Handling Sap and Syrup

The maple season is now underway and this is a good time to talk about handling you sap during and after collection. How you handle your sap prior to boiling will strongly affect the quality of the syrup you make. When quality syrup is the goal, timing is everything and the clock starts from the time the sap leaves the tree until it hits the evaporator.
When sap comes from the tree it is sterile. That all changes once the sap starts to drain from the tap hole. The air and surfaces surrounding the tap contain an abundance of microbes. The sap supplies the food source and a media for the microbes to grow and multiply. Research at Center Acer in Quebec found 21 different strains of microbe’s present in sap. At first you would think that could be problematic, but the reality is, you need certain strains of bacteria to produce the color and flavor that is unique to maple syrup. For microbial growth you also need the right temperature. Once the environment warms the sap, the microbes multiply rapidly. Producers can monitor the potential for microbial growth by checking the temperature of the sap. If the temperature is close to freezing the growth is suppressed. Below 40 degrees F the growth of bacteria is slow but once the temperature rises above 50 microbial growth is rapid. The Chances for 50 degree and above temperatures are greatest at the end of the season.

The sugar present in sap when it leaves the interior of the tree is 100% sucrose. Once the sap is exposed to bacterial action, a small fraction of the sucrose is converted into glucose and fructose, often referred to as, “Invert Sugars”. When maple sap containing sucrose, glucose and fructose is heated you create an amber color and a unique maple flavor. The problem is when undesirable bacteria begins to outnumber the good bacteria. This changes the chemistry of the sap. As the invert level increases the syrup begins to take on a darker color and a stronger maple flavor. This produces the different grades of syrup. Syrup early in the season has a light color and very mild flavor. The maple syrup produced at the end of the season is often darker and stronger flavor. Syrup containing high levels of bacteria can develop a very strong almost bitter in taste known as sour syrup. The syrup consistency takes on a thick almost rubber like appearance, often referred to as ropey syrup. Sour sap is often confused with buddy syrup because it happens most often at the end of the season. Buddy syrup is caused by sap coming from trees where the buds are getting ready to bloom. The chemistry is completely different from sour sap. Sour sap can happen any time during the season when a warm spell causes extreme flushes of bacteria growth. Sour sap can be prevented with good sanitation practices. Buddy syrup is a natural occurrence every year at the end of the season.

The quality of syrup produced from buckets and bags is best early in the season. Once the hole is drilled and the spout is exposed to the air microbial development and tap hole healing begins. Your season has begun, and you are now on the clock. A normal season for a bucket, bag or gravity tubing producer is 4 to 6 weeks. During the cold periods early in the season the sap stays fresh just like it would if you put it in your refrigerator. Keep your sap below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and you are fine. Let it heat up to over 50 degrees and you asking for trouble. That happen readily at the end of the season. What many producers forget is that the bucket is an incubator for bacteria if it is not cleaned out regularly throughout the season. Leaving sap sit in a dirty bucket for any length of time is a problem. Remember bacteria does not grow in a clean dry bucket. If you are in a warm spell wash out your buckets and place them upside down next to the tree. If you are in a extended cold period collect your buckets and let them hang until the next run. Do not leave stale sap sit a bucket hot or cold.

As for tubing we have discussed tubing sanitation multiple times over the years and those articles are in the Ohio Maple Blog Archive. Keep your lines as clean as possible throughout the season. This is difficult unless you are on continuous high vacuum. Sounds expensive to run the pumps 24/7 but it works to your advantage, keeping lines cool and dry when the sap is not running. Another essential is to follow the tubing sanitation guidelines, installing new spout every year and new tees and drops every three years. You will improve the quality of your syrup.

Once you get the sap to sugarhouse there are things you can do to improve quality. Sap that is going to be stored for longer periods of time needs to be stored in a stainless-steel tank. Avoid poly tanks for sap storage. Plastic tanks are incubators for bacteria. Older galvanized tanks, like galvanized buckets need to be discarded because of the risk of lead contamination. For the backyard producer put your tank in the shade. Surround it in snow if possible. Freeze some sap and put it in the tank during warm spells. What ever it takes to keep you sap cold. Check the sap temperature periodically. If it reaches 50 degrees boil immediately.

What about the evaporator. Boil your sap as quickly as possible. If you ae using and Reverse Osmosis Machine, make sure you do not let your concentrate sit. Boil it as soon as it comes through the RO. You double, triple in in some cases quadruple the sugar concentration. Bacteria will build fast in concentrated sap. If you are using a small evaporator it is a good idea to drain and flush your rig. Leaving partially boiled sap on an evaporator in a warm sugarhouse can result in ropey syrup. Once the syrup is filtered get it into a barrel or a container as fast you can. Do not let it sit around. Pack your drums hot and do not open them until you are ready to use them. Do not store syrup drums in a warm building. Move them into the basement where it is cool or package the syrup at 185 degrees F shortly after the season. Paying attention to detail when it comes to handling sap and syrup pays big dividends.

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Maple Tree Tapping Revisited


The Ohio Maple Blog is ready to kick off its seventh season and I felt it was time we revisited some of the early posts and refreshed the information. A good place to start would be tapping. How do you tap a maple tree? This is a very deceiving question because something that appears to be easy is actually very complex. Much of the information I will present here was discussed by Dr. Tim Perkins at the recent New York Maple Conference and is the result of the research that he and others have done at the Proctor Maple Research Center. Let’s look at the process from start to finish.
Once you have identified your maples, the next question becomes what size tree should I tap? The answer is very scientific and is based on tree growth. Typically, it takes close to 50 years for a maple seedling to become a tapable tree. Depending on the woods, trees can grow fast or slow. Proper management of the woodlot will release trees to grow faster. This is done by removing the competition and selecting for the trees that are hardy and fast growing with good crowns. This is all part of developing a productive woodlot for maple production. Your local forester can help with this process. A maple tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter and here is where the science comes in. If you tap a tree every year and you move around the tree in an systematic manner when you return to the place you originally tapped, the tree should have had time to grow a new layer of sapwood over the layer that was first tapped. Research shows that this process takes roughly 10 years. Therefore a 10-inch tree will completely grow a new layer of sapwood in 10 years. Therefore a 10-inch tree is the smallest diameter tree you should consider tapping. This came from a study done at the Proctor Maple Research Center on “Tapping Guidelines”.
Where do I tap a tree and is it better to tap a tree on the sunny side to get more sap earlier. Let’s put that one to rest. There is absolutely no advantage to tap a tree on the south side as opposed to the northside. From personal experience with buckets, the south side will run quicker but the north side will run longer. What happens when you tap a tree? When you tap a tree, you create an area of dead wood. This area can be a half to three quarters inch wide and 10 inches long extending up and down from the tap. This is part of a natural process called compartmentalization. It is part of the trees defense system against wounding. The tree seals off the wounded area so infection does not spread form the wound to the rest of the tree. The process of tapping and creating a dead area does not harm the tree unless you put multiple taps into the same area (belt Tapping). Here is where you must be very careful when you tap. You do not want to tap into areas of dead wood. Tapping into deadwood will reduce the productivity of the tap. Every year try to locate fresh wood that is not close to a previous tap. This mean you may have to go higher or lower. With vacuum tubing use longer drops. On older trees you may want to consider tapping below the lateral time if you are running a high vacuum system.
How many tapholes should I drill in a tree? Trees with a 10 inch to twenty-four-inch diameter get one tap. Larger trees can take 2 taps but never place more than two taps per tree. If you are running high vacuum, even trees 24 inch or more, will produce 80% of the sap obtained from two taps on one tap. Many producers today only put one tap per tree. One of the easiest ways to determine the diameter of a tree is use a chain 32 inches long. Put the chain around the tree if the ends touch the tree is to small to tap and if the ends do not touch you have the right size tree to tap. Trust me you cannot accurately eyeball tree diameter.

What equipment do I need to tap a tree? Use a commercial 5/16 maple spout. Use a maple tapping bit. This bit is designed to cut clean and drill fast. The cutting edge is a 90-degree angle as opposed to a 118 degree angle on a machine drill bit. The flutes are narrow sharp, and they cut and clean the hole very fast. You will want to use a battery powered drill. You will also need a light hammer to set the spouts.
Now comes the tapping part which is the most important thing you will do all season. Take your time walking up to the tree. Study the area to be drilled. Looking for dead areas and old tap holes. Look at the crown. Tapping below dead branches can result in tapping into dead wood. Once you decide where you want to place the hole, steady your drill hand with your opposite hand and drill in and out quickly. Do not move up or down or side to side, doing so might oblong the hole creating a leak. Drill straight into the tree, angling down is not necessary. The hole should be 1.5 inches but no more than 2 inches deep. Look at the wood shavings. If they are white you have a good hole. If they are brown you have hit deadwood. Now you are ready to set the spout. With a light hammer, tap the spout in snugly but do not over drive the spout. Over driving will result in a reduction of sap flow and possibly a leaky split in the wood above and below the tap. If you are using a commercial tapping hammer you will notice a change in tone as you tap on the spout. That change in tone indicates that you have properly installed the spout. Also take care when tapping into frozen wood.
That covers the art of tapping a maple tree. Remember tapping is the most important thing you will do all season. You only have one chance to do it right. The UVM Proctor Maple Research Center has now produced a series of you tube videos available online. Several cover the process of tapping. Well worth the time before you head to the woods.

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A Summary of Ohio Maple Syrup Production in 2019

In the month of June, I always look forward to giving the annual maple production summary for Ohio. This has always been inconjuntion with the official annual maple syrup report from USDA NASS. There has been much discussion over the years about the accuracy of the NASS report. Good or bad it gave us some ideal of how Ohio production compared to the rest of the maple world. This year, a decision by the USDA to remove Ohio and four other states from the survey came down from Washington. Ohio maple syrup production will not be included in the annual USDA NASS maple syrup production report. As a result, I will do my best to present a guess-estimate of Ohio production for 2019. There will be statistics quoted only brief summaries of what I believe happened between January and April across the state in 2019.

The 2019 maple season in Ohio was complete turnaround from the 2018 season. It was a traditional, almost old fashion type of season. There was very little talk of climate change, no abnormal spikes in temperature followed by predictions of an early end to the season. The early tappers were out right after the first of the year but a couple of late January, early February, Polar Vortex has tempered their enthusiasm. As the season progressed, the cold weather returned. That weather pattern extended through most of February and the majority of producers waited until mid-February to tap. This was much different from the 2018 season, when thermometer top 74 degrees on February 24. The cold returned on the last week of February and ran into the first week of March. March 7th kicked off a series of runs that extended through St Patrick’s Day and beyond. Syrup production was almost non-stop for 20 days. Records were set on many farms and for the most part no one was calling this a poor season. Many producers produced one half gallon of syrup per tap. The extended cold weather and snow kept the season going into the first week of April. The cold weather was also responsible for better than normal sap quality. The only negative in 2019 was Niter. Producers seemed to have a normal to slightly above normal amount of the gummy slime to deal with.

Ohio Producers found out last year, when the sap sugar percentage drop, so does the syrup yield. Unlike last year, when we experienced abnormally low sugar content of 1 to 1.5 percent, this year’s sap sugar was normal to a little above normal, in the 2% to 2.4% range. Even the soft maples were close to 2%. Sap quality was excellent. The cold weather kept microbial growth to a minimum maintaining the sap quality throughout the season. Good quality sap translates into good quality syrup. This was the story across most of Ohio. Producers in the Northeastern portion of the state produced large quantities of Delicate and Amber Syrup. Central Ohio produced the lighter grades early on but also produced some great tasting Dark Robust later in the season. Southern Ohio, producers tapped in late January and early February. Their season extending into the third week of March. The southern part of Ohio may have also experienced a larger percentage of the darker grades. It is refreshing to sit here and report a good season for a change, but this story has both a good news and bad news side. To sum up the season, this was a very good year for Ohio maple syrup production. Using the 2018 production of 90,000 gallons as a benchmark, I would estimate 2019 production at between 100,000 gallons and 125,000 gallons.

This summary comes from conversations with producers, dealers and buyers across the state. Maple equipment dealers report that their sales across the state have been on a steady rise over the last 10 years. There has also been a steady increase in the volume of syrup handled by bulk buyers in the state. The adoption rate of maple technology has been on the rise, allowing producer to double and triple the number of taps in the state. Sugar bushes with 2000 to 4000 taps have become come place around the state. I can safely say that maple syrup production in Ohio, just like other maple producing states, is on the rise. Even though bulk prices have leveled off, retail prices and the demand for pure maple products is strong. As a result, I do not see this upward trend in production reversing in the near future. Over the next few years, you will see pure maple syrup showing up on the labels of many products that originally used traditional sweeteners. This is trend not a fad, driven by consumers wanting healthy all natural food sources. This trend is here to stay and Pure Maple Syrup fits nicely into this market.


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Some Thoughts on Cleaning Tubing at the End of the Season

This topic is one of the most controversial in the maple industry. There are two schools of thought when it comes to cleaning tubing at the end of the season. You attack the woods with air, water and cleaners declaring war on bacteria. Your conscience is tell you, you have to do something. The second school of thought is, even if I go through all of the processes it never turns out the way I want so why bother. Pull the taps and walk away. Trust me, if you have thousands of taps that is usually the game plan.

The primary reason for cleaning lines is to remove the debris and kill the bacteria. Flushing a line with water will remove most of the debris but it will not kill the bacteria and mold forming fungi. Based on studies at the UVM Proctor Research Center and The Cornell University it takes sanitizer to kill bacteria. It is not enough to kill the surface bacteria but you need to kill the bacteria that are locked up in the biofilms that form on the surface of the tubing walls. This requires contact time to accomplish. If your sanitizer is only in contact with the tubing surface for a few seconds, this approach has an affect but only a minimal affect. Studies done by Steve Childs at the Cornell Maple Program clearly show that sanitizers if allowed to come in contact for extended periods are very affective. This research required removing the spouts and drops and allowing them to soak in a sanitizer over an extended period. Again a lot of work and additional expense. A good approach for the hobby producer. Only two chemical cleaners have been proven effective and safe. The first is food grade Hydrogen Peroxide and the other is a bleach solution. The latter being the most effective. The negative side of bleach is the possibility of a salt residue if not flushed with water. This can leave an off flavor and will attract our bushy tailed friends. Hydrogen Peroxide is the most often used alternative. I did not mention Isopropyl Alcohol because its use is illegal in the United States. Do not go there!

In multiple studies at UVM Proctor Research Center the two most popular methods were flushing with air and water and vacuum drying the lines. The Air/H20 system works well for the small and medium size producer. For the large producer pulling spouts under vacuum and allowing the lines to dry out by air movement has become popular. Either one is preferred over doing nothing. 3/16 producers are somewhat limited to what they can do to clean lines. Doing nothing is a recipe for disaster. Due to the small diameter and the absence of high vacuum pumps, 3/16 line are subject to plugging. Some sort of flush with water and air is probably the best choice. There has also be some experimentation with different chemical additives but this is in the early stages of research.

The final thought is what are you going to do prior to next season. Research has shown that reusing old spout and drops in 5/16 or 3/16 systems will lead to poor production. Producers need to use a new spout every season. If you do this along with systematically replacing your drops every 3 years, you should be relatively successful maintaining production. Another practice gaining in popularity is running the vacuum pump continuously throughout the season to keep the lines cool and clean.

After years of attacking the woods with high pressure air and water. That resulted in lines being blown apart and stagnant water in in laterals and drops we have come up with this solution. At the end of the season, we bring the whole woods up to operating vacuum by repairing all of the leaks prior to pulling the taps. Once we are up to normal operating vacuum we close all of the main lines and open each line one at a time. Starting at the back of the mainline on the furthest lateral we cut off the old spout and pull the tap. This results in a sudden gulp of air entering the drop line, expelling any liquid from the line. We then plug the drop line with a drop plug. We use DSD multi fittings to plug the drop. The capping maintains the vacuum in your system and preventing backflows. Do this with every lateral from the anchor to the mainline. At the end of the day, open all of the main lines pulling the garbage toward the releaser. We will then flush out the wet/dry lines and the pump lines with water. Make sure you clean your moisture traps and releasers thoroughly. An alternative to this method is to pull all the taps under vacuum and open the drops to the air. In the fall come back in and flush the lines. Your releaser should be taken back to the shop where you can inspect O-rings and lubricate the mechanism. Next spring you will be ready to put on

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A Few Thoughts on Finishing Maple Syrup

Cold weather has set in and that has allowed me to scan the maple chat rooms. Many of the questions that keep popping up are about finishing maple syrup. Is it too thick or too thin, should I use a thermometer, hydrometer, refractometer or all of the above. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

Most of the questions are coming from backyard producers with a relatively small number of taps. Making syrup on a flat pan or hobby rig is not an easy task. You deal with a lot more “What If’s” than I do on a big evaporator. The process is simple, build a fire under your pan, and bring your sap to the boiling point of water. Use a thermometer to monitor the process. That thermometer reading will vary from day to day depending on the barometric pressure. When the temperature goes 2 degrees above the BP of water, add more sap. Preferably preheated sap. Continue the process until all your sap is in the pan and it starts to condense down. At that point, stop boiling, take the liquid into the house to stove and finish the batch. Most hobbyist I know follow this procedure and it works well. Trouble starts when you have a rig that looks like a big evaporator but does not run like a big evaporator. Many hobby rigs have channels and a heater pan and that is good. Sap should come into the back channel and gradually work its way to the channel on the opposite side near the front. Higher density syrup should move ahead of the lessor density syrup. The problem comes in when you have to decide how much sap to let in at any one time. It works ok as long as you can maintain a steady flow into the rig. You need to maintain a depth of 2 to 3 inches across the entire evaporator. Overflow the hobby rig with liquid and you will kill the boil. Once this happens, the sap of lessor density intermingles with the heavier density syrup. Big problem! Despite the fact you have channels you are now no better off than you would be with a flat pan. On commercial evaporators, we have a thing called a float that automatically maintains the level of sap moving across the rig. With a hobby evaporator you are the float, maintaining the proper level takes time and experience.

A few word on instruments to test your syrup. As stated above, you need a thermometer. Two other tools that I recommended are a Hydrometer and a Refractometer. The Hydrometer is necessary and the Refractometer is nice if it fits your budget. Others have mentioned the Murphy Cup. I have used one for the last three seasons. Developed by Smokey Lake this is a very useful tool. I have two ways of measuring density directly off the evaporator. Here is the formula I use. First, I draw a sample into a hydrometer cup once the temperature reaches 7 degrees above the BP of H2O. Remember thermometers need to be calibrated. With you cup filled with hot syrup that is above 211 degree F insert the hydrometer into the cup. When it hits the top red line, you have syrup. I check this several times. Once I have the syrup where I want it, I pour one of the samples into the Murphy Cup.. This device has a dial with corresponding numbers to those on a hydrometer. You insert your hydrometer into the cup and let it set for 3 to 5 minutes. When the reading on the dial and the hydrometer match, you are at the right density. After that, I can fine-tune my auto draw off. On the last run, we were hitting between 66.0 and 66.5 brix with this system. Refractometers come in digital and analog versions. The digital versions seem to be the most popular. They are very useful to check syrup prior to bottling. Do not use a refractometer at draw off; it is only accurate on temperature stable and filtered syrup. The only reason for us to have a refractometer in the sugarhouse is to check the sugar content of concentrate coming off the RO.

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Thoughts About Tapping Trees

I have been monitoring the maple chat sites and a many of the questions have been about tapping. Not when to tap but what is the best way to tap and where on the tree do it put my tap. Let’s start with the equipment. You need a sharp bit I recommend you buy a maple-tapping bit. Maple tapping bits are designed to drill fast, cut smoothly and pull the shavings out of the hole. There are several reason for following this suggestion. You want to drill as round a hole as possible. Slow down, two hands on the drill, accuracy counts. Oval holes leak, let in air and bacteria. You do not want shavings left in the hole because that is a good site for bacteria to grow. Bacteria closes the hole prematurely and is the number one cause of poor quality syrup. In a tubing, system shavings can cause problems. Shavings block tees and interfere with flow of sap. You would be surprised at how many shavings wash out with the first run. I do not worry about what comes out, as much as what remains, to block flow and support bacterial growth.

As you approach the tree that is at least 10 inches in diameter look at the bark. What you are looking for is old tap holes. Remember when you drill a hole a small portion of the wood adjacent to the hole will die. A common practice in the old days was to make all the taps at belt height all the way around the tree. This is not a good practice. To much deadwood in one area can lead to tree health problems. I would prefer that the tap is placed into area where there is an abundance of new wood. Over the years, you should stagger your taps as you move around the tree. Placed some high and some low. For hoby producers using tubing draining into a bucket gives you the most flexibility. You should drill your hole 1.5 to 2 inches into the tree. By doing this you will always be in the sapwood unless you hit dead wood. You will instantly know if you are into deadwood by the color of the shavings. The shavings from a good tap will always be light, almost white in color. Brown and extremely yellow shaving indicate dead or problematic wood, which results in limited sap flow. Unless you are tapping into frozen wood, your tap should start to drip immediately. If it does not, give it a few days, if it remains dry you are into deadwood. You can re-tap into another area if you are certain the first tap is dead. The only negative aspect of re-drilling is that you now have a dead hole where insects and disease can enter the tree.

Always use 5/16 or smaller taps because they are better for the health of the tree. 7/16 taps belong in a museum. When you set, the tap, drive it in snuggly, but do not over drive the spout. Over driven spouts will split the tree and cause leaks. The deeper you drive the spout the less sap you will get over the course of the season. A tap that is overdriven, to a depth of 1.5 to 2 inches can shut down a hole. When it comes to taping you only have one chance to do it right.

Let look at some of the myths of tapping. Always tap your tree on the sunny side or south side. Not true! As stated above you want to tap evenly around the tree, both high and low. With vacuum, you can even tap below the lateral line to obtain fresh healthy sapwood. Two Spouts are better than one! Not always! Remember it takes years for a tree to grow a new layer of sapwood that will cover up the wound deadwood. Work done at the Proctor Maple Research Center indicates that it takes at least 10 years for a tree 10 inches in diameter to grow back a new layer of sapwood. This is the basis for setting 10 inches as the minimum for a tap able tree. Because sap moves both vertically and horizontally in a maple tree, there is no advantage for two taps until you reach at least 20 to 24 inches. With buckets or gravity tubing many times a 2nd tap is desirable on bigger trees. When using vacuum it is a different story. In average size trees under high vacuum, you can obtain 80% of your production with one tap. The reality is you are not sacrificing production until you get above 24 inches in diameter. Depending on the tree you may or may not want to place a 2nd tap. If the tree is a yard tree that you are particularly fond of, one tap will do. Hope this answers some of your questions about tapping trees.





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Hobby Maple Syrup Production 2019

2019 Maple 101 Branded


Maple 101 is going on the road in 2109. This popular program will be presented in London, Ohio at the Farm Science Review, Gwynne Nature Center on Saturday February 16th from 10:00 am to Noon. For registration call the Madison County OSU Extension 740-852-0975. The following weekend Maple 101 will return to Geauga County on Saturday February 23rd at the Geauga County Park District The West Woods  from 9:30 to Noon followed by a Maple Confections Demo at 1:00pm. Call Geauga County OSU Extension 440-834-4656. The following week Maple 101 will be in Stow, Ohio on Tuesday February 26th at the Summit County Extension Office. The Program Starts runs from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.   For Registration call 330-928-4769 ext.2456

This years programs runs approximately two hours and includes a complete overview of the fundamentals of hobby maple syrup production. In addition there will be time spent at the end of the hobby program for those wishing to  move to the next level. This is for anyone that wants to get started making syrup on a larger scale. Maple season is here and the fun is just beginning. Hope to see you at one of our programs.

Les Ober

Geauga County

The Ohio State University Extension






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Vacuum Tubing Systems, An Update

This is an update for an article I wrote on the Ohio Maple Blog in 2013. It was entitled “Is It the pump or the mainline size that is effecting the performance of you tubing system”. A lot of knowledge has been gained since that original article. In fact, a whole new type of gravity tubing system, 3/16, has been introduced and overwhelmingly accepted by sugarmakers.

When we talk about tubing systems we have two roads to travel. One is a gravity system and the other is a vacuum system. A conventional 5/16 gravity system is not much different from running sap into a bucket. It does save labor but the yield is much the same. When we add vacuum to a tubing system we increase the sap yield 5 to 7% for every inch of vacuum we generate in our system. For example, if we produce 15 inches of vacuum in a line we should be able to double our sap yield.

The definition of vacuum is the absence of air. The level of vacuum that is achievable is determined by the barometric pressure for any given day. This means that our vacuum level can never exceed the barometric pressure in the location of our sugar bush. There are factors that have a direct effect on Barometric pressure. One is altitude. As the altitude increases the barometric pressure decreases. At sea level, 0 altitude, the average barometric press can be 29inches and at 2000 feet the average barometric pressure is approximately 28 inches. In addition, barometric pressure changes under different environmental conditions. It can change multiple times during the course of a day. This is more important when we are boiling syrup because it changes the boiling point of water. If we are running a vacuum pump under a low barometer at an altitude of  2000 feet we might struggle to maintain 27to 28 inches of vacuum on a very tight, well maintained tubing system. This statement also emphasizes the importance of managing leaks in a vacuum tubing system. Every leak adds additional air to the system making it harder for the vacuum pump to achieve high vacuum. The amount of air moved out of a system is measured in Cubic Feet per Minute CFM. It is important to be able to differentiate between Inches of Vacuum and CFM. To successfully raise your vacuum level, you have to be able to remove the air from your tubing system. Once the air is removed, your vacuum level will increase unless you are letting air in through leaks.

Now let’s look at what happens inside a maple tubing line. A conventional vacuum pump is designed to move air not liquid.  This means that a vacuum pump is pulling air out of the system while the trees and the leaks are adding air into the system. A properly sized vacuum pump with a proper CFM rating will be capable of removing air faster that it is introduced. The only thing that will slow that process is line size. If your line diameter is to small, the air movement will be restricted requiring more time for the pump to clear the air from the lines. This is commonly referred to as Line Loss. The smaller the line the higher the line loss and the longer it will take to re-establish your peak vacuum level. That is why tubing design and pump size are so important in a conventional vacuum system. It is also very important to note, in a vacuum system, liquid does not need to be present to create a  higher vacuum. The movement of sap is secondary. As the vacuum level builds it creates a siphon that pulls the sap along with the air. In fact, when we look at the space inside a cross section of tubing we need to maintain a ratio of 60 % air and 40% liquid. If the liquid level increases or is uneven (wavy) the air movement is restricted and the inches of vacuum drop. The pump will then have to work harder to keep up and maintain peak high vacuum.

Let’s look at other alternatives to move sap in a tubing system. One of the more popular alternatives to conventional vacuum is the diaphragm pump. Let’s look at what happens with a diaphragm pump. Diaphragm pumps are water pumps that unlike vacuum pumps, are designed to move liquid. They move water not air and their  capability of creating CFM is minimal at best. Manufactures tell us that these pumps are capable of creating 20 plus inches of vacuum. How do you create a vacuum with these pumps when their ability to move CFM air is limited? In the sugar bush our lines are sloped toward our tank this allows sap to flow toward the pump. Once the pump picks up the sap on the intake side it accelerates the flow in the line. The pump simultaneously pushes the sap under pressure through the outlet. Because the pump is pulling hard on the sap, pushing it through the outlet, it creates a solid column of sap. As this column of sap moves down the line the air and the liquid combine. This creates a negative pressure on the backside of the column. This negative pressure can be measures with a vacuum gauge. This continues until the sap flow slows down. As the sap flow slows the vacuum level begins to drop. Once the flow is terminated the pump can no longer push sap through the outlet the negative pressure will ultimately disappear. If you run the pump without liquid, you risk damaging the pump. The big thing to remember is that a $200.00 diaphragm pump will not remove air from the system by itself. It has to move liquid to create a negative pressure on the backside of a column of sap. I know the above statements will create controversy from those that are using diaphragm pumps successfully. There are ways to tweak a system to create increased vacuum during low flows but the ultimate end is reduced or no vacuum. The other thing to keep in mind, if you want to be successful with a diaphragm pump, keep your tubing system free of leaks. Leaks will result in poor pump performance. Also protect you pump from freezing and ice in the lines. Ice can damage diaphragms. Diaphragm pumps are a good choice in small operations where an increased level of vacuum during a good run is better than no vacuum. They were never intended to a replace a conventional vacuum system and they never will.

The second part of this article will address the use of diaphragm pumps in a system that can preform as well as a conventional vacuum system under the right conditions. This hybrid system is a different animal, because it is used with  3/16 gravity tubing.

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January is Winter Meeting Time

Ohio’s longest running OSU Extension Maple Event is; Ohio Maple Days. Originally this program was started by the Geauga County Forestry and Maple Syrup Committee, which was part of the OSU Cooperative Extension. Going back into the Geauga County Extension files they show that the first Maple Institute was held in 1940. The committee was started in the 1930’s. During the 1940’s to the 1970’s there was actually two winter programs in Ohio. The maple Institute in Geuaga County and a similar program was held in Morrow County. That program was held in December and the Institute was annually held on the 4th Thursday in January. Over all of those decades the program was only cancelled once and that was during the great blizzard of 1978. The speaker was stranded in Chardon for a week.   The meeting name was changed to Ohio Maple Days shortly after the millennial when the program took on a statewide presence. For over 10 years Dr. Gary Graham has been the organizer. His programs are always interesting and he has had some of the top experts in the field of maple education and research as speakers. This year is no exception.

Ohio Maple Days will be held on January 17,18 & 19, 2019. The featured speaker will be Dr Tim Perkins Director of the Univ. of Vermont, Proctor Maple Research Center. Dr. Tim is a native Vermonter and he has been involved in maple production all of his life. He holds degrees in Environmental Science, Geology and Botany. During his Tenor at the Proctor Center he has published over 100 scientific and maple industry publications. His research focusing on maple tree physiology and ecology as well as maple sanitation has made him one of the foremost experts in the field of maple production today. This year he will give an overview of the research currently being done at the Proctor Center and Dr. Tim will also talk on spout and tubing sanitation in 5/16 and 3/16 tubing. The program will also include updates on the FDA Regulations from ODA Food Safety Supervisor Dan Milo. Rounding out the Program will be Dr. Gary Graham with the Popular Maple Nuggets.


Thursday, January 17 – Morrow County Lutheran Memorial Camp 2790 State Route 61

Fulton, Ohio 43321

Friday, January 18 – Wayne/Holmes County Mennonite Christian Assembly Church

10664 Fryburg Road Fredericksburg, Ohio 44627

Saturday, January 19 – Geauga County

Huntsburg Community Center

12396 Madison Road

Middlefield, Ohio 44062

Contact: OSU Extension 75east Clinton St. Suite 109, Millersburg Ohio 44654                        330-674-3015



The NW Pennsylvania Maple Producers Association will hold their annual meeting on January 26, 2019 in Saegertown Pa. This year they have invited Mike Rechlin West Virginia Department of Agriculture Maple Commodity Specialist to speak on Tapping South of the Mason Dixon Line. Making syrup in the southern regions of the maple belt is on the rise. Not only maple but alternative syrups like Birch Walnut and yes, Sycamore. West Virginia now has a thriving maple syrup industry and that led Mike to put together the Southern Syrups Research Symposium. This two-day event turned out to be more than a showcase for southern syrup making. It brought together an all-star cast of maple experts from all over North America. It also covered topics like climate change, tubing sanitation and other problems which have made syrup making more of a challenge for everyone. Mike will go over what he and others learned at the symposium and the future of the event. For more information on the meeting and to register go to http://www.pamaple.org


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Believe it or Not, Ohio Maple Syrup Production Tanks Again

Les Ober

Yes, it was better than the abysmal years of 2016 and 2017; Ohio Production for 2018 is reported at 90,000 gallons, eighth in the nation. This was the amount reported by USDA Nass in today’s June 2018 Crop Report. Let us take this report apart and see if you believe the results.

In the respective years of 2016 70,000 gal., 2017 80,000 gal., both of which were believable considering the extremely warm , season shorting weather that Ohio producers experienced in both years. 2018 was a different scenario altogether. Most producers I talked to did not have a great year but they did do respectable. Respectability comes in the form of a paltry 10,000-gallon increase in production. I know of five producers in NE Ohio that could have accounted for those 10,000 gallons. Now let us look at the number of taps. It remained the same as 2017 400,000 taps for the entire state of Ohio.  The only believable statistic is the yield per tap of 0.225 resulting from the low sugar content in the sap. Let us compare how neighboring states did. Pennsylvania produced 142,000 and Michigan produced 125,000 gallons respectively. That has to be a tough pill to swallow for any Buckeye Supporter.  The big winner, no surprise, Vermont with 1,940,000 gallons. New York overcame a lot of cold weather to produce a new high of 806,000 gallons. Maine produced 539,000 gallons, down from 709,000 in 2017 but they were in a deep freeze late in the season.

If my remarks seem somewhat caustic, I apologize. Yes, you can blame it on the weather or you can blame it on apathy on the part of the producers. Unfortunately, it has become a well-known fact that Ohio Maple Producers do not want to report their production. In addition, it could be the reporting system is partially to blame. Let’ s face it with a large portion of the syrup being produced in the Amish Community and a system that depends more and more on computers to get results there may be a problem. I back this up with the fact that only 400,000 taps was reported, and if that is the case, the number of taps in Ohio has literally stood still for almost ten years. No expansion in Ohio! I do not believe this to be the case. I cannot prove it but I think there are 400,000 taps in NE Ohio alone.

So why is this important? If you believe, what is reported and you are a maple producer you are now involved in a stagnant agricultural industry that is going nowhere. Whether you the producer, believes it or not, does not matter. It is what the local and state governments believe that counts. It is what Ohio State University, your agricultural educational institution believes, that counts. Right now House Bill 66 sits in front of the state legislature. If the bill passes and is signed into law maple producers would receive a significant reduction in their land taxes. At very least it might change the way counties look at CAUV for maple producers. In addition, OSU College of Food Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is being asked by the Ohio Maple Producers Association to employ additional staff to work with maple producers. Do you think this report is incentive to act on that request? More than anything else, what kind of message are we sending to Ohio consumers. If all they hear is the negative, will they believe that we have good supply maple syrup in Ohio, or should they continue to buy Vermont Syrup off the shelf ? It is time that we look at how we measure the value of the Ohio Maple Syrup Industry to Ohio’s agricultural economy. As producers, we owe it to ourselves to see that the majority of the syrup we produce goes in the record book. The future of the Ohio Maple syrup industry may depend on it.



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