The Maple Process

fall repair workHere at Sugarbush Hill Maple Farm sugaring is a year round activity. The fall months allows work in the woods to be completed due to excellent visibility, cooler temperatures and no annoying bugs. We walk all our lines and check for damage from blow downs, fallen limbs/ branches or animal chews. This also a very good time to spend doing repair work without the pressures that can be experienced during production.

The winter time is a time of anticipation for the upcoming sugaring season. Maple sugaring is totally dependent on the weather and is truly handcrafted in small batches only as Mother Nature permits.

In the springtime, when the nights are still cold, water is absorbed into the maple tree. During the day, warmer temperatures creates pressure that pushes water down to the bottom of the tree, making it easy to collect the precious sap. The sap is gathered over a period of 12-25 days usually from early March to later in April.

full sap tankAs spring approaches and when the weather is forecast to warm to just below the freezing point it’s time to go tapping. We head into the woods with snowshoes, spouts, cordless drills and some repair equipment should there be any new damage to our lines.

We use a 5/16th spout, sometimes referred to as a “health spout” for it smaller size. A hole is drilled 1 ½ inches deep with a slight incline at about chest to head height. A perfectly round hole is the desired result so a very steady hand and a drill that is running full bore from the start of going into the tree and until it comes out is needed. With a perfect round hole the spout when tapped in will have a very snug fit and not leak.

Tapping should consist of 5-6 taps with a tapping hammer until the spout is firmly seated, not too shallow, not too deep. Once all the taps are in its time to wait for freezing nights followed by warmer sunny days for the sap to run.

Once the sap starts running it is aided by a vacuum pump along many kilometers of food grade tubing to our central collecting spot which is our pump house 150 ft from the sugarhouse. The pump house is the lowest point in our sugarbush and we’re very lucky to have it so close to our sugarhouse.

hydrometer-to-test-densityFrom the pump house all the sap is pumped up to the storage tanks in the sugarhouse. Once enough sap has been collected it is pumped to our reverse osmosis machine that concentrates all the sap by removing approximately 75-80 % of the excess water. This excess water is called permeate water which is pumped into a separate storage tank for later use during the clean-up chores. Once there is enough concentrate collected the wood fired evaporator is started. Ideally the speed of the evaporator and the flow of concentrate are fairly close. Ending a long day of boiling and having your concentrate level finishing at the same time as your fire is dying down is a very satisfying feeling.

Once the correct sugar density is reached the syrup is drawn off and is ready to be filtered. Ontario Maple regulations state that the density of maple syrup must be a minimum of 66 brix. (66% sugar). Once filtered, the syrup is hot-packed (185F) into consumer containers or large stainless steel barrels for later use.

pauline cleaning sap tanksThere are a number of important factors that make for a successful sugaring season. for efficiency and for producing delicious tasting maple syrup. Two factors that rise above all others are the issues of sanitation and efficiency. The efficiency of our vacuum system is extremely important. Reducing all leaks is the goal. Walking our lines, searching for leaks is a critical activity that we do on a daily basis until the pressure gauges show that our vacuum system is tight. The second, is the daily clean-up chores after each run. All equipment must be washed and scrubbed down and cleaned and this process can take hours to complete but the results of great tasting maple syrup is certainly well worth all the work.