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Something new for me - sugar from a tree

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Project by daltxguy posted 529 days ago 1019 views 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Here is my entry for the challenge of the month. Tapping a maple tree and making maple syrup!

Well, this is just the first part of tapping the maples – but it has been a lot of preparation to get to this point.
Today I got the taps in – the weather is textbook perfect for sap flows, there is still plenty of snow on the ground and we have freezing temperatures at night, and mild temperature during the day…and today we had beautiful sun and blue skies.

I’ve never done this before but grew up very much aware of it around me. It turns out that the province of Quebec produces about 2/3 of all of the maple syrup for the entire planet! So, I am doing my bit…

So, here are some pics as I prepared to tap in the fall by identifying the maple trees ( I hope I got them right), deciding on what method I would use to tap( I went with recycled buckets, plastic spiles and short lengths of tubing) then all the preparations of finding buckets (free on craiglist), buying spiles and tubing, deciding how I was going to haul the sap out (I got a 15 gallon plastic food drum and another 45 gallon food barrel for storage), building a qamutik to haul equipment in & sap out and all the fussing and experimenting I’ve been doing to find a way to efficiently boil sap without spending a few grand on evaporators (trying to find the perfect, inexpensive rocket stove for boiling) and trying to do it all with firewood only.

I expect my operations to be perfected over the years and equipment likely to get more sophisticated. I’d even like to get less sophisticated in some areas – I’ll be on the lookout for real maple sap buckets to hang from the tree for next year.

If all goes well I might get up to 100 gal (400 litres) of sap, which will then boil down to about 2 gal (8 litres) of syrup. If not, I’ll be happy with a jar full!
Sap typically has a sugar content of 2%. It has to be boiled down to concentrate the sugars to 66% minimum. The typical ratio of sap to syrup is 40:1, so there is a lot of water to boil off!

There are more adventures to come, but this is my ‘new thing’ for this season.

Update 10 March, 2013
Harvested about 5 gallons of sap today. Qamutik sled worked wonders to haul it out.
About 2 of the 10 trees I tapped do not appear to be maples after all. Scratching my head on what they are but I am more convinced now that they aren’t maples. I think they might be elms. Will find out when the leaves come out. I’ve removed the markers and won’t be tapping those again!

Update 11 March, 2013 – 16 March, 2013
Return of winter and below freezing temperatures both during the day and at night means there has been minimal flow this week – and no harvest. Even if the trees did manage to give a few drops, it’s now frozen in the buckets and impossible to collect in a barrel. Next week looks about the same and with more snow – about 30cm (1 ft) forecast in the following week, collecting sap is likely delayed for another week.

Update 17 March, 2013 – 1 April, 2013
Another week of deep freeze stopped all flow in late March. Spring weather returned once again by the weekend of the 23rd March but it took some days for the trees to thaw out again. Even colder with lots of snow at the forest, so there was not much output the weekend of the 23rd – in fact all of the sap which was there was frozen and I brought it out in a bucket – so only about 5 gallons collected.
Warmer weather continued into the last week of March with ideal temperatures ( +7C during the day, -4C at night) – sap was flowing nicely under ideal conditions. Weekend collection ( on 29 March) yielded about 1/2 barrel ( 8 gallons). Added to the previous haul and the 2 taps at the house and there was nearly 16 gallons to boil down on the long easter weekend.
It took 3 days to boil it down using a slightly improved version of a wood fire using a large pan I had recently purchased. Still too slow but it did the trick and I yielded about 3 litres of syrup.

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau



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daltxguy

882 posts in 1692 days
hardiness zone 4a

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13 comments so far

View justjoel's profile

justjoel

1062 posts in 1974 days
hardiness zone 7a

posted 529 days ago

Wow – so very cool! I’m very envious of you and your energy and resources.

(And the first picture reminds me that I need to go give blood again, soon.)

-- "We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." Joni Mitchell

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2594 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 528 days ago

when you do something – you do it BIG!
How wonderful to have access to this wonderful treasure, even if it is a lot of work to access it

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1857 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 528 days ago

Good luck with your maple sugaring, Daltxguy. I hope you get your full two gallons and can enjoy it all year on pancakes, waffles, corn bread…...Mmmmmm. I think I had better go make breakfast. : )

My favorite part of your set-up is the sled/qamutik. When you get tired of hauling all that heavy sap, you can take the sled to the top of a hill and go racing down an icy slope. At least that is what my sons would do!

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 1692 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 527 days ago

thanks for your comments!
Joel – energy!? my body is still sore from this short exercise. I have to get more efficient if I want to do more than just 10 taps! Snowshoes are on the list of things to make for next time. ( I say make because I am never happy just to buy something when I can make it and learn something and keep an old skill alive at the same time)

MsDeb – dream big and go for it – I think someone said that sometime – but it’s only 10 taps to start. Some are doing 200 taps. I am sure there are machines involved at that level. I am trying to avoid that.

RFG – thanks for that. Of course syrup is not just for pancakes. There’s a place in Vermont which is turning the sugary water into vodka!
The sled would be totally fun going down a hill. It can serve many purposes. The snow is a bit sticky now during the day because of the temperatures – but into the evening it gets faster.

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2594 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 527 days ago

the big operations have all the lines going from tree right to the sugar shanty—now doesn’t that save a lot of work!

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 1692 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 527 days ago

True – but I don’t like that way for a number of reasons:
1. The lines stay up all year long – I don’t think the bears or the deer would like that. I followed a fresh deer track to one of my trees, so I know they wander around there
2. Squirrels have been known to attack the lines (especially just before breakfast time!) which means constant maintenance required
3. I’ve read that line maintenance is a huge task due to breaking trees, blocked lines, disconnected tees
4. It requires pumps and electricity unless you are lucky enough to have it all work by gravity
5. The sugar shack has to be somewhat nearby. I’m not at that stage yet. 13km of line is probably not normal!

Some have returned to the old fashioned methods simply because they are less maintenance and more reliable. Life is easy, if we stop trying to make it complicated :)

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2594 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 527 days ago

lol ok 13km isn’t going to cut it!

the one that I saw was right in the sugar bush so it wasn’t a big deal.

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 1692 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 527 days ago

First harvest – about 5 gallons of sap.
I think a couple of the trees I marked and tapped were not maples after all :( Will have to match bark to tree when the leaves come out. Spotting sugar maples can be quite confusing in a mixed forest.
I might just try boiling the sap as I go instead of waiting for one large batch…

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2594 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 526 days ago

that’s impressive – 1/2 gallon of syrup, yes? !! Well done.

There are other trees that you can tap as well: Birch Larch Sycamore Walnut LINK

I had read about the birch tree, I think it was .. or maybe the list is even larger than on the above site. Possibilities!

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 1692 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 521 days ago

I’ve updated with my harvest records for this week – nada!
Winter has returned with below freezing temperatures. Snow and even colder temps are in the forecast. The weather is back to Jan/Feb temps and there can be no harvest in this kind of weather. Looks like sap flows are delayed for at least 2 weeks.

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2594 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 521 days ago

delayed but not forgotten …..

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View daltxguy's profile

daltxguy

882 posts in 1692 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 504 days ago

Another week of deep freeze followed by ideal conditions. Large amount of sap collected on last weekend of March – about 16 gallons total – which boiled down to about 3 litres of syrup. The process is still far too slow but at least this time I did it using a wood fired stove. ( my wood is plentiful and free, so this is good)

For this week winter conditions have returned once again. It is -7C and snow flurries.Still lots of snow on the ground – but the weather should improve by rest of the week. I plan my last collection this weekend – not because the sap will stop running but because I’ve had enough for this year and will look at improvements for next year.

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2594 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 503 days ago

3 litres is a good supply!!
Congrats.

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

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