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Good temperature to bottle

Dave Klish

The outside temperatures have cooled so it is much more pleasant to pack more syrup. In the hot weather it gets extremely hot packing more syrup in the sugarhouse (no air conditioner). This week we have at least a few days cool enough to get more syrup put up. When boiling syrup we only pack enough in jugs to meet our sales needs for 4-5 months out and the rest gets put in stainless steel barrels (SS BBLS), then in May we top the inventory off so we don’t need to do much additional packing in the heat of summer. This is because, when we take a SS BBL we pump the entire barrel of syrup into a finisher (a 2′ x 6′) pan with propane tube burners to heat it up to 205-210F, then we filter it and pump it to the bottler. In the bottler (it is water jacketed) the electric heating element brings the syrup back up to 185-187F by heating the water surrounding the syrup and holds it there while we dispense the syrup into the jugs and bottles we need for retail sales. This work is far more enjoyable when the outdoor temperatures are under 70 or 75 max than when it is hotter out.

This week we are expecting temps of under 70 on 3 of the days, and some rain too, making it a good time to work in the sugarhouse.

Aside from maple work, my wife Joan, and I are busy harvesting some of the fruit we grow, for us, family and many of our friends and neighbors. We are still picking straw berries (day neutral), and lots of Asian pears. We recently picked the last of our peaches, we had a great year for many of the fruits we grow. With 3 varieties of peaches we harvested them from the first week in August and finally finished picking the last variety last week. Asian pears spread out longer than that. I’m not sure how many varieties we have but the earliest was picked in early September and out latest will be sometime in November.

About our peaches, I’m sure glad Joan refused to believe we could not grow peaches in Oneida, NY (according to our local Co-operative Extension fruit expert) back in the 1980’s. We have had bumper crops many years since. The biggest issue is that the trees only survive about 8-10 years, as they get that old, even though I brace and prop up the main branches and thin the fruit heavily, the weight of the remaining fruit eventually breaks the limb off, one by one until the tree dies. Thus we plant another tree or more each year. In our front and back yard we have 19 fruit trees, plus 2 fig bushes. The first fig finally got harvested yesterday, and my wife came into the house saying she was sorry. When I asked her what she was sorry about, she said she picked a fig and it was in her mouth so fast she had eaten it all without saving half for me. That’s OK, another looks like it will be ready tomorrow, for me (on my birthday). We have likely about 80-100 more coming, maybe more, as long as they have time to ripen before a hard frost. Figs are new to us, the one Joan ate yesterday was our first ever. It looks like figs start as the bush grows, rather than all of the fruit starting about the same time. Looking at the bush (planted in 2018) there are figs in all stages of development, from almost ready to harvest, and some are still just starting to show. No way we will get all of them, will just get the earlier ones to have gotten started. We have no frost forecast yet, but in the past our earlier frosts have been in the 1st and second week in September, out latest first frosts have been in December. However usually a frost comes around the full moon in October, from there we get warm spells and then more frost, back and forth before winter takes hold.

In our blueberries, we had what looked like it was going to be our best year ever (the bushes were planted in 1982, ’85 and ’87. As harvest started we had more berries on the bushes than ever before but just 3 weeks in we had to close. It seems the extreme heat of the summer over ripened the berries faster than pickers could keep up with them. when we closed the bushes were still heavily loaded but the berries had gone to mush. This is the first year we’ve ever experienced that.

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We bottled more bourbon barrel maple syrup

Dave Klish

Last week we bottled our most recent batch of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. I just hope I guessed right on quantities to pack in each size. Since I introduced a larger size last year I have not yet gotten a good feel for how many to pack in each size. I found that the larger size was more of a winner than I had envisioned. On the first batch as I bottled 2 sizes, I filled too few of the new larger size (the 375ml), doing about 3x as many in the 200ml size. The 375ml outsold the 200 for online sales to repeat customers, I ran out of the 375.

When I ordered a new shipment of glass I was told the major distributor I buy from would not get more of the 375ml in for about 6 months. I then tried searching the net for other sources. The only one I found was in California. I then tried to order from them, but discovered they would only sell by the whole tractor trailer load. That amount would have ensured I would never run out again, but there was no way I could buy almost 50,000 bottles of just 1 size. Just the first reason being the cost, secondly, I would need to build a new warehouse, the truckload was in a 53′ trailer, loaded to capacity.

I then informed my regular distributor about the deal to see if they would buy it, but they don’t even buy a full trailer load of just 1 size. It seems their loads are full load but comprised of a few sizes. Thus I had to wait.

When my distributor did get the 375ml (12.7 fl oz) back in I ordered enough to last me almost 2 years so I’d be in stock as I needed them. With the popularity of the 375 it seems that 2 year supply (so I thought) will only last me 1 year. I have enough left to pack my next bourbon barrel aging barrel, a 15 gal bbl., which will be ready about early December. Then I will be ordering a new shipment of glass to pack a batch to be ready (Sept 2020) about a year from now.

For the local sales of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup, while sales are strong, the balance of sales are opposite how the online sales are. Locally I sell 3 or 4 of the 200ml for each 375ml sold, online the best I can determine with just 1 year of offering the larger size, I sell about 4 large for every 3 of the small size (and that includes 2 customers who bought a full case (24 bottles) of the small size and so for no body has ordered a full case of the large size (12 bottles). My guess is that some might as Christmas orders start coming in.

On other matters I’ve decided not to build the addition this year that I had planned earlier, the weather was just way too hot for me. I don’t do well in temperatures above about 75F and we had way too many days in the 80’s to high 90’s. In my younger days I used to work thru that even though I didn’t like it, I find I can no longer do that.

For the 2020 season, I will be doing fewer taps too. Last year I tapped both around my sugarhouse (about 350 taps) and also at my last remaining lease (I only got 475 of the possible 7-800 tapped in 2019) . For 2020 I will expand the taps at my sugarhouse, adding between 50-100 more taps, all on vacuum. The advantage is that all taps will flow right to the sugarhouse, on the lease I’m dropping I had to haul sap from 7 miles away and I also had to fuel the vacuum pump 2x a day. Another thing is that my land is far easier to walk, being fairly level, the lease had about 2/3 of the taps on slopes that were so steep I often had to hang onto trees to pull myself up, and in snow shoes that was a super hard climb.

The land owner at the lease is about 10 years younger than I am and he plans to retire in Dec. 2020. He then plans to tap his own trees. I told him I would buy his sap to process, either outright or on shares. Either buy the sap or process the sap and I keep a percentage and he gets the rest of the finished syrup. I guess time will tell on that end. In the meantime I had a very good year in 2019 and might have enough syrup in barrels to fill my sales thru the 2020 season with just my taps producing for my syrup supply in 2020. If I do think I’ll need more the producer I sold another lease to makes excellent syrup and I can buy full barrels to add to my supply. He makes far more than he sells retail and has to sell a large amount to the big packers in Vermont and New Hampshire.

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Bottling the next batch of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup

Dave Klish

Today I will be bottling the next batch of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. Yesterday I pumped it from the bourbon barrel, where it had been for over 6 months, into the finisher. I then heated it and left it to set to boil off any alcohol that might be in it. This morning I’ll heat it again, to about 205-210, then filter it and pump it into the bottler. Then we bottle it into glass flasks. I just need to guess how many of each size to bottle because the next batch will not be ready until early December.

I’m glad the high heat weather has moved out. I’m guessing we will get some warm temperatures again this fall, but I really like waking up to high 40’s and low 50’s.

I guess it’s time to get going, my brother in law is helping today and I prefer I get there before he does. We should be finished before lunchtime.

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Sales remain strong

Dave Klish

Summer is usually our slowest season for syrup sales, but the this summer and last, were our busiest ever. We do not do farmer’s markets, because we sell everything we make by the 3 ways we now sell. First is off this website, second is at my one retail outlet (The Eclectic Chic, in Oneida Castle, NY) and third is sales from the sugarhouse and my home. Still our bourbon barrel aged maple syrup is our # 1 selling item by dollar sales.

I will need to bottle more syrup soon, I hope the temperature cools down a lot, I don’t do well in 90+ temperatures with high humidity when working over a bottler that is at 185-187 degrees. Outside temperatures in the 60’s is far better when bottling. However, at some point I may need to bottle at whatever the outside temperature is if I get close to selling out of syrup. I still have stainless steel barrels of syrup in reserve, one of Golden, 2 of Amber and maybe 2 or 3 of dark. I sell very little Golden and lots of dark so when I pack some of the golden for retail, I’ll likely blend the rest of the golden with a barrel of dark, which will make it all dark. It takes very little darker syrup to change a light one to dark, and not only attain the dark color but also achieve a proper taste for dark.

My next batch of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup should be ready in about 4-5 weeks too, then I’ll have to pack that in retail bottles. At this time I still have a good inventory, but I’ll need more to keep up with the demand as Christmas orders start coming in, especially as a few customers order a whole case for gift giving and personal use.

Tomorrow I will be splitting more firewood, in the morning, until it gets too hot out. The logs have been cut and stacked for 2-5 years, I just need to split and stack. My wood splitter is fast, even though I split everything to wrist size. The 1.5 second cycle time moves along quickly. ( check out “Super Split” to see one in action. )

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Too hot

Dave Klish

It has been far too hot the last 2 weeks. Today and tomorrow will have heat humidity indexes near or over 100 F, yesterday it got over 95. I’ve only been able to work on the battery build a couple of hours in the mornings before the heat tells me to go home where the AC is keeping the house nice and cool. I have not packed any more syrup either, because of the heat. Working over a bottler that is 185-187 F in this heat doesn’t work for me. I’m a winter person, I’d much rather work in 0 degrees rather than near 100 F.

As far as the new LiFePo4 battery bank goes, I have it all assembled, with the required battery management system (BMS) and it is clamped into a single unit. It sets on a bench, with a 1″ insulation foam under it and a heating pad. When all finished it will be enclosed in an insulated box. The heating pad will keep the battery above 37F because this type of battery can not be charged when frozen. The heating pad has it’s own thermostat and it only uses 65 watts, it will be run off the battery. The battery bank will be able to run that heating pad for over 6 days even if the thermostat never shuts it off, with no sun input (solar) if needed.

I re-routed the heavy battery cables from outside where my retired battery bank was and I’m now ready to make the wiring connections inside, as soon as the weather cools off to under 80. I also will be changing the main fuse from 250A down to 100A, because this battery back up is only to run a 1250 watt electric heater if grid power goes out and my propane furnace to heat the small room the reverse osmosis (RO) machine is in fails. The RO must not freeze. The RO is what removes 75%+ of the water from the sap before it gets boiled into syrup. That 1 electric heater is the only thing being powered except for the heating pad mentioned earlier. Back when the electric heater was the only heat in that well insulated room, if the outdoor temp was -20F the heater only ran about 25% of each hour.