Thursday, March 22, 2018

Maple Syrup Time in the Neighborhood

Collecting Sap in my yard.
The weather has warmed up enough to start tapping the maple trees in the neighborhood and gather enough sap to make maple syrup.  The ideal time to tap trees is when the outside temperature drops to the mid 20's at night and in the 40's during the day.  This cycle gets the sap flowing from the roots to the upper branches and depending on the weather, moisture, and temperature cycles one can harvest gallons a day from a single large maple tree.  My neighbor Brandon does the sap collecting then has quite an operation to process the sap into syrup.  As you can see in the picture, he has 5 large plastic buckets to collect sap in as I have about 7 nice maple trees in the yard that are big enough to tap.  My guess is Brandon has over 120 trees tapped in the neighborhood as the last number he texted me was at about 1000 gallons collected so far.  With another 2 weeks or so of sap collecting weather, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up with over 3000 gallons of sap.  He has a pretty slick way of collecting, a large 150 gallon plastic tank strapped to a trailer that he can pull around.  He can dump the sap in the tank quite easily then move on to the next house.  It's sort of like a milk run as he is getting around 140 gallons a day, not too bad.

Brandon's wood fired evaporator
There's a lot of work to making maple syrup however it is well worth the trouble.  Beside tapping the trees, one has to collect the sap daily.  Then it has to get unloaded into his storage containers, he has enough in his shed to collect 300 to 600 gallons of sap.  Maple sap has a normal sugar content of about 3% but it can vary from 1 - 5%.  The process is to boil the sap, which boils the water away and the sugar content becomes concentrated.  When the boiling liquid hita a temperature of 220 degree, it's pretty much syrup at that point.  Finished syrup is approximately 66 - 68% sugar.  Any less than 66% and it may spoil, as well about 68% the natural sugars tend to settle out on the bottom of the jar.  Brandon uses a reverse osmosis machine to help concentrate the sugar levels of the sap to make it faster to cook it down.  The osmosis machine basically removes pure water out of the sap which increases it's sugar content.  If he runs 300 gallons of sap through the machine it removes about 100 gallons of water and leaves the remaining sap at 5%.  He can run it through again, up to 4 times to get the concentration up to 8%, which is about half the volume that he started with and it is much easier than trying to boil off that much water. His evaporator is quite the system, he built the wood stove underneath the Stainless Steel evaporator pan.  As you see on the left side, a hose feeds the tray with his post processed sap and it is pretty amazing how fast it drips.  It keeps feeding the tray until the entire unit reaches the temperature, then he has a hydrometer to actually read the Specific Gravity which is a more accurate way of determining the syrup sugar content.  Once it is ready he empties the tray into 5 gallon buckets and starts all over again.  This year he is getting about 1 gallon of finished syrup for every 30 gallons of sap, which means the raw sap is pretty good this year.  In the past it's taken up to 40 gallons to make 1 gallon.  It's fun stopping by and helping him, usually you are rewarded with a special treat....a coffee cup with some brandy in it then filled with hot syrup from the evaporator.  Not good for the waistline but is is pretty good tasting.  Once the syrup is done he runs it through a special filter that clarifies it.  Most will get bottled however he takes some of it and fills a used oak bourbon barrel and lets it cure for about 8 weeks, simply amazing!  Also he will make a whipped maple spread that resembles soft butter but again, simply amazing!  In 3 weeks this will be all done with but it's sure fun being part of it.

The plan for the weekend is two fold, the Minneapolis Sports Show runs till Sunday and I look forward to attending this each year.  There is a lot to discuss and learn as things continue to change fast in the industry.  Second, this is the weekend I meet my wife's uncles and cousins to go ice fishing.  We have decided to go to Lake Wapogasset near Amery Wisconsin to try our hand and find some crappies.  I am sure we'll find a place to park ourselves at sunset to have a nice dinner together, it is always a good time.  This could be my last ice fishing adventure of the year as the weather is definitely getting warmer each day.

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