Production Techniques

First Sap Run 2012

Yes the sap did run, we have proof. It has been a pretty mild winter so far and it seems the trees started up. Mike has two buckets on the trees just outside his house to test if that sap is running. So there you go, if we were tapped in and ready we “could” have made syrup.

So much to do, so little time..

first sap of 2012

The legend of Burnsie

I just wanted to put together a little post on our favorite evaporator to date. Yes she is very inefficient, yes she is warped, yes she is not 100% square but this pan and archway has so much character that we can’t help but love her.

Mike’s father is the only one who really knows the history of Burns and it is spotty at best, his memory is not what it use to be. As the story goes Mike’s Grandfather was using a very old style flat pan with no channels in it. Burns was custom made by someone in Sault Ste Maire. She is a three channel flat pan made out of 1/4 stainless steal.

The reason we call her Burnsie is because of how much wood she burns. This pan is so inefficient that we can’t possibly produce Maple Syrup for the market on it.  The Days of old wood fired maple syrup are going to be a thing of the past.

There are however very fun facts about running Burnsie.

If you burn the pan it is no big deal – When I tried to run the pan with 3/4” of sap in it the first time I started it up I burnt the pan pretty good. The nice thing is that you can use a grinder to get it clean again. Try that with a delicate raised flu pan1.

It is easy to Run – Once you get a few inches of sap in her there is pretty much nothing that can go wrong2. No floats to jam up, no pipes to check on. Just keep the level high and the fire hot!

The Syrup is AMAZING – If I had my choice I would love to run this pan all day and I am sure that Mike would agree with me. The syrup is so thick and rich it is hard to describe, it like what maple syrup tasted like half a century ago. Mike calls it his Grandfather’s maple syrup.

This year we made a special batch 6 which took a ton of wood and over 2 days of boiling. I don’t know if we are going to run it next year or not but hopefully we get the privilege.

Thank you Alain for your comment the other day about getting one of these old pans for yourself. I would love to know more about it like how many channels does it have and what size it is?  Chances are you will have a blast making syrup on it. If your really ambition you might even use it for a couple of years if you don’t break your back feeding it thousands of man hours of fire wood.

But I bet you it will be the best Maple Syrup you have ever tasted.

1 – please don’t do this for any reason!
2 – never say that within ear shot of your evaporator.

Batch 6 and 7

Well it has been a long time in the making but we have just finished batch 6 and 7 today. For those of you who love that super rich maple flavor batch 6 is for you on the other hand batch 7 is a very thick medium batch.

Batch 6 was made completely with Burnsie, our old flat pan, Batch 7 was made completely with Chuck our flue pan. Equipment has a lot to do with the type of product you produce. Batch 8 will be a mixture of both Burns and Chuck.

Double wood fired maple syrup!

Batch 6 boiling away

waiting until the temperature is a 190 to run though the filter

Batch 6 on the left 7 on the right

Fireing up Burnsie

We have decided to fire up the old evaporator for a special batch tonight.

special batch, by demand

Look into the mouth of Burnsie, if you dare....

Batch 6 is going to be amazing and very Amber, GUARANTEED!



Dialed in – 2010

Well it is starting to get a bit colder these days, November is right around the corner and that means snow is not far away. I use to hate this time of year, the long winter was just around the corner and it seemed there was nothing to look forward to until July and August when you could finally go swimming again.

That was before I caught the maple syrup bug, now I look forward to winter because it means we are only a few months away from spring ( I know I am jumping the gun a bit).

It also means that the holidays are just around the corner which is a busy time for maple syrup gifts of the season. For now I am just waiting until the first snow before I start thinking of that.

Until then I am going to be thinking of having the operation dialed in.

When everything is running just right we call it being dialed in. The wood fire is perfect. The temperature of the concentrate is slowly rising. The flow into the evaporator is set just right to match the steam coming off the rolling boil . The temperature outside is in the magic zone. But best of all someone else is splitting firewood.

First time Firing

It has been a very productive weekend in the bush. We started a very detailed log book to record all the events both good and bad. It is going to take a while to get use to how what to record but It will help us with a lot of our planning and also writing these posts.

We started up the evaporator on Friday night. The pan that we are using is a deep flat pan, not a flue pan. Because I had the most experience with the evaporating I was the first to fire it up.  I decided to run the pan with a 1/4” of liquid in it to start, needless to say I burnt the pan pretty bad and pretty quick.

That was not the only problem we had with the evaporator. We also are trying to fuel it with Bass wood. It was pretty damp and really did not burn all that well, because of this we have renamed it Ass wood.

Steam is also one of the big problems that we had to overcome. Our custom hood worked pretty good at channeling the steam but the real problem came from not having it at the right angle. It was blowing steam right into the faces of the operator rather than to the back of the pan an out of the shack. The hood also did not really come down far enough so we draped towels over it to keep the stream contained. We have it dialed in pretty good now.

More to come on how the bush is running and what happened over the weekend.

Finally a new post!

OK so I have not posted in a couple of days and that is because we have been busy, (Steve I got your message). The truth is that It takes forever to do anything on dial up and I have been getting in so late that I can’t think so spending another 1h playing with dial up is not going to work. But I am posting now!

first of all here is the video that I shot of Bill cutting the huge block of wood.

and now here is what has been happening over the past few days:

Day 3
The day after my last post, April 4th we were out at the sugar bush until about 10:00 p.m.. We tied in a spur line and tapped about 80 more trees. Steph and Mike came by the sugar shack at about 7:00 p.m. and stayed until the sap ran out. They were very welcome as they brought beer, like I said they are very good friends. I also met a great guy named Cody who helped to fire the boiler and watched the temperature gauge. Than after syrup was done we went out to Mike’s hunting camp and stayed up way to late. I wanted to be in the bush that day but no dice.

Day 4
Since most of the people in the camp did not get up until about 3:00 p.m. I thought that there was no point in going into the bush that day. We had a lot of fun anyway playing with Mike bombardier trail groomer. We also did some very useless building of dams in his creek and played with the deer in his yard. All this while the largest run yet this season took over Bill and the sugar bush. Thank goodness we had the emergency tank to fill otherwise Bill would have lost even more sap than he did.

A completed project

A completed project

Day 5
Mike gave me a ride out to the Bill’s sugar bush at about 10:30 a.m.. Mike has worked in a number of sugar bushes so we went to see one of the larger operations on the island, Thompson’s sugar bush. This is a truly a first class set up! The boiler they use is out of an old steam ship. The whole bush is put together in a double line system and he has two beautiful R.O. machines. There are all sorts of really cool little curiosities in his operation enough to write a whole post on.
We stayed out at the bush until about 1:00 am trying to get rid of all the sap that had accumulated from the day before. Once again the big problem was fire wood, we just did not have enough! We ended up burning some green stuff at the beginning of the day to see how it would go, it was bad. We were basically splining wood and throwing it directly in to the fire, never really getting ahead. It is very disheartening to be splitting wood for 8h straight and not even having pile to show for it.
Towards the end of the night we decided to clean up the yard a bit and through the wood-splitter chips into to coals near the end of the boil. This worked better than expected as it kept the fire going longer than we anticipated and we were running low on sap. In the end the problem was the not the amount of sap but rather the flow, as it was getting pretty late at this point the lines from the holding tank to the boiler froze, which stopped the flow of sap.
Luckily we were able to kill the rest of the fire and threw a couple of buckets of cold water in the boiler for good measure. We were both very very tired and trying to finish up all the little chores that had to be done before we left. Just than it happened.
The brand new 4 wheeler that only had 14 km on it would not start. This thing was less then 3 months old and we had been babying ever since it arrived in the bush. We just pushed it out of sight, locked up the camp and went home.

Day 6 – Today

Well since it was a really late night last night we got started a little later today. Everything was frozen and the sap is not running so it was a good day to finish up some chores. Bill had to go into the Sault today which gave us an opportunity get the bring the quad back to the dealership. That machine has been a god sent for us and has already shown it worth in the few days that we have used it. I am no very pleased that it BROKE before it even hit 50km. I hope Esquire Honda treats us right, I though you bought new stuff so that this would not happen?
So Bill got some of the syrup ready to drop off in the Sault, I cleaned up the Archway and the large holding tank and we tried all the trouble shooting we could to get the quad fixed. We still had a very big problem, fire wood! We ended up going out to the bush and cutting down a nice piece of dead standing. Bill fell the tree perfectly, though he almost cut the wrong one down which was already tapped in (that would have been a mess). We got just over a cored of fire wood which might last us a few hours but every little bit helps.
Now Bill is suppose to be in the Sault at about 3:00 to meet up with his girlfriend but of course we get stuck in the bush with the load of wood on it. When we finally get out it is about 2:20 p.m., not enough time to make it the 55 km to the Sault from the sugar bush. We loaded up the the quad as fast as we could, grabbed the syrup that he had to sell and headed out of the bush at top speed. Needless to say I forgot a few items in the  bush mainly the video camera and my jacket so there is no way to get back until tomorrow.

So that is what has been happening over the past few days, thing are more reactionary rather than preparation. The good new is we are making syrup and I think that is all that really matters.

Day 2 – And It rained!

Man I can’t believe this, I am online! I have been trying for the past 4h to connect to this sub-human dial up crap! after being on the phone with Bell Canada/India. I resorted to drinking beer, pushing reconnect and listening to the sound the modem makes, Just like the bad old days.

Well it’s day two and what a change in the weather. Yesterday it was 8˚C and sunny today well rain and freezing rain. Needless to say we were not in the bush for very long today. We were out of there at about 11:30, putting in a good 4h or so.

It was the first time that we had a chance to really try out the new 4 wheeler. It was a dream, the road into the bush was so bad that the truck could not make it in. Thankfully we had the “quad” as I like to call it and we were able to traverse the deadly path which many a truck has been lost in, saving us about 1h of walking.

Bill has completely redone his bush setting up something called a double line system. I’ll go in to greater detail later but basicity you run to sets of main lines. The top line collects the gases and keeps the vacuum constant. The bottom line pulls in all your your sap.

I don’t know how long this connection is going to last so I am going to upload a few pictures from yesterday. Tomorrow is going to be a really, really early one as we have to make up for lost time yesterday. It is going to be an early night and that just fine for me.

The double line system which separates gas and sap to keep vacuum constant.
The double line system which separates gas and sap to keep vacuum constant.

The problem you want to have if not having wood is your other problem

The problem you want to have if not having wood is your other problem

I HATE squirrls

Hey so no real pictures put together over the last few day. So I just give you a little synopsis. The last two days in the bush have been pretty good. I now know what type of animal the devil has come back as… a squirrel. I hate squirrels they are responsible for most of the damage in Bills sugar bush. What the little tree rats do is bite holes in the lines in order to get the water out of them. When this happens you have to cut out the pipe that is affected and put in new pipe. The problem is they do this every few feet! For most of the day yesterday all we did was replace lines that the squirrels have bitten holes in. I was thinking about getting a gun so that I could kill as many as I can. I think I would derive a lot more satisfaction from it now that I understand their purpose.

Bill was not in the bush today so I went back there myself to clean up and to put up some shelves. The shack looks great now. The floors are all clear and there is a ton of extra counter space. Most of the stuff out in the bush is done. In the last two days we tapped 307 trees which is a good number considering the amount of time we spent fixing. This puts his bush up to a grand total of 1890 taps. He would like to get it up to about 2000 which he considers a full bush and we might be able to do that tomorrow.

I also had a chance to go for a drink down at the local bar (the only bar here is the legion), It brought me back. I took Nathan and Steve out for a beer for all the help they gave my mom and Bill. I forgot about the rules at the legion. No swearing and No wearing your hat, if you are caught doing one of the two you have to buy everyone in the bar a round. Since it was cribbage night I was glad no one caught me.

I can’t believe that my time here is almost up, I really like being back on the Island. I also forgot how small a place this is. Out of 5 people on the street I know 4 of them, it’s a quite place. Things here move slowly and people are not in any particular rush to do much. I think it is that fact that makes me feel like this is a vacation. It certainly isn’t the 14h days of hard labour.

Video added

So it looks like it is not impossible to upload videos it just takes about 5 hours. So here is the video from the Tree burning.

First run and tree buring

Well yesterday was pretty full, first thing we did was get the truck stuck, not to bad though. We were also able to put in 140 taps. The real problem started when the electric motor for the vacuum system stopped working. We have to get that fixed tomorrow (it had to break over the weekend).

The tree burning ceremony went really well. Our theme was “presents under the tree” we used the plethora of cardboard boxes from the garage and some stove oil as the fuel. It was stacked with fireworks and went up great. I have video but, you know ….Dial up. The whole thing was choreographed to some funk music, really cool.

So I also had a chance to see Mike and Steph last night. Mike has been working on some great songs and brought over a few CDs. We stayed up way way to late last night so I was in no condition to go out to the bush today. Instead I went to play out on the ice which is breaking up right now. We called it burging when the ice starts to break up you can ride the iceburgs around, it’s a buzz. I also had a little friend out there with me today. A mink ran out onto the ice right beside me and started fishing, it was pretty cool. I have video of that as well but you know…Dial up (how do people live like this?)

We finally got the boiler all put together and pulled off the first run of syrup. His new setup is beautiful! Everything is stainless steel. The new evaporator works like a dream and it doesn’t take nearly the same amount of wood to keep going. So everything is in place and we can really start hammering down and producing maple syrup.