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My new evaporator

After loosing most of my help and as I got older, I’ve cut down on maple production. At my largest I had 1320 taps plus I bought sap from others totaling about another 1000 taps. I’ll now have at least 200 taps and my maximum will be about 425 taps. I’ve now sold my wood fired 3×8 evaporator and I just picked up my new 2×6 evaporator. The new evaporator will be oil fired and it should evaporate faster than wood fired per square foot of surface area. The new evaporator has a 2×4 raised flue pan. Raised flues are each 8″ tall and are spaced 5/8″ apart. Raised flue pans are considerably higher efficiency than drop flue pans. Once the boiling concentrate flows from the flue pan it goes into the syrup pan. The flue pan has 2 major channels filled with several flues, as the concentrate flowes into the syrup pan there are 4 chanels. The flow is serpentine, it goes one way to the end of the channel, then crosses over to the next channel and so forth until it reaches the draw off box at the end of chanel 4. There it will be controlled by an auto draw off.

An auto draw runs by temperature, which is adjustable. I set it according to the boiling point of water, which changes as the air pressure goes up or down. I have a device that helps me set the draw temperature, then I use a Murphy Cup and a Hydrometer to verify, and I make minor adjustments to get the density of the syruo at very slightly over density. The Murphy Cup tells me what the hydrometer should read at the exact temperature the syrup in the test cup is at that moment. I then read the hydrometer to verify it reads what it should. It takes longer to explain that it takes to do it, but it’s a very importand step. Before the invention of the MUrphy Cup I used an Accu Cup, which told me the temperature of the test sample, then I had to look at a chart to determin what the hydrometer should read t that temperature. The issue there was that the chart was not degree by degree, but jumped in steps which meant I had to guesstimate what the reading should be if the temperature was somewhere in between two readings on the chart, that left room for error because the change in density readings was not even across the temperature range between any two temperatures on the chart. The Murphy Cup chnged all of that, the scale on it is actually a temperature but it reads in density rather than degrees, no more calculating density, fast and easy.

I go to slightly over density because as I’m bottling syrup it’s much faster to add a little distilled water to thin the syrup than it is to evaporate off more to thicken the syrup. In the end, I bottle syrup at 66.9% sugar, pure, all natural with nothing added (except a slight amount of pure distilled water in most cases)

Then the syrup is graded and put into jugs or bottles. Graded means the amount of light passing thru the specific test vial is measured and that % of light transmission is what determins what the grade is. 100%-75% is Golden, delicate taste, 74.9%-50% is Amber, rich taste, 49,9-25% is dark, bold taste and anything under 25% is very dark, strong taste. For syrup to be labeled any of these grades the syrup must also be tasted, it must have a taste in line with the grade and must have no after taste. If it fails any of those it instantly becomes commercial grade and can not be sold retail. Commercial buyers can work with it, maybe sell it for coating cereals, or nuts, maybe cook it to make sugar. Super heating to get sugar often gets rid of off after tastes. At any rate, If I ever get commercial grade syrup it will get sold bulk. Fortuantely I’ve never gotten commercial grade, but it’s possible I suppose.

I have now just set the new evaporator in the sugarhouse. Over the next few months it will be made ready to boil. I’ll need to final clean it, then place the gaskets on the rails to seal between the arch (where the fire is) and the SS pans. Also a gasket goes between the syrup pan and the flue pan. I also will need to connect the pipes and valves to bring concentrate (I run my sap thru an RO [reverse osmosis] to remove much of the excess water to make it “concentrate”. to the flue pan, then from the flue pan to the syrup pan and finally once it becomes syrup it flows to a draw off tank. From there it will be pumped thru high temperature silicone hose by an air powered diaphragm pump to my finishing pan. The finishing pan is also a 2×6 and it’s propane fired. Once I get enough to bottle or to fill a stainless barrel or 2 I heat the syrup to about 200-205F and pump it thru my filter press, from there it’s sent to a water jacketed bottler or to a barrel or 2.

Once I have a batch in the bottler it gets final density verified and graded. The grade and % of light transmission is recorded in my log book and bottling then proceeds The syrup also at this point gets a final taste test. Once in a retail container the grade is labeled and I also mark the lot number (actually each label has a serial number and that range in sequence is entered in the log book in case it’s ever needed. So far I’ve never needed to refer back but it’s always possible. I also save the test vial from every batch (the light transmission and grade) with a date code on it if needed.

My old evaporator had a trench under it the full length of the sugarhouse, I decided that was not needed, thus I’ve concreted it in about half way so far, the rest will be concreted in this summer. That trench just proved to be a tripping hazard. I’m now looking for an appropriat oil burner to use and once i start getting ready the fire bricks and blanket insulation will be put into the arch, the wood fired door will be removed and a steel plate will replace it, with a mounting hole to mount the oil burner. This burner will need to get a 3.5 GPH nozzle.

After a year I’ll decide if I used too much oil, if yes, I’ll look for an RO that can get the sap to a higher % of sugar and proceed if necessary. My currant one only gets to about 8% in one pass and about 12% in two, it will not get higher, the pump is not powerful enough. That will come next year about this time of year. I’m thinking it’s likely but not sure.

I’ve got a friend who converted a larger evaporator from wood to oil and he says he never wants to go back to wood, oil, while costing more boils far more steadily, faster and as you run out of concentrate you just flip a swithch and clean up and leave. He’s now on his second oil fired, he moved and has far fewer taps, thus a smaller evaporator. With wood fired you need to know when your concentrate level is at a specific level, stop adding wood and wait from 60-90 minutes depending on the wood you are burning, then you can clean up and leave. That 60-90 minutes oil doesn’t need, just flip the switch and the boil stops instantly. That’s an avg of 75 minutes earlier to go home, be with the family or get some sleep, all important things.

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I ordered a new evaporator

Back after this season ended, I ordered a new evaporator, it will be smaller than my old 3×8 woodfired one. I will set this one up to be oil fired. While the last one evaporated between 60-65 gph and made between 4&5 gal of syrup from 10-12% concentrate (syrup is 66.9% sugar when finished), the oil fired will boil away over half what the 3×8 did, because oil fired is so much more steady heat than wood fired. I’m starting with a similar sap concentrate, but if needed I may need to buy a better reverse osmosis (RO) machine to get a higher % concentrate. The current RO gets to about 7.5-8% sugar from raw sap at 2%, then a second pass gets it up to about 12-13% concentrate. That the best this RO will do, but many higher operating pressure RO’s can get 18-24% concentrate, To save oil I may end up buying one of the higher pressure RO’s, it certainly won’t be for the 025 season, If I decide it’s needed it would be for the 2026 season.

The new evaporator on oil will boil away about 40-45 GPH. I’ll then decide if I need the better RO or not.

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Wow, sales shot up!

Last Friday I reviewed my sales online at the only local store I’m in, they were way down. I went to the store and discovered someone had pushed a nice epoxied table I made for displaying my syrup by taking a wide oak board, about 2″ thick and 4′ long and attached it to the top of a used 53 gal oak barrel. The table had been pushed back about a foot off a main aisle and put their 10-12″ deep racks in front of my table. As such my table was then blocked from traffic on a main aisle and only open on a minor aisle going into a foods section in this very busy vendor mall.

That evening I texted the owner of that mall about what had changed, at that point I had only sold 4 jugs of syrup in the first 12 days of the month. She texted back that she would look into it in the morning. Well, she did and said another vendor had done it without permission, that vendor was now gone (I don’t know if it means just their racks were moved or if that vendor was out of the mall.). Anyways sales showed it right away, on both Saturday and Sunday my sales were back up where they should be, They are now very good.

It puzzles me how another vendor can just move a fancy display table back a foot or so and put their own metal racks blocking the fancy table from people on the main aisle having access to that table. At any rate, the last 2 days made up for the loss pretty much because the store was super busy both days. I just wish I’d seen that sooner but I didn’t. I was wondering why sales of syrup had slid so much, until I went to check on it. I likely lost a few hundred dollars in syrup sales because of that sneaky maneuver by the now “gone” vendor.

While one side of my table was still open to traffic as well as a 4′ wide wooden shelving rack that both have syrup on them but in a lower traffic ,mini food section, this shows how much more traffic sees items on the main aisle than in a lower traffic section just 4′ in off the main aisle. Huge difference., absolutely huge!

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Turning over a new leaf

My oldest son pointed out something I do that would be better if I changed from doing it. The issue is that in my posts I tend to repeat myself.

From now on, I’ll try reading my previous post or two, prior to writing a new post. That practice should help me not to repeat, or at least not as often. We’ll see if that helps. After all of the years I’ve been logging entries about what I’m doing and what I’m planning or something that has happened, my son finally chimed in. Hopefully his advice will help make my posts more interesting. However, at my age there’s a saying about old dogs and new tricks, and this old dog may be hard to retrain.

Good bye for now.

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More syrup ready to ship

Update 3/21/24, the syrup is now on my shelves and ready to ship

I have packed more amber syrup, as I add this post, it is still at the sugarhouse, was too hot to handle yesterday. After cooling it will now be brought home and added to my shelves of syrup, ready to ship. The counts I add today will be here later today and can be shipped tomorrow for any orders that are placed. Thank you for your patience. I was filling jugs I bought up to 2 years ago as I bought out the stock from a dealer who was switching brands of jugs. I found, too late that I’m low on quarts of amber, unfortunately I will not be packing more until I sell down on other sizes. That will allow me to keep fresher syrup in all sizes because syrup lasts perfectly when in stainless steel barrels, even up to 20 or more years, I never keep it more than 1-3 years, once packed in jugs it does have a sort of shelf life. It doesn’t actually go bad but it very slowly starts losing flavor, that loss isn’t able to be detected at 10 months, but at 15 or more it is minimally detectible. Since some customers do keep syrup at times for a year or more, I do my best to always have my syrup as fresh as possible that I sell. If I were to pack another batch of syrup now in order to have more quarts of amber, I’d need to pack a whole barrel worth, adding more in all sizes and trying to guess what my sales will be in 4 different size jugs I pack in. That would make it so I would not always have real fresh syrup before the syrup would all sell and it’s not possible to pack only some out of a barrel, once the vacuum seal is broken it must all be packed, doing a partial barrel is asking for problems down the road.

My sales have grown tremendously in the last 5 years, but the balance of size containers bought seems to be very much all over the charts. While by a long shot, 1/2 gal is my best selling size, the quart, pint and half pint sizes vary considerably. My guess is that half pints are frequently for gift giving since many sales in that size are for multiple jugs, then pints and quarts maybe to test the syrup to see if they want to start buying half gal jugs, or another thought is that pints and quarts take up less room in the fridge, or maybe single folks just don’t use that much syrup to keep a half gallon fresh as long as it would last. Anyway, that’s why I’ll be low or out of quarts for a while this year, in both the Amber Rich and Dark Robust grades.

I have sold my 3×8 evaporator and ordered a 2×6, I’ll be getting that in the next couple of months. It is going to be converted from wood fired to oil fired, after burning wood in 4 different evaporators for over 20 years, at age 77 I’m slowing down. An oil fired evaporator however has some advantages, first, the boil does not change every 7,8 or 9 minutes, like woodfired does as an arm load of wood is added. The oil fire is always perfect for the fastest boil. The faster the boil the better the syrup. Another advantage is that while boiling, I can wait until I actually run out of sap, actually concentrate because I use an RO (a reverse osmosis) which removes about 75% of the water in the sap before it goes in the evaporator to boil, I can with oil just turn the burner off. When boiling with wood, I had to gauge it so I stopped adding wood when I had 20 minutes worth of sap left, then the fire would burn down enough not to cause problems as I ran out of sap. Then I had to wait until the coals under the evaporator were almost all burned out before I could leave. During the roughly 1 hour that took, the boil slowed then just simmered the rest of the time, but the faster the boil all of the time, the greater the chance the syrup will run lighter color, (grade). So if I had less sap for that boil my fast boil was a smaller portion of the total time the syrup was boiling rapidly and as a result, a smaller portion of my production was in a lighter grade (color). While my best selling grade is dark, robust, amber rich is not very far behind. For years I had very low sales in amber but the trend in the last 3-4 years has changed from by far more dark, to now, more dark, but amber gaining every year while dark remains about constant. Another advantage is that I won’t need to cut and split as much wood, wrist size for the evaporator, I will still be burning wood most of the colder time at my home, I usually only use the natural gas furnace at home when the outside temperatures are rather mild, because I don’t like burning a wood fire very slow, it causes chimney problems. The only down side is that I’ll need to buy oil, but I do value my time that I would have spent falling trees, pulling the limbed tree out of the woods, bucking it into 21″ lengths then splitting it all into wrist size pieces to burn as hot as possible under the evaporator pans. I have plans for the new found time. I have a sawmill, I’ll be felling a bunch of my larger hemlocks and sawing them into lumber for building an addition onto my shop. The shop is a 14×28 shed, Amish made, I’ll be adding another 14′ wide and 32′ long addition onto one side of it. The extra 4′ length is for an hallway across behind the existing shop into the addition. That was planned a few years ago, when I ordered the shed. I had a man door put in the center of the back wall. The addition will just be crushed stone floor in the front half and and packed stone dust in the rest. I’ve been interested in blacksmithing for several years. About 6-7 years ago I bought a large anvil (165 lb), a post vise, a hand crank forge blower and a forge. Additionally I’ve added some hammers and a few various tongs to use and a few other items. I also bought about 1/4 ton of blacksmith coal and for about 2-3 years, as the big box stores marked their lump charcoal way down for clearance at the end of their season, I bought about 15-20 bags of it. My original plans were to build a separate blacksmith shop maybe 12×14 or 12×16, something in that range, then after I got the shed 3-4 years ago I decided to do an addition rather than a separate shop. 3 years ago when I ran power from the sugarhouse to the shop I ran a 100A 240 breaker. ( at that property I have a large solar array, almost 7000 watts, it is grid connected and net metered).That way I’ll be able to have all the power I might need in the shop and the blacksmith shop. In fact, I’ll not need power in both at the same time except maybe the small compressor and lights in the shop while I’m working on blacksmithing. The front of the addition will be 2 wide doors, so I can drive my tractor in and keep it out of the weather with an implement attached in some cases. I will likely also keep a few implements for the tractor in there too. Thoughts have also been to maybe add a lean to roof cover over the opposite side of the shop to park other implements but that is not set in stone yet.

Now I have a compressor in the shop and a 3/4″ air line from it to the sugarhouse. I use a filter press for getting my syrup filtered to crystal clear and it is powered using an air powered diaphragm pump. I just leave the compressor turned on in the shop and turn the shop power on as I need to filter or pump syrup from one place to another, such as from the evaporator draw off tank to the finisher, or from the finisher to the filter press and into the bottler or into a barrel. That way I don’t have the noise of the compressor in the sugarhouse. When finished I simply shut off the shop breaker.

May everyone have a great year, and God bless you all!