it Dave’s Sugarhouse, sold our 2×3 evaporator and bought a 2×6 with an evaporation rate of about 25 gph if pushed hard. The weather didn’t cooperate and time ran short, so for the 2004 season Dave built a temporary platform over the pit and decked it for a 12′ x 16′ platform to set the evaporator on. The extra space around from the platform to the walls was filled with pieces of boards, pallets and whatever else we could find.
We added taps so we now had 175 taps and that season we made 32 gal of syrup. The intension was to replace the wooden floor, so that summer Dave took out the floor and poured the concrete for the footing to support the evaporator. He built a concrete block wall up from the footing to floor height but ran out of time to pour a concrete floor. Having bought a sawmill of his own (because the lumber needed when the sugarhouse was built took too long to get), Dave milled the lumber and built another temporary floor, but this time it was full coverage.
We used the 2×6 evaporator for 2004-2006 seasons and then we bought our next evaporator, having grown to 525 taps. The next was a 3×8, that had been used 1 season. We now had an evaporator rated at about 75 GPH evaporation. This one still sat on the wooden floor, until the summer after the 2007 season. Dave then removed the wood floor and was finally able to pour a proper concrete floor.
After the 2009 season we officially changed our name from Dave’s Sugarhouse to Dave and Joan’s Sugarhouse, for internet domain name purposes. Later we changed again to CNYMaple to make the name easier to remember and navigate to.
Up until now our syrup had always completely sold out long before we wanted so we continue to grow. Thru 2010 production years we were on tubing and used gravity to make the sap flow to collection tanks. In May of 2010 we bought a vacuum pump and a 1000 gal SS vacuum tank to change our biggest sugarbush to vacuum (we rent these trees).
Vacuum will give about double the production in an average year. Since then we converted that woods for the vacuum system and added 150 more taps for the 2011 season. Some of these new taps are in an area that is lower than the main tubing line that will carry the sap to the vacuum tank at the bottom of the hill.
We will use a “sap ladder” to lift the sap to the main line. This is a method that forces sap to lift up several feet by using the vacuum on the lines, kind of like when you use a straw to drink a soda. When all the additional taps are run we will likely have 2 or maybe 3 sap ladders in the system, due to hills blocking sap from running to the tank.
Here we grow again!
During the 2011 season Dave was pumping sap from our woods tank into the haul tank at a leased woods, and an old friend from the gun club I belong to stopped to talk. After talking quite a while, I sensed he had a woods to tap and I asked if he did. He said he in fact owns a large woodlot of predominantly sugar maples and other mixed hardwoods. He indicated he and his kids had made syrup in the past but found it too hard to get to the woods. He asked if I might be interested and said he lives on the end of a dead end road. Access is past the end where the county plows stop (and leave a huge pile). I said I might be interested but would not have time to check it out until after the 2011 season.
That May Dave arranged to look at the new woods and discovered a fantastic sugarbush. It did however present some problems. The woods is the back 40% or so of a roughly 74 acre parcel that is ½ mile deep. The property has a gentle climb from the dead end road to about 1/3 in and then it drops at a rate of 3-8% (3%= 3’/100’) slope to the back right corner. That is where the tank would need to be placed (about 2400 feet back). Dave had to figure how I could get the sap out. After exploring a few ideas I asked who owned the roughly 600’ to the side near the tank to another road. It turned out the landowner had already asked and gotten permission to cross their land. I stopped to officially get permission and got it, with a stipulation. I could walk across their lawn but had to run the pump transfer line off the edge of the lawn in a deep gulley. With his permission, a contract to lease this woods was written and signed by both parties.
Developing the new sugarbush.
Dave studied the lay of the land and recruited our local maple equipment dealer to come help plan. Dave had some ideas, we mapped the land and the dealer came up with a better design. Then he said he was soon going to Vermont to the headquarters of Leader Evaporator and to hold off until he ran it past their designer. A few weeks later he returned to the sugarbush with a simpler layout (spelled lower investment) that they had come up with. We then marked the layout and got the measurements needed and placed the order. In part it contained 1600’ of 1.5” dry line (for vacuum) and 1600 of 1.25” wet line for the sap along with a few thousand feet of 1” and ¾” main lines along with about 4 miles of 5/16” line to run from tree to tree.
That August we installed the 1.5” and 1.25” lines as conductor lines from where the tank would be placed to near the far end of the woods, constantly on a 1.5-2% rise and following the lay of the land as needed. Our hopes were to get between 600-700 taps in for the 2012 season on this lease, we ended up with only 400.
The system worked well and in the fall of 2012 into winter, we added more mains tied to this wet/dry system. We were still adding as of early Feb., 2013. Not sure how many total taps yet, hoping to be at the 700 we wanted last year. The final count comes by seeing how many taps we actually use.
For the 2012 season we used an old dairy vacuum pump for our vacuum, on a Honda gas engine for power. This set-up is only able to give us 18” of vacuum (after tinkering with the oilers to keep a pump made for 15” to be able to get more). We hope to be able to buy a pump designed for maple in a year or 2 that can get much higher vacuum levels (every inch of vacuum adds about 5% more sap, with no adverse affect on the tree).
Reverse Osmosis is added
In the fall of 2011 we bought a reverse osmosis machine. Ours is a 250 gph unit. A reverse osmosis (RO) is really a super filter, able to filter water out of the sap. We can feed in 250 gal of sap every hour and remove about 75% of the water. Now we feed the evaporator with 8% concentrate rather than our typical 2% sap. We can now produce syrup 4 times as fast as before. The RO runs on a gas powered set of pumps, a feed pump and a high pressure pump to push the sap through the membranes. Out comes concentrate from one hose and permeate (pure water, almost as pure as distilled water) out another hose.
A New Set of Evaporator Pans
After the close of the 2012 season we decided to get a new, faster set of pans. We contacted Thor Equipment, a high quality maple equipment manufacturer in Quebec, Canada. We had them build a custom set of pans, adding 3” to the height of the flues (A flue pan has channels that go up 7”, across a short ways and down 7”, then across 5/8”. This pattern repeats several times across the width of the pan). Our new flues pan has 10” tall flues for more heat transfer. Then we had 6” added to the overall height of the pan to contain the geysers that jump in the pan under a hard boil. We also had a new syrup pan made for same side draw off (We can reverse the flow by closing one valve and opening another while keeping the syrup draw off valve on the same side of the evaporator). We have the draw off on the side where visitors can see when they stop in. This new evaporator proved to be a great improvement to our operation, adding about 10 GPH to the evaporation rate (now at about 85 gal per hour when pushed hard).