Happy New Year from the Ohio Maple Blog

It’s a brand new year and a new maple season is just around the corner. It is time to fire up the Ohio Maple Blog and get out some information to our producers. Exciting things are happening in the month of January. This upcoming weekend will be the New York State maple Conference in Verona NY. If you want more information go on line to the Cornell Maple Program. On the 13 and 14th Of January from 9am to 5pm Al Baxter announced Stumpwater Farm will be holding and open house. The Baxter Family are Dominion and Grimm, Smokey Lake and Memprotec Dealers located on 29499 Clark Rd. in Sullivan, Ohio. SW of Cleveland.  On January 19 to the 21st will be Ohio Maple Days. You can read all about he agenda and how to register in the previous post. Reminder you have until the 12th of January to pre-register without an increase in registration fees.

On Saturday January 28 The Geauga County OSU Extension is inviting local maple producers to attend a three hour workshop entitled:

Using the New IMSI Grading System to improve Maple Syrup Quality

 The new IMSI International Grading System is not only a marketing tool it is a guide to producing a better product. On January 28th you will have an opportunity to attend a program on using the new Grading system to improve the quality of the maple syrup you produce.

Les Ober OSU Maple Syrup Program Coordinator for NE Ohio and James Miller Local producer and maple products contest judge will show you how to improve the way you test for density, color, clarity and flavor. You will learn how to recognize the signature flavor that defines each grade and how off flavors can have a negative effect on your syrup quality. You will also learn about processing and sanitation errors that can also impact the quality of the syrup you produce.

The program will be held at the Patterson Center in Burton Ohio from at 9:00 to 12:00 Am on January 28th 2017. The program is free but we are asking that you preregister by January 25th.

 

Very Soon you will have an opportunity to meet the Maple Producers of Northeast Ohio, a new producer organization that will be helping to promote maple syrup production and marketing in the NE corner of the state. Their goal is to work with the Ohio Maple Producers Association to promote activities like the Maple Madness Tour in NE Ohio. Look for one of their representatives at the local winter meetings and ask them about this exciting new organization.

Backyard producers I am looking for pictures and ideas that we can post on the Ohio Maple Blog Backyard Mapler. We need your ideas on collection, storage, boiling and canning to share in the blog. Hobby maple producers are some of the most resourceful and inventive producers in the industry and we want to hear how you make maple syrup. Send your ideas and pictures to Les Ober at ober.10@osu.edu.

 

Finally I can say now you can say follow us on Facebook. The Ohio Maple Blog now has a Facebook Page which will complement and enhance our Blog. Right now we are promoting all of the maple activities that taking place around the state. This is a great way to find out what we are highlighting and then go to the Ohio Maple Blog for more information.

 

 

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New Consumer Maple Page Launched

On December 7th we launched a new addition to the Ohio Maple Blog. It is called “Its Not Just for Pancakes Anymore.” One of the main reasons for the new addition is to reach out to maple syrup consumers and give them an educational resource dedicated to the use of Maple syrup and maple products. In the first addition we are talking about the new international grading system for maple syrup. Many consumers are use to the old USDA Standard System but what they may not realize is that this system has been replaced. The new system not only grades syrup by color but also by flavor. This takes maple grading to a new level utilizing multiple senses. I also brings it to a level that consumers understand. May of the food product industries employ the sense of sight, taste to define the quality of their products. The maple industry has now reached that level.

In the months ahead we will be exploring the topic of grading and quality assurance on this blog. An understanding of how the process of making maple syrup will affect not only the density, color and flavor will improve the quality of your product.

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Using the New Maple Syrup Grading System as a Marketing Tool

Les Ober

Geauga County OSU Extension

 

Two years ago this Fall the maple syrup industry completed the adoption of a new system for grading syrup. It took a long time to get everyone on the same page to complete the process that was officially started in 2011. The International Maple Syrup Institute took the old USDA Standard grades that included USDA Grade A Light, Medium and Dark and Grade B and transformed them into four Grade A categories that would include all saleable syrup. Two important additions were the flavor descriptors and the Tc (light transparency) range. This allows consumers to compare grades on flavor and it also opened the door for the use of instruments in the grading process for color determination.

The four Grade A categories are Golden Delicate, Amber Rich, Dark Robust and Very Dark Strong. You will find that Golden Delicate parallels the old Light Amber Category. Amber Rich includes all of the old medium and the very top of the Grade A Dark Category. Dark Robust includes the rest of the of the Grade A Dark category and the very Top of the old Grade B Category. The Very Dark Strong Category includes the rest of the syrup that was formally classified as cooking syrup. Most very dark syrup that is produced and does not have an off flavor or a density problem will fall in this category. If syrup has an off flavor or does not meet the above minimum of 66 brix, or the below maximum 68.9 brix density standard it will be sold as commercial syrup and priced accordingly. It should be pointed out that the retail price in most markets does not change for any of the top 3 grades and many producers sell their very dark syrup for the same price.

The new grading system allows us to not only sell syrup on color but also on flavor and after all, flavor is what sells maple syrup. Flavor is a component of maple syrup judging that is very subjective. Everyone has their own idea of what maple syrup should taste like. It is almost unfair to put maple syrup in a jug that has not been graded. It would be like labeling a cut of meat as beef. You as a consumer would be buying the package of meat and not know if it was a Porterhouse Steak or Stew Meat. That type of marketing went out the window with the anticipation of finding out what the prize was in a box of Cracker Jacks. Today’s consumers are getting smarter about what they buy. Why would you try to sell them syrup that could be Very Dark Strong, Golden Delicate or something in-between? If you are just putting syrup in a jug you are missing out on an important part of marketing, interrupting and understanding what the consumer truly wants. You maybe marketing high grade of Golden Delicate syrup when the consumers is looking for a darker more robust flavor. The comment you often hear about Golden Delicate is that it is very sweet with little or no maple flavor. If this were case, do you think you will have a return customer; even though you put what you believe is your best product in the container?

There is however, one caution about selling graded maple syrup; it had better be graded right. That is where spectrophotometry comes in. Today for 60 to 80 dollars you can buy a Hanna Checker. There is also a more accurate and expensive model available for commercial packers, contest and grading fanatics. It is all based on the transmission of a beam of light through the sample. As the product darkens the percent light transmission drops. Once you have a reading you match the %Tc light transmission reading on the device to the %Tc range of one of the new grades. Each grade has a % Tc range. The end results are similar but a lot more reliable than a temporary grading kit. Over the last two months putting, together my maple syrup evaluation programs, I have had a chance to look at dozens of samples of maple syrup, some graded and some not. Many times these samples were so close it would be impossible to grade accurately on a hand held temporary grading kit. This new instrumentation makes it easy to grade syrup. This proves once again that maple syrup production is pure science from start to finish.

Generally overall the new grading system has been well received at various locations where we introduced it to the public. At many fairs and shows we have been able to stimulate conversation about the characteristics of each individual grade. Using sample tasting is a great way to interact with your customers. Generally overall potential consumers liked Amber Rich but more and more are trying and enjoying Dark Robust. This has been a learning experience for both the producer and the consumers alike. Ultimately I think many of the producers end up learning a little more about consumer preferences and the product they are selling. Grading in many states is not mandatory and Ohio is one of them. The other factor here is that consumers are really not familiar with how maple syrup is graded. The only thing they can compare it to is your average table syrup which has no identity. This is where maple producers can take a lesson from the wine and craft beer industry. They have built a whole marketing program around identifying the various characteristics of their product. Is it out of the realm of reality that we might someday include a tasting room in our sugarhouses where potential customers could sample the various grades of syrup and other value added products? Think about it, this could add a whole new dimension to the way we market maple syrup.

If you want to learn more about how you can use the new grading system to improve your marketing and your production practices I will be teaching a 4 hour workshop at the Lake Erie Maple Expo on Friday November 11th in Albion Pa. For more information on the workshop  contact  www.pamaple.org

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Record Crop of Maple Syrup Produced in the United States and Canada

The word came back to Ohio; from producers attending the annual maple manufactures open houses that it was going to be a big year in New England for maple syrup production. Many of the big northern Vermont and New Hampshire producers were not present, they were boiling syrup. When the steam cleared and the last syrup was drawn off, Vermont produced a record 1.9 million gallons of syrup in one season. Let that sink in, it was only 10 years ago that we struggled to produce 2 million gallons in all of the United States and in 2016 the State of Vermont alone produced almost 2 million gallons beating their 2013 record crop of 1.48 million gallons. The United States produced 4.2 million gallons the amount of maple syrup recorded since the early 1900’s. The top 5 producing states included New York with 707,000 gallons, Maine 675,000 gallons, Wisconsin 235,000 gallons and New Hampshire with 169,000 gallons of pure maple syrup.

With all of that syrup produced in the United States   you can only imagine what they did north of the boarder. Yes it was big, it was really big. The Canadian crop is projected at 13.5 million gallons. This would set a new record for Canadian maple syrup produced and because most of that syrup is produced in the Province of Quebec; they set a record as well.  This is a monster crop and no one knows what affect it will have on the price of maple syrup especially the bulk price. You can rest assured that there will not be any shortage of pure maple syrup in the world for some time. What about Ohio, unfortunately we are not sharing in the record crop celebration.

Ohio Maple Producers knew it was going to be a disappointing year for maple syrup production and the USDA NASS report verified their worst fears. 2016 was a real bummer across the entire state. The total production for the state dropped from 115,000 gallons in 2015 to 70,000 gallons in 2016. The Yield per tap is general ly a good production indicator. Over the previous two seasons (2014 & 2015) the average amount of syrup produced per tap was 0.275 of a gallon of syrup produced per tap. In 2016 the production dropped to 0.189 of a gallon per tap. Normally Ohio will exceed most states in production per tap but this year’s production was on the verge of disaster.  The sugar content of the sap (often near  or below 1%) certainly did not help the overall per tap production of syrup.

Another statistic that was very puzzling was the total number of taps recorded for 2016. This year the number of taps put out in Ohio dropped from 450,000 to 370,000 taps.  In the last 10 years the number of taps in Vermont and New York almost doubled Vermont is just shy of 5 million taps and NY is right at 2.5 million. What is going on in Ohio? Why are we in a statistical state of decline? A better question would be is there really a decline? Working with extension and the Ohio maple industry for the last 18 years I have witnessed an overall expansion of the industry. It has not been unusual to see the number of operations with over 3000 taps increasing every year. I know of several that are over 10,000 taps. We will never be in the same category as New York or Vermont but our maple industry is growing.  However, when you look at the statistics we are not a growth industry we are an agricultural industry in decline.

The reality is that a large portion of the actual production of maple syrup in Ohio is not getting reported. There is an old saying that “if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well”.  I believe that Ohio maple producers are doing a good job of producing syrup but for some reason they are reluctant to let the world know how good a job they are doing.  Why is it important to report your crop?  The world rewards those that achieve excellence. In the case of maple syrup production that reward comes in the form of consumer demand for your product and increased retail sales.

Les Ober Geauga Co. OSU Extension

 

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Handling Your Maple Syrup Crop after the Season

 

Les Ober Geauga Co. OSU Extension

Every once and awhile it is good to go back and visit and old post with a good message here is one from 2013 with a few additions.

Maple syrup is often referred to as “liquid gold”. The increased demand for maple syrup and the escalating value of this year’s crop, has added new meaning to this old adage. Once the season is over you need to use a little TLC when it comes to storing maple syrup so it will maintain its quality and value. If you have not sold all of this year’s maple syrup and have some left in the sugarhouse or in a tool shed you need to watch the inside temperatures of those buildings. With all of the recent hot weather syrup stored in outside non- insulated structures can elevate in temperatures quickly and spoilage can occur. You may have thought that you covered the entire basis by packing the syrup hot in a sealed container. Maybe not!

Let’s look at how syrup is packed and stored. Most syrup is stored in stainless steel barrels that were packed in February and March. The syrup went in to barrels hot and was sealed. A thirty gallon drum is a hard vessel to pack there is always room for air. They very seldom are packed without a small amount of air space. The drums then cool to the temperature of the time of the year. Eventually over time the syrup inside the drums takes on the same temperature as the outside temperature. Steel transfers heat and cold well.  The syrup on the inside of the barrel will remain cold for a long period of time due to its viscosity and mass. The steel in the outside drum will heat up quickly when outside ambient temperature gets above 80 and stays warm. The result is the buildup of condensation between the warm steel and the cool syrup on the inside. When this moisture gets into the air space molds can form. This is the same thing that happens to jugs when they are not heated to 185 degrees F. If the product is not above 66 brix the syrup can even ferment. The same is true for drums they should be packed hot and the seal should not be broken until you can the product. The worst culprit when it comes to spoiled syrup is a drum that was partially filled and then topped off with some hot syrup. This scenario and the spoilage that often comes with it can be avoided by repacking that drum at between 150 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. It is always best to completely fill a drum with hot syrup right off the filter press, seal it and store it.

The best solution for long term storage is to build a cool room. You notice I did said cool, not cold. A walk in cooler would be the best case scenario but most producers cannot afford such a luxury. Take a small space big enough to hold several drums of syrup. This could be a closet or small room in a building. Insulate the room and stick a window air conditioning unit through the wall. When temperature gets above 80 deg. F for any length of time, fire up the air conditioner and brings the room to just below 70 deg. F. At that temperature the syrup will stays relatively cool in the barrels. It always seems to be colder than the outside temperature. You only have to get the syrup through the hot months, once the daytime temperatures cool off you are out of the woods.  Another trick is to rotate the drum occasionally this moves the syrup around inside the drum. This should dissipate any moisture that forms on the metal wall of the drum thus reducing the chance of spoilage if the drum was packed correctly to begin with.

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2016 Geauga County Maple Festival Maple Contest Winners Awarded

SaturdaCurtis cooky April 16,2016

It is not very often that a sample of syrup entered in to a maple syrup contest scores 100%. The syrup enter by  Curtis Cook of Bainbridge, Ohio did just that. His sample had perfect scores across the all of the scoring criteria. What makes this even more remarkable it came in a year when  many producers struggled to make any syrup at all. Congratulations to Curtis and his family for a job well done.

This years contest used a new format for judging the in County entries. For the first time awards were given for 3 grades of maple syrup. In the Golden grade Curtis Cook was the winner. In the Amber grade Charlie Soltis took home the honors and in the Dark Grade Robert Freeman was the first place winner.

Awards are also given in two other categories for best out of county entry and best Hobby producer entry. The Goodell Family Farm of Mantua Township in Portage County won the to[p honors in the Out of County Division. In the Hobby Division Skip Lazancich won the top honors.

The Maple Candy Contest has always been a favorite at the festival. For many of the producers this has become a culinary art that is pasted down through the generations. Because of this transition the festival gives award in three categories in a junior division. Out of these winners they come up with a Grand Champion Junior Candy Maker Award. This year champion junior candy maker was Ethan Bartlett from New bury Township. In the Adult Candy Contest 6 categories are judged. Points from each category are totaled and an overall winner is awarded.This year the Grand Champion Adult Candy Maker went to Ellen Gingerich of Middlefield Township.

Tinner John induction

Jim Patterson presents the Hall of Fame award to Tinner John H Millers Son John Miller

 

The highlight of the Award ceremony is the annual induction into the Geauga County Maple Syrup Hall of Fame of a producer a person who has supported the Geauga County maple industry over the year. The 2016 award goes to the late, “Tinner” John H. Miller of Middlefield, Ohio. The award was accepted by his family at this years Hall of Fame Brunch. Tinner John as was best known as the one person maple producers could not live without. You see John was tin smith and he repaired the majority  of the evaporator pans that without notice suddenly developed a leak. As all maple producer know you cannot operate an evaporator with  a leaking pan for very long. Because of this invaluable service and his support of the local maple syrup industry John was inducted into the hall of fame.  Normally a portrait of the honoree is placed in the hall of fame but in the case of Amish inductees a wood carving of his tin shop will be placed in his honor.

While you are at the 2016 Maple Festival enjoying your maple stir take the time to visit the producers display where all of this years entries will be displayed. More results are posted on the Maple Festival Page in this blog.

Photos courtesy  of the Karlovec Media Group and Geauga County Maple Festival
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the Season Comes to an End.

Les Ober

Geauga County OSU Extension

 

The season has come to an end and now you are faced with the arduous task of cleaning up you maple operation. Where do you start and what do you use? For most of the equipment the answer is simple lots of hot water and elbow grease. A good place to start is with the tanks that hold both sap and syrup. Most are stainless steel and area easy to clean with a high pressure washer. Plastic totes and poly tanks have become popular because they are relatively inexpensive but they are harder to clean. We found that a tank washing tip that will fit on your high pressure washer is a valuable tool. This tool allows you to spray to the side and get into areas that you cannot get into with a standard spray tip. We have also found that you do not want to let plastic totes sit around because the bacteria will build quickly. Clean them immediately. Plastic totes, while affordable, will only last about two or three seasons before the plastic is so contaminated with bacterial spores that you have to discard the bottle and replace it. If you keep poly tanks cleaned down they will last for years. However, if you can afford stainless steel tanks they are the way to go.

The evaporator needs to be sugared off and flushed out as soon as possible. I often flush down the pans with clean water and then refill them with permeate from the RO and let them soak. If permeate e is not available use water. I will drain and refill the pans with clean f water and then add the proper amount of pan cleaner and follow the directions on the label. Once the pan cleaner has done the job I will drain the pans and use a high pressure washer to finish off the job. If I do this process correctly I will end up with pans that look like new. Make sure all of your float boxes are clean and the gaskets are replaced if needed. Soak your auto draw off temperature probe and your hydrometer in a 5% vinegar solution to remove all of film. The thermocouple in the auto draw off probe work best when there is no niter on the probe. Make sure your filter press is cleaned thoroughly and the parts are lubricated with a food grade lubricant. One thing I always do is remove all of the extra filters from the sugarhouse and take them into you house and put them in a place that is dry and rodent free. If you use a filter tank make sure the filters are cleaned and dried thoroughly. If moisture is present they will mold. If they do throw them out and start next year with a new one. Never ring out an Orlon filter, your will break down the fabric causing it to filter poorly.

Ro’s need to be soap washed and thoroughly rinsed immediately after the last time you use them. Make sure all of the permeate is drained out. Once you break down the RO make sure to return your membranes to the storage vessels with a cup of permeate in each one. Once you have everything clean I take the membranes back to my dealer to be sent in for cleaning and testing. There is nothing worse than starting a season with a bad membrane that is passing sugar. Make sure your high pressure pump and your feed pump are free and fully drained. . Inspect the membrane housings get them as dry as possible. Many times with the recirculating motors and pumps on the bottom of the membrane towers dampness can cause the pump shafts to seize and seals to deteriorate.The evaporator and the Ro require the use of chemicals that are incompatible. One is phosphoric acid and the other is a basic soap. Keep them separate and out of the reach of children. Be careful when you mix pan cleaner follow the directions on the label.

The most controversial area when it comes to cleaning is the tubing system. Everybody has their own way of dealing with the miles of tubing stretching through the woods. Over the years I cleaned tubing just about every way possible. We have sucked water, pumped water and air, water, air and tubing cleaner, and just plain no cleaning at all. The water and air worked well until we tried to pump up to steep a grade and had a blowout that had enough force to launch a satellite. Sucking water through the lines, left a lot of liquid in the lines that eventually turned to green snot. We have now hit on a method that seems to work. We pull taps with the vacuum on. When we pull the tap we cut off the old spout and use a line plug developed by the Stars Company from Quebec. This seals the drop line and maintains the vacuum on the system. If done properly the sap in the lateral line will not suck back into the drop line.  We also use a paint marker to mark the old tap hole. This way we will not put next seasons tap on top of an old tap. Once all of the taps are out we back flush the mainlines with clean water. Now we will close all of the main lines, then go to end of each lateral opening them up long enough to pull air through the lines and keeps vacuum on the system. It also removes 80% of the liquid out of the laterals and the mains. At this point we open the ends of the main line and let air in with the vacuum on. Once the vacuum drops to zero shut off the pump.  At some point next fall we will go through and put on new spouts and let the lines air out completely. This system seems excessive but it does work. We had a little green sap at the start of the season but nothing we could not filter out. This could have been avoided by flushing the system in the fall.  Here is a word of caution when it comes to using tubing cleaners. They have to be completely flushed from the lines at some point before the next season. Never use Isopropyl alcohol it is illegal in the United States. The Proctor Research Center has a good a fact sheet on this subject and it is worth reading. Also be aware some cleaners attract Mr. Bushy Tail and his friends, this is never a good thing for tubing operators.

Once you have your system cleaned bring in all of the releasers and clean and sanitize them thoroughly. They are made of PVC Plastic that makes a good home for bacteria. Go over the mechanism and use lubricant provided by the manufacture and lubricate all of the moving parts. The last thing is caring for all of your vacuum pumps and transfer pumps. Change the oil or drain out the water on liquid ring pumps. On the new rotary claw pumps change the oil and fog the pump with a pump oil. You need to make sure rust does not build up. Same is true for Rotary Vane pumps which are more maintenance free but putting some oil on the vanes never hurts. All gasoline motors should be drained and the gasoline replaced with Seafoam or a similar product. Never leave gas with ethanol in the tank. Drain the crank case oil and replace it with fresh motor oil and you are ready to go for next season. Make sure you transfer pumps are drained and stored in a place that does not freeze.

 

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Filed under end of the season cleanup, Maple Production Tips, Tubing & Vacuum Systems

Things You Can Do to Ensure the Quality of Your Maple Syrup

 Les Ober
Geauga County
Ohio State University Extension

This post is in response to the article on maple syrup quality written by Dr. Michael Farrell in the last edition of the Maple News. First let me say that the article was not only excellent but very timely. The article addresses an issue that all of us producing maple syrup need to look at as we start a new seasons production. What I hope to do is highlight some of the areas in the production process where quality can be compromised. These are often identified through off flavors. The University of Vermont and the Vermont Ministry of Agriculture have given us an excellent tool for identifying the sources of off flavors in maple, “The Map of Maple; Off –Flavors”. This was also published in the last edition and is also available from the IMSI publications

After producing maple syrup for over 40 years and teaching seminars on maple syrup production for close to 20 years I have made, and have seen others make, most of the common mistakes that lead to off flavors and poor quality. In this article I will go over some, but certainly not all, of the factors that lead to poor quality. Many of which can be controlled by the producers with proper best management practices. The map of Maple: Off Flavors identifies 5 primary areas where off flavors occur; Mother Nature, defoamer, processing, chemicals and others. I want to address each of these, not in order but how they would occur from the start of the season to the end.

When you start out the season you need to be aware of several problem areas that can lead to off- flavors. Most stems from equipment maintenance after the previous season  and going into the new season.  When producers and hobbyist ask how I should clean up my equipment, my response is with a lot of water and elbow grease. Anytime we use chemicals to clean equipment we run the risk of leaving behind residues that can compromise flavor. If we use chemicals on our pans to clean them at the end of the season the chemical residue needs to be thoroughly cleaned out. If we store filters make sure there is no mold on those filters when they come out of storage. If you have mold on your filters, throw them out. Never use detergents to clean filters it will alter the flavor. Finally make sure you store your chemicals in a secure place away from the process of making syrup to avoid unintended contamination of your product. Finally if you use a tubing cleaner make sure it is flushed from the system. If you suspect some cleaner may be left in the lines then let part of the first run go to the ground. Most of the above are common sense but they need to be mentioned.

Probably the biggest culprit when it comes to off-flavor is processing. This is where the majority of the mistakes are made that result in off flavors. When we grade syrup we look at 4 primary areas density, color, clarity, and flavor. Even though each is judged separately they are actually all interrelated. Density affects syrup quality in several ways; first syrup must be 66 brix to meet USDA standards and if it is below 66 brix it can ferment and cause an off flavor. Syrup above 67 brix normally does not have an off flavor but the higher density  can cause crystallization in the bottom of the container and loss of revenue to the producer. As syrup moves across the front pan the density changes rapidly and so does the color. Density changes occur with the rapid removal of water increasing the sugar concentration. Color changes occur as the sugar molecules change due to the introduction of heat. These changes happen very quickly and need to be monitored closely. Anything that interferes with flow of sap through the evaporator can cause the syrup to get darker and possibly cause an off flavor. Many feel that density is the most critical part of the process and at times reaching the proper density can be very illusive. Improper density management can lead to two off flavors that are very common in syrup; fermented and scorched. It can also lead to an unwanted change in color. The additional boiling time can also affect flavor causing an unnatural taste that is not representative of the grade you are processing.

We use three tools to measure density, the hydrometer, the thermometer and the refractometer. All sugarmakers use a hydrometer. Hydrometers should be inspected or checked for possible problems and replaced if suspect. Often the paper with the scale printed on it can slip resulting in the wrong brix reading. The hydrometer can become coated with film resulting in an inaccurate reading. A good hydrometer will give you an accurate reading only if it is used at the right temperature. Temperatures below that require consulting a chart to get the right brix reading for a specific temperature. Maple syrup boils at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water or 219 degrees. Many producers use a thermometer to determine the draw off point. The only problem is that that the 219 reading is only accurate if the barometer is at 29.9 hg barometric pressure. A thermometer needs to be recalibrated every time the barometric pressure rise or falls. This makes a thermometers reliability somewhat suspect. However, syrup temperature is vital when it comes to setting an automatic draw off. The final tool is what many consider the judge and the jury of maple syrup density, the refractometer. What many producers do not realize is that, for a refractometer to work properly, it needs to read a product that is finished and one that is stable in temperature. This was pointed out the other day, when I had a conversation with Robert Crooks of Marcland Instruments. For a refractometer to work properly it has to be able to refract light coming through the sample it can only do that accurately if the sample in the instrument is a clear finished sample. Taking a sample of cloudy unfiltered syrup can lead to an inaccurate reading. The temperature of the product also affects the light refraction. Even though the refractometer is built to automatically compensate for temperature that temperature needs to be stable. If you leave freshly drawn off syrup set in a container it will continue to evaporate water until it cools down. Think of what happens to a roast when you pull it from the oven, it continues to cook. This is why it is recommended that you cover a container with hot unfiltered syrup to stop the loss of moisture.  If you use a refractometer to set the draw off, take the syrup and run it through the filter and collect a sample allowing it to  sit for 15 minutes then take your refractometer reading. This  will give you the most accurate reading from your  refractometer.

If you use a conventional auto draw-off, be aware that it takes time to complete the draw off process. This means that syrup will be drawn off over a range of temperatures. Therefore set the draw off to actuate slightly below the desired temperature and it will finish slightly above. Using a hydrometer is the best way to set your draw off. However, make sure you are reading the hydrometer at the recommended syrup temperature. You can use a refractometer but it has to be used on a finished temperature stable product. This process may take more time than you have to make a correction on the draw-off.

As sap moves across the evaporator temperature gradient sets up. Ninety percent of the water is removed by the time the sap reaches the middle of the front pan. Syrup needs to move from the middle of the syrup pan to the outlet relatively fast. Any interruption with this process that interferes with the temperature gradient and holds the syrup on the pan longer will result in syrup that can be darker and denser than desired. One common mistake is to allow the pans to cool during the firing process. Anytime you cool off the pans the temperature of the sap drops and this causes the boiling temperature to drop resulting in the sap on one side of the gradient to mix with sap on the other gradient. You need to keep a constant heat level on the front pan at all times. This is more critical in a wood fired evaporator.

The other problem is foam control. Excessive foam in the back pan can cause problems with you float and may interfere will your ability to control the level of the sap in the evaporator. If this happens you will need to use a defoamer to control the problem. When using defoamer, the only place the defoamer should be added is at the point where sap enters the rear pan and occasionally a couple of drops if needed, at the draw-off if foam builds up as you are drawing off.  This should be done at regular intervals placing the prescribed number of drops (2 drop per foot of width) where the sap enters the evaporator. Never spray defoamer across the front pan to control foam. Using defoamer in this manner will impede the boil and break down the gradient. This can lead to the dreaded big batch.  If the front pan is foaming excessively, then the foam is not being properly controlled in the back pan, correct the problem back there. Use only small amounts of defoamer, excessive use can result in an off flavor. Organic producers must use safflower or canola oils which are very poor defoamers. Be careful, using an excessive amount of these products can result in an off flavor.

The other problem that can cause scorching in an evaporator is to allow niter to buildup. When niter buildup it will insulates the bottom of the pan from the liquid creating a potential hot spot which can result in a scorched spot on the pan. You need to keep liquid in contact with the pan at all times. Always keep your pans as niter free as possible by rotating sides or using a clean set of pans. Using a good syrup filtering system to remove niter is vital if you want to produce syrup that meets the clarity standard. You should be able to read newspaper print through a sample bottle of syrup that has been properly filtered. Cloudy syrup with a lot of niter can produce an off-flavor. Remember every time you heat your syrup to a boil more niter will precipitate out and it will need to be re-filtered. That is why you do not want to bring your syrup to a boil when canning. 185 degrees Fahrenheit is the required temperature for canning.

As maple producers we fight the growth of bacteria through our entire system. When bacteria colonies multiply within sap they convert sucrose sugar molecules to Glucose and other invert sugar molecules. This increase in invert sugar, when exposed to heat will cause a darker product. This is most prevalent at the end of the season when the bacterial content of sap is at its highest. Bacteria can affect the entire process of making syrup from the tubing system right through canning. Because sap has a sugar content it is a perfect media for bacterial growth. It goes without saying you can never be too clean when it comes to making syrup. Sap needs to be collected in clean equipment, it need to be kept cool and processed quickly. At the beginning of the season if we start with a properly sanitized system we have few problems with bacteria but as the season progresses the problems increase. Maple Producers need to know when to end the season. Producing syrup late in the season when the trees are near budding and the sap is out of condition has little value to you or the industry.  Syrup also needs to be packaged correctly to control bacterial growth in container that can lead to spoilage. That is why we always pack plastic jugs at 185 degrees. This prevents condensation which can supply an environment for bacterial growth in the container.

As you can see there are many areas within the process of making syrup the sugarmaker can have an impact on the quality of the product that is producing. The is attention to detail from equipment sanitation to efficiency of processing is what separates many producers when it comes to product quality. Making the highest quality product possible should be your goal, you reputation as a maple producer depends on it.

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The Quest for High Vacuum Part 2

Les Ober
Geauga County
Ohio State University Extension

When you bring up the subject of vacuum, one of the first questions producers ask is what size vacuum pump will I need to run my system? They also ask if the old rotary vane pump their grandfather abandon in the barn is good enough? The question I ask them is; what vacuum level do you want to run at today and into the future. As I stated in Part I there are two way to measure vacuum pump performance, inches of mercury and CFM. Inches of Mercury measure the negative pressure produced when air leaves the line. For example if 50% of the air is removed then the inches of mercury should be 15. At 25 inches of mercury approximately 85% of the air has been removes from the lines. CFM on the other hand measures the amount of air being evacuated from the lines measure in cubic feet per minute. Pumps are rated (CFM) on their ability to remove air and this largely determines the size of the pump. Two other factors come into play when comparing vacuum pumps. One is the horsepower rating. As the air is removed from an enclosed area the molecules of air in that air become very sparse. The pump has to work harder as the air becomes thinner. The pump also has to overcome the force of the negative pressure inside that area. This requires more horsepower. A larger CFM rating does this faster but requires more Hp. The other factor is pump speed. If you turn a pump faster your will move more air and will increase the capacity. However, over speeding a pump can cause excessive wear on the pump. To answer the second question first, Grandpas pump is not designed to produce anything over 15 inches of vacuum and that is not high vacuum. Most of the liquid ring, flood vacuum rotary claw and new age rotary vane pumps are designed to run at vacuum levels up to 29 inches. Remember all of the pump ratings and their ability to increase vacuum level are done at the factory removing air from a sealed vessel. From this information a performance curve is developed. What makes this whole process more confusing is that many maple equipment companies are now listing there pump sizes by motor horsepower instead by CFM capacity. As pointed out motor Hp is only one factor determining pump capacity. When questioned about CFM, one dealer told me his pump will develop 11 cfm at 29 inches of vacuum. This has to be a specification taken off of a performance curve taken at the factory. The question I have how likely is that pump will ever reach 29 in of vacuum in a maple system? The fairest comparison should be made when the CFM is measured on a pump being run at 15 inches of vacuum. Otherwise unless you have performance curve data in hand for every pump you are considering how you can make a fair comparison. Will the pump be able to deliver 29 inches in the woods at a higher elevation, hooked to thousands of feet of line that is anything but leak free?

Are the dealers wrong when they tell you that your pump will produce 29 inches vacuum? The answer that question is yes and no. As stated most pumps are capable and have been tested to deliver 29 inches of vacuum. This is clearly shown on the pump performance curve. However because the performance curve is read at the barometric pressure at sea level an adjustment for elevation above sea level needs to be made. For every 1000 feet of elevation you lose 1 inch of vacuum, this means the highest vacuum level achievable at an altitude of 2000 feet is around 28 inches depending on the barometric reading on any given day. So what is going on when a producer tells you that his pump gauge mounted somewhere nears the inlet of you pump is reading 28 inch of vacuum but out in the woods it is 18 in. or less? Is that wrong? The answer to the second question is no. Because of line diameter is restricting the flow (Line Loss), the vacuum pump has the ability remove all of the air from the system within a short distance of the pump inlet. This phenomenon occurs because the pump can pull air out faster than the line can deliver it, thus creating a small area of high vacuum close to the pump. The gauge at the pump measures only the vacuum in that area. This is graphically displayed in the line loss charts used in the Cornell New York State Tubing and vacuum system notebook. A 60 CFM pump set at 15 hg hooked to a 3 “ line can maintain over 40 CFM out to 5000 feet. That same pump hooked to ¾ inch line is incapable of delivering 15 in. of vacuum at 25 feet. This is covered in a previous post; April 24, 2013 How Can I Get More Vacuum Where I Need it? The pump is only one part of the total system. If the line diameter is too small it will reduce the capacity of the pump to remove air. The reality is that the only vacuum reading that counts is the reading that is taken out in the woods at the last tap.

How do you determine the CFM capacity of the pump that will best fit in your operation? The NY State Tubing Vacuum Notebook (NSTVN) written at Cornell University by State Maple Specialist Steve Childs states that to go from 15 inches to 18 inches of vacuum of vacuum you need to increase the CFM capacity of your system by 50%. You start with the number of taps you have on the system. Let’s say you have 3000 taps. You know that for every 100 taps you need 1 CFM to keep up with the air and gases coming into the system primarily from the trees. This means that it would take a least a 30 CFM pump to remove the air that is coming into the system from the outside. The vacuum level under these conditions would be somewhere around 12 Hg. The NSVTN states that for every 1 in of vacuum you will lose 10% of the capacity of the pump. In order to increase that vacuum level to 18 in or beyond you would need to increase the pump size by at least 50 %. That would mean that you would need a 45 CFM pump. This is only 18 inches of vacuum and you want to produce a high vacuum rate of at least 25 inches. This is based on research done at UVM Proctor Research Center you need to have at least 25 in of vacuum in the lines to get near optimum sap production. However to get to 25 in vacuum you would need to add 7 more inches of vacuum. Starting with a 45 CFM pump running at 18 in of vacuum, using the 10% loss for every 1hg gain you would end up with only 13.5 CFM (4.5 X 7 = 31.5 – 45 = 13.5 CFM). If you go to 75 CFM pump it translates 22.5 CFM (7.5 X 7 = 52.5 – 75 = 22.5), which falls 7.5 CFM short. A 100 CFM pump translates to 30 CFM (10 X 7 = 70 – 100= 30), enough to run the 3000 tap woods at 25 in of vacuum. Again all pumps are not created equal motor size and pump revolution speed come into play. These are just guidelines, some systems are easier to operate than other and it depends on well you manage your system for leaks.

Now let’s look at the yield side, again based on research done at UVM Proctor Research Center. In their study determining the yield up to 25 in of vacuum was their goal. The study shows that sap yield doubles when vacuum is taken from 0 to 15 in. From 0 to 15 in. there was a 8 gal per tap increase, from 15 to 20 in. there was a 3 gal increase and from 20 to 25 in. a 2.5 gallon increase. At 25 in. vacuum you have added 14 gallons of sap per tap. However, at 20 in of vacuum you have added 11 gallons of sap.. So what would happen if you settled for working at a lower vacuum level? If you backed down to 22inches of vacuum a 45 CFM pump would deliver 27 CFM just short of the amount needed. Going up to a 60 CFM pump would deliver 36 CFM, adequate to run the woods with some reserve. You would raise your production by 12 gallons per tap per season. That is 80% of your original goal of 14 gallons per tap.

You have now made all of the calculations and are beginning to understand the logic and principal behind setting up a vacuum tubing system. The one thing we did not mention was the importance of reserve vacuum. You also need to factor in the vacuum that is needed to run a manual releaser (at least 5 CFM) and anything else like lifts and vacuum piston pumps. All of these eat up CFM. You do not want to be maxed out on CFM capacity when Mr. Bushy Tail shows up. Factor in another 3 – 5CFM in reserve vacuum and hope he does not bring his relatives. Your system need capacity to recover from leaks and other unforeseen problems and it need to do it as quick as possible. In my small world of maple production I am not comfortable with anything under 35CFM. Here’s why! Our home woods only have 400 taps, the requirement to run those taps is only 4 CFM but I have maxed out a 35 CFM pump. Here is how we did it. First we have long mainlines because the woods is spread out. Secondly most the lines drain to a low point that is totally inaccessible to sap pickup. We use a lift to bring the sap forward to the releaser. We then move the sap from the releaser tank to road via vacuum operated piston pump. No one in their right mind would have put tubing these woods but we did and it works. We maintain 25 inches at the releaser, 22 inches of vacuum at the lift and 18 to 20 inches at the end of the mainlines. I will replace that pump with a bigger one someday but in the meantime we are constantly looking for new innovative ways to conserver vacuum and utilize what we have in the best way possible. Just like everyone else we are spending countless hours looking for what Mr. Bushy Tail and his friends have done to our tubing. I cannot over emphasize the importance maintaining your system. The most important time you will invest in you maple syrup operation will be the time you spend in the woods managing your tubing system.

Footnote: Many producers are successfully rnning their vacuum systems over 25hg. They are successful because their system is properly designed and maintained.

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The Quest for High Vacuum in a Maple Tubing System (Part 1)


Les Ober
Geauga County
OSU Extension

The variety of vacuum pumps on todays market is very extensive. Although vacuum has become a mainstay in maple production our utilization of vacuum pumps and equipment is very small compared to their use in the industrialized world. Maple production is just on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vacuum utilization. Even though vacuum is used extensively in the maple industry we have only been at it a very short time. For this reason there is a lot of misunderstanding about the laws of physics (Quantium Mechanics) that govern the science of vacuum. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia definesthe word vacuum as “void of matter”. In fact it stems from the latin word vacuus which means vacant. The study of vacuum goes back to the Greek Age and the time of Aristotle. Several basic scientific principals apply when it comes to vacuum. Due to pressure exerted by the earth’s atmosphere (15 lbs per sq. in.) you can only achieve a maximum vacuum level of 29.92 inches of mercury. You actually can only achieve a vacuum level equal to the barometric pressure on any given day at any given location. Barometric pressure changes with the elevation above sea level. Another principal is how we measure vacuum. The level of vacuum is a negative measure (because you are creating a negative pressure inside of a vessel) and is read in inches of Mercury. The rate of air being removed from a vessel by a vacuum pump is measured in cubic feet per minute on an English measurement scale.

Even though it has become the Holy Grail, in the maple industry, the term “High Vacuum” is largely misunderstood. High Vacuum or perfect vacuum exists only at 29.92 in. Hg. This is the highest level of vacuum achievable in our atmosphere and occurs only when every molecule of matter is removed from a vessel. This is extremely hard to achieve because once all of the air is removed there are still other gases that qualify as matter and are very hard to remove. In fact the closest thing to a perfect vacuum only exists in outer space and we are not producing syrup on the moon. Wikipedia states “There are three levels of vacuum achievable with modern vacuum pumps. Low vacuum (vacuum cleaners), Medium Vacuum (achieved with a single pump) and High Vacuum (achieved with multi-staged pumps and measured with an ion- gauge).” As you can see the vacuum we use falls in a range of somewhere between low and medium. Obviously the average maple producer does not live in the scientific world of vacuum, nor does he need to. The reality is that we are not dealing with a closed vessel but rather miles of tubing where the introduction of air occurs at every tap, fitting and squirrel chew. The range that most maple producers should be comfortable with is around 20 in. to 27 in. of vacuum depending on their system and the pump they are using. The reason being is that, this is that all vacuum pumps are not created equal and vary greatly in their ability to produce vacuum. Now this is where the discussion and the debate begin. As I have stated in an earlier post (March 25, 2013 Is it The Pump or The Mainline Size That is Effecting the Performance of Your Tubing System?) the producer must consider the entire system before he decides on the type and size of vacuum pump to use. Even though we are increasing the volumn of sap being produced by increasing the level vacuum closer to 29.92 we need to be more concerned about the ability of the whole system to remove air from the system efficently. Rather than concentrating on achieveing the maximum depth of vacuum we should be paying closer attention to the systems ability to overcome leakage and everyday wear and tear.

There is a wide variety of vacuum pumps that can be used to apply vacuum to a maple tubing system. In fact with the use of 3/16 tubing (based on the research of Tim Wilmot at the Proctor Maple Research Center) you may not even need a vacuum pump to achieve your vacuum goal. Most of the pumps used in the maple industry are adapted from some other type of use. The first pumps came from the dairy industry and were used to milk cows. These were rotary vane pumps that were designed to produce around 16 inches of vacuum. The vacuum was produced as the air trapped between the vanes held in an offset rotor was expelled to the outside via the exhaust. As the vacuum level increases heat is builds as a result the system needs some kind of lubrication to absorb the heat. The pump is lubricated with oil that was contained in an oil reservoir. Once you went above 16 inches the strain on the pump produced more heat that it was designed for. For that reason oil coolers and oil-reclaimers were used to make them more efficient. Bearings need to be lubricated with a precise amount of oil to maintain function. When running above 20 in hg, if any of the above are neglected you are headed for a Chernobyl type melt down. There are commercial rotary vane pumps (running a flood vacuum) on the market that are capable of achieving up to 27inches of vacuum. One of the most popular pumps being used is the liquid ring pump. The liquid ring pump uses an impeller running in a ring of liquid producing close to 29 inches of vacuum. As the air is drawn in it becomes trapped in a compression chamber that is formed between the impeller veins and the liquid. The air is expelled to the outside as the liquid (oil or water) is recycled. These pumps achieve as close to 29 inches of vacuum as any pump on the market. The down side of this type of pump is that a water source is needed and that source needs to be kept above freezing. If oil is used then there are environmental considerations.

One of the most recent pumps to come on the maple scene is the rotary claw pump. The rotary claw will produce 27 inches of vacuum, just under a liquid ring. This is a pump that is designed for continuous duty and one that requires minimal maintenance during the season. The claw runs at a very close tolerance to the chamber and traps air in-between the claws and the chamber and expels it to the outside. A small amount of oil is used lubrication. The downside is that these pumps are very expensive. They are designed to be run year round. Long layover periods may allow the pump to develop a rust layer inside to the pump resulting in excessive air. Because they run at a very close tolerance this may lead to early breakdowns. If you buy a rotary claw you need to fog the pump with anti-oxidation oil in the off season to prevent premature wear.

The last pump is the new age rotary vane pumps that are designed to run continuously and to produce a vacuum of 29 inches. This appears to be a very efficient pump. These pumps are similar in design to the older rotary vane pumps but have very close tolerances. They lubricate with oil but total requirement is minimal. So let’s rate the pumps on their ability to produce high vacuum from top to bottom. At the top is the liquid ring and the new age rotary vane with the edge going to the liquid ring especially one of the two stage models on the market at this time. These pumps will consistently reach 27 to 29 inches of vacuum. Not far behind is the rotary claw which will produce 27 to 28 inches of vacuum. Next is the improved rotary vane with a flood system at 27 inches. At the bottom is bossy’s favorite the old style rotary vain used in milking systems. She liked it because it produced no more than 16 inches of vacuum. Any more and she would send it across the room with one swift kick. No matter what you use you will get more sap from you trees. Collecting maple sap with a vacuum system not only saves time and labor but the vacuum will increase your sap yield by up to between 50 % and 150%. In the next post I will cover things you need to consider before you hook your pump into the system.

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