For Ohio producers this was almost a normal season with the exception that it came a month early. This year’s long-range winter weather forecast was predicted to be long cold and snowy winter. In the NE that pattern prevailed due to a shift in the jet stream. This left Ohio, WV, Indiana and parts of Pennsylvania experiencing a rather mild winter. It also opened the door for some very good early maple syrup production in February. The month of March saw an early warming trend that quickly brought the maple syrup season to an early end across the region. Production across the state was all but shutdown by St. Patrick’s Day. Looking at my records over the last several decades St Patty’s day is circled in red because of the excellent runs occurring on or near that date. This is usually accompanied by snow and cold just prior to the event. After several years where late tapping resulted in poor seasons, producers across the Southern Tier of maple producing states have learned to adjust their tapping to the weather and not the calendar. This resulted in very good to excellent seasonal production across the region.
Examples of the excellent production can be found across the state of Ohio. James Miller at Sugar Valley Farm tapped 3200 taps in January and over the 4th and 5th of February he collected over 14,000 gallon of sap He set a personal best of 332 gallons of syrup. This pattern continued until the first week of march when the flow of sap stopped, and the trees dried up within a week due to a abnormally dry and warm period that lasted until the end of the month of March. With the early stat and despite the early shutdown James ended the season with over ½ gallon of syrup per tap. This was also the case for his neighbor The Gingerich Family. OMPA President Karl Evens reported 100% of a normal crop despite low sap sugar content. This was pretty much the story across NE Ohio. Down State producers reported Excellent maple producing weather in the month of February. In Central Ohio, Knox County, the Brown Family at Bonhomie Acres reported a near record Crop. Further to the south in Mt Vernon The Butcher Family set new production records, after several years with below average production. Reports coming out of the southern parts of the state report excellent production color and flavor. A large percentage of the syrup made from the south and the north graded Golden and Amber. The Flavor of first boils was superb. Low sugar between 1.3 and 1.6 was common this season in the north and in the south.
What can we learn from the 2020 season? First and foremost, weather forecasting is an exact science with a lot of room for error. The winter of 2019/2020 forecast for Ohio was about as far off as you can get. However, for parts of the NE it was spot on. Probably the single most valuable tool, a producer has to work with is experience. After years of experience making syrup you just develop a feeling, almost a sixth sense when it is time to tap. The worst thing you can do is to second guess yourself. Wait too long and you can miss crucial runs, tap to early and you may be headed for an early shutdown with a lot of season left. For sure, once you are in there is no turning back and you must make the best of it. From that point to the end of the season how you are utilizing modern maple technology will determine your level of success. Technology has become the equalizer when comes to maple syrup production.
Just as the maple syrup season was ending the Coronavirus and COVID-19 cast an ominous shadow across the Buckeye state and the rest of the nation, disrupting agricultural sales. Maple was not immune. Many of the traditional points of sale such as retail establishments, festivals and farmers markets were closed until further notice. Even though maple syrup was disappearing from the shelves of large grocery stores, giving the appearance of a maple syrup shortage, nothing could be further from the truth. For Small to medium size local producer’s it is difficult, if not impossible to tap into that mega supply chain. Many are worried that there will not be a market for their crop. Hopefully as summer approaches health regulations will be relaxed and maple producers will once again be able to market their products in traditional venues. Until then stay safe.
Maple Syrup Friends and Producers;
As you can see below The Ohio State University Extension staff is joining thousands of Ohio workers who are working from home. This does not mean that we are not available to help you with your questions and your problems. The Coronavirus outbreak has left all of us very concerned and somewhat distracted. However, our lives and our businesses must go on. While we are all adjusting it may be a good time to evaluate the 2020 maple season. I am sure as you evaluate your season you will have questions. Now is a good time to ask those question while it is fresh in your mind. Even though I certainly do not have all of the answers, I will do the best I can to help you out. Also, I would like to here about your season. As you know last year the USDA shutdown Ohio’s NASS Maple Survey. This has left a real gap in our production information. I do not want numbers only percentages of a normal season and comments concerning sap sugar percent, niter and other factors that effected your season. Thinking about the season good or bad may help to get your mind off what is going on in the outside world. It is also a very appropriate time to step back, take a deep breath and evaluate the situation rationally. Yes COVED-19 is very serious, and it should not be taken lightly. However, if we all follow Governor DeWine’s recommendations, we will get through this and return to our normal everyday lives very soon.
Please send your questions and Comment to email@example.com. Put Ohio Maple Blog Question under “Subject” so I can give you a prompt response.
Hope to be hearing from you a prompt response.
OSU Extension – Geauga County will be temporarily closed due to the confirmation of the coronavirus in the State of Ohio and Geauga County. The office will remain closed until we are notified that we can safely resume normal operations within our office space.
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience for you our clientele. All staff will continue to respond to clientele’s concerns or questions remotely during normal office hours Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 4:30pm. Please leave a message by calling 440-834-4656 or email the Geauga County staff. We will respond to your request as soon as we are able to in a timely manner.
Thank you for your patience, understanding and support during this challenging time.
The OSU Extension – Geauga County Office Team
Well this has turned out to be quite a week! We knew it was going to be special with; Time Change, a full moon and Friday the 13th all rolled into one week. However, no one was expecting the Coronvirus to descend upon us with the force of a Sherman Tank. COVID-19 has shut down the world as we know it and it will make life difficult for some time. In Ohio the maple sugaring season is ending. The timing of the COVID-19 virus outbreak could not have come at a worse time for sugar makers with a full supply of maple syrup to market.
Right now, here are few things to think about if you depend on end of the maple season events to market a major portion of your crop. With the governor closing public events of 100 or more people this will impact festivals, pancake breakfasts and tours. This weekend the Ohio Maple Tours scheduled for tomorrow and Sunday are still going on but there have been several stops removed from the schedule. If you are on the Ohio Tour and you plan to be open, make sure that you know who is closed and inform your visitors. The worst thing for tour PR, is to have people show up and only half of the producers are participating. Spread the word about closures. You should be getting this information from the associations planning the tour. The end results. will likely be reduced traffic and reduced sales of product. You need to plan to market in alternate venues later in the season.
I have not heard, but I expect that many of the pancake breakfasts across the state may be cancelled. If so, that is a lot of maple syrup that will not be used. If you are one of the producers supplying syrup, work with the folks that are planning the event. Most of these events are major fund raisers for the organization that is sponsoring the breakfast. Remember they did not want this to happen. If they cut their syrup orders, be very understanding and work with them. We have no idea how long this COVID-19 outbreak will last. That means that forthcoming festivals and maple weekends may be impacted. Hopefully this will not last into the spring farmers market season, but it may. This opens up a whole new level of concerns.
Many people who visit farmers markets on a regular basis may be discouraged to attend for health reasons. Also, early season markets are often indoors or in sheltered areas. If you work these events you need to be aware of the potential health risks to you your family and your employees. One possible way to get around the problem is to use the internet to market your product. Many vendors keep good records and have contact information for their customers. You can contact them by email or phone and setup delivery of maple products. If you sell a variety of products throughout the year you might want to set up a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. This is a great marketing tool for one or several producers working in a group to sell variety of locally grown products. Customers sign a contract to pick up every week a basket of locally grown products for one flat price. It is a great way to introduce new and different value-added maple products to your customers.
Please be aware that this article was not written insight panic. Lord knows, other media outlets have done a stellar job, when it comes to that. It is written to get you thinking outside the box when it comes to marketing your maple products.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.