Yesterday I got out and worked in the woods a few hours. The 22″ of snow we had has now settled to about 8″. At this time it did not melt, but now thru Tuesday we have daytime highs in the 40’s, it will melt then.
Yesterday we changed drops and fixed leaks in the tubing lines around the sugarhouse. This afternoon I will be out there again if the ice melts from the freezing rain we had overnight in time to work. Then tomorrow my brother-in-law will be working with me. First in the sugarhouse, packing more syrup into retail containers (from a SS bulk barrel). Then we will work in the woods some more. We need to finish the sugarhouse woods from last year and add about 50-75 new taps there.
After that we will be working again at my leased woods. Unless the forecast changes it might be late Feb. before we tap. By what it shows now, If I tapped today I would get sap for 3 days but then no more sap until early March. With that forecast it is better to tap shortly before the March sap. We have not had very many freeze thaw cycles yet, so any sap collected now would be low in sugar %. The more freeze thaw cycles the higher the sap sugar content, at least thru the first 2-3 weeks of good flow. Then it begins to drop again generally. However, last year we got good sap sugar content for 4 weeks before it fell because the sap ran for 3-4 days, then froze hard a day or 2. Then it flowed again. That repeated all thru the season, which helped a lot. That weather pattern however was the exception and not the norm.
Today we filled our next recently emptied bourbon barrel with hot pure maple syrup. We will start to taste test it about 7/1 but most likely it won’t be ready until early August or maybe even early September. This was another 10 gallon barrel and so far they have needed 6-7 months, but just in case we start taste testing it after 5 months and then every 7-10 days until it is determined to have reached the ultimate marriage between maple flavor and bourbon flavor. We like the 2 flavors to be essentially equal, with neither over powering the other.
I will soon pack the remaining 16.5 gal (The stainless steel barrel the syrup used for the bourbon barrel syrup came from a full 26.5 gal barrel of my maple syrup, leaving 16.5 gal to pack as regular syrup in retail containers. I may get to do that after the weather moderates after the next 3 days which according to the forecast will be extremely cold. It all starts to warm after Friday. It even looks like above freezing part of the day for the following 5 days.
Maybe the maple season is going to start. This is not unheard of but it certainly is earlier in the year than typical. It is far more common for the season to start late Feb to mid March.
After a long series of cold weather and with it going thru this upcoming Saturday night, I see a warmer forecast. Both Sunday, from late morning on and thru Monday the temperatures will be good for working in the woods. I hope to get out both days. Checking lines and changing drops. Hopefully we will then start to get some more maple friendly weather and the season can start. Once we get all of the drops changed and the tubing repairs done, we can tap all 900-1000 taps in about 3 days.
I have had volunteer help available the past 3 Saturdays, but I cancelled each. The main thing we are doing is checking for mostly squirrel chews, and changing all of the drops. A drop is a length of tubing (34″ in my case) with a tap on one end and a Tee on the other. In use a 5/16″ hole about 1.5″ deep and sloped very slightly upward into the tree and the Tee is how that drop is attached into the lateral line (the line going from tree to tree and then into a mainline which ultimately goes to the collection tank)
To find the leaks we need to use a bare hand to slide along the tubing, anything that feels rough is checked to determine if there is a chew mark deep enough to be a leak, if it is, a repair in made. The last 3 Saturdays have been wind chills in the low teens and some even below zero. Too hard to get any production that way, thus I cancelled.
Hopefully next Saturday will be at least 20F or warmer wind chill. Unfortunately the forecast as of now calls for 15 for a high and a wind chill in the single digits. Maybe Sunday afternoon, then the forecast calls for 37F , that can work.
In many years past I was all tapped by Jan. 20 or 21. The weather however has not been sap weather and it will not be in the next 10 days.
Meanwhile, syrup sales have been good for a January, usually my slowest month, but so far it has been my best Jan ever, (not great but still the best ever)
I hope everyone had a great holiday season and is getting ready for spring. This cold weather will end sooner or later. I have 1000 drops ready to install (counting the ones already done) and I’m getting antsy.
I will be packing another bourbon barrel this week, it will be a 10 gal barrel. I also just got a lead on some 15 gallon oak barrels, recently emptied. Hopefully they will be available soon.
When I pack the 10 gallon barrel the syrup will be from a 26.5 gallon SS barrel. The remaining syrup will be packed mostly into half gallon and a few pint jugs. The last 6-8 months by far my sales of regular syrup have been mostly in half gallon jugs with only a few in pints and even fewer by far in quarts. Online I get very few orders for pints, most are for half gallons and one of my 2 sizes in my bourbon barrel aged maple syrup.
2018 was by far my best year ever for sales totals, it’s a good thing a new season is getting close or I would run out of syrup. I had to send customers to a local producer about 7 years ago, I hope I never need to again, even though the few I referred to the other producer all ordered from me the next time around.
So far this year we have only gotten work done in the leased woods 1/2 day. 2 days ago was scheduled to be a work day again, but I cancelled it due to the cold. As we work there we need to work without gloves on, then we slide our hands along the tubing to locate any squirrel chews, at 20F with snow on the tubing our hands soon get too cold to feel any chew marks, thus I cancelled. Most of my help work days and only helps on Saturdays. This morning we had -1 F, but on Wednesday we are supposed to get up to 35 F, that’s when I will be packing the bourbon barrel and the remainder into retail containers. It’s too early to trust Saturday’s forecast.