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Finally got some amber

After getting dark because of mostly short boils, I finally got some amber. It is not packed yet, I will try to pack some tomorrow. I will be able to ship on Saturday or next Monday. I was beginning to think I’d get no amber this year, with the really messed up weather patterns. Glad I did, even though my greatest number of orders are for dark, some people do prefer amber. As soon as I get some packed in retail jugs I’ll update the inventories on my web store.

The weather has been too warm, I’m thinking the season may be finished soon. The red maples are almost budded, but the sugar maples are still tight buds. Once the buds open, the season is done.

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Sorry, I had to do it

After 8 years at the same prices, I finally decided I needed to raise my prices.

While many costs have increased during the last 8 years while my prices remained unchanged, the biggest difference came in 2020 and again in 2021, mainly in jug and bottle prices. Just since the 2020 maple season jug prices have gone up 35-40%, after having gone up at least twice in the last 8 years, but much lower amounts. Other costs associated with making maple syrup have also climbed, such as the filter media used for filtering the syrup, the papers that trap the filter media, the defoamer used to control foaming in the evaporator pans, the filters for the raw sap, the soap to clean the reverse osmosis machine and a whole bunch of lesser items. Also any replacement equipment has risen big time. The jug manufacturers claim it’s mostly because the oil refineries (many have been shut down) and since plastic is a by-product of oil there is a major shortage of the beads used to make syrup jugs. Unfortunately this won’t likely be remedied in the short term. If the jug prices do come back down, I will revisit the price issue.

On a brighter note I will have Amber syrup back in stock in a few days, the maple season gets going in full swing this week. As soon as I have some packaged, I will put it back up on my available inventory in the store. I’m thinking likely by this weekend.

From here mother nature will be in charge. We need freeze/thaw cycles. When the temperatures drop to 27F or colder for a few hours the trees pull water from the ground, up into the tree. Then as the temperatures rise above 36-38F or more the sap flows for making maple syrup. It does work in temperatures between 32 and 27F but not as well, and sap can and does flow at 33-35, just not as much. The ideal season would be 25-27 every night and 42-45 every day, but again, mother nature is in the driver’s seat.

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Almost out, temporarily

I have recently had a flurry of sales which while welcome, have left me very low in stock. At present, the only regular syrup I have is a few half gallon jugs of Dark (which also happens to be my best selling regular syrup). I also have a good supply of bourbon barrel aged maple syrup, but actually less than I’d like. I will likely sell out of that before my next batch is ready about mid October 2021. My bourbon barrel aged syrup has been my best selling syrup ever since I first introduced it in August 2017.

For the regular maple syrup, I do have more stock in a stainless steel barrel, actually 2. I will pack more as soon as the weather permits. This morning, according to my temperature recording thermometer at the sugarhouse, I had -6.5F, the high today is forecast to get to 17F. I won’t be able to bottle more until I get temperatures in the mid-upper 30’s for long enough to get water to my tankless water heater and then clean the equipment needed to pack more syrup. Once that is re-cleaned I can pack syrup when the temperatures outside are in the 20’s, I just need to have it warmer to wash equipment. The good news is that next Friday, (7 days out), the forecast is for 40F+ at least part of the day. If that proves to happen I’ll then have all sizes of dark syrup back in stock within a day or 2 of that.

Shortly the new season will be upon us. For the season to start we need warm days and cold nights. Days in the 40’s work best and nights of 27F or colder help considerably. I can however get some flow with temperatures as cold as 34-36F, but as cold as it has been for so long, the trees take a few days to thaw before the sap begins to flow. Once that happens and I’ve made enough new syrup I may well have some Amber syrup also for those few who prefer Amber, maybe even some Golden.

Here’s to maple season weather, 40-45 every day and 25-27 every night, may it be long lasting. 4-6 weeks is nice, 8 weeks even better.

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Getting ready for the 2021 season

While at the moment, I’m very low in inventory, I’m preparing for the 2021 maple season. All of my taps are connected by tubing to my sap storage tanks. I have done some repairs on that tubing, any trees or limbs that fall on the tubing needs to be removed, and any damage from those limbs or from wildlife must be repaired. I will have repairs finished by mid February. Then as the forecast shows that the sap will start running I’ll tap.

After 2 or 3 days of sap flow, if I get at least 400 gal of sap, I can start processing. For the first boil of the year I need at least 400 gal, after that I can boil smaller amounts, such as 200 or more. As the season progresses I start to get larger quantities of sap. On my 400+/- taps I can get as much as 1000+ gal if the sap flows good, if marginal it may only give me 50-100 gal in a day. Most of the difference is caused by the temperatures. If it goes down to 27F or colder overnight, then up into the mid 40’s I will get a lot of sap. If it only goes down to 30F and then only up to the mid 30’s during the day, or for only 2-3 hrs I get very little. The best sap flows are when the temperatures were well below freezing over night and then pleasantly mild during the day. It also actually helps if the weather is rainy, meaning low atmospheric pressure. The greater the difference inside the tubing to the outside pressure the greater the sap flow if the temperatures are in the right range.

Having vacuum on the taps actually does no harm to the tree, in fact it helps, let me explain. Before the days of vacuum on the taps, the tapping guidelines were different. Back then we tapped a 12-17″ diameter tree with 1 tap, an 18″ to 27″ tree got 2 taps and a 28″ or larger got 3 taps. Now, using vacuum we tap a tree from 10-24″ with just 1 tap, 25+ gets 2, no matter how big it is, never more than 2. The only physical damage is from drilling the tap hole. The tree senses it is losing sap, and eventually it seals off and compartmentalizes the small area. Sap will never again flow in that exact spot. If you were to look at a board made from a maple tree that had been tapped for many years, you would see narrow, dark stained columns in the wood. The compartments will be starting up to 2 feet below the tap hole and up to about 2′ above it. The stain will be up to about 2″ wide at the tap hole (that healed back up) and it will go to a point both above and below the tap hole. That will not be dead wood, just wood that carries very little sap. As the tree grows and adds about 1 1/2″ of new wood, we tap again. We use a tapping pattern that keeps new wood available every year to place a new tap (or 2). With vacuum, we also tap a wider band around the tree. Years ago, before vacuum, guidelines called for a tapping band (the area we should tap) of up to 15-18″ around the tree, typically just above waist height, now we tap over a band width up to about 3′ above the sap tubing and as much as 2′ below it. That gives us up to 4 times the area to tap in. Thus we tap a 12″ tree this year, our tapping pattern uses up that band width by the time the tree has grown to 15″ and we tap in all new wood, going around the tree again, in a specific pattern.

I’m a first generation maple producer, having started in 2003. Actually about 25 of my trees were tapped back in the early 1980’s by my oldest son and 2 of his friends. They asked if they could camp out when they had a week off from school in late February that year. All 3 were boy scouts. We got written permission from the parents, letting them know that the 3 boys, then 14-15 would be alone, no adult supervision. They set up camp and tapped trees on the Saturday, that vacation began. They collected the sap in jugs and boiled it over an open fire. On Sunday, 8 days later they had made 6 quarts of maple syrup for each of them, along with having had some on their pancakes each day for breakfast except the first Sunday, nothing had been finished to syrup at that point. Counting what they likely ate that week, the 3 had likely made about 5 or 5 1/2 gal of maple syrup. It was a little smoky tasting but in all a great success.

We still boil using wood, but we boil in a 3′ x 8′ stainless steel evaporator which has stainless steel hoods over it. We have high pressure air blown into the fire, both under the fire and above the fire. The under fire air make it burn hotter, the over fire air burns the smoke and gasses more completely. When we added that feature we boiled about 10-12 gal per hour faster while using 15% less wood. We also use a reverse osmosis machine that removes enough water that we boil 8-12% concentrate rather than about 2% sap. At 2% sap, it takes 44 gal of sap to get 1 gal of maple syrup. At 12% concentrate we make a gallon of syrup by boiling just 7.33 gal of concentrate down to 1 gal of pure maple syrup.