New Tech in the Maple Syrup Operation for 2009

by Tig Tillinghast

Last year we drove ourselves a little crazy by introducing a lot of new elements into the maple syrup operation. We introduced ourselves to filter presses (which take more sediment out of raw maple syrup), reverse osmosis (pre-concentrates sap before boiling), line vacuum (extracts more sap from trees), blowers (makes fire hotter) and pre-heaters (uses steam from back pan to pre-heat sap). That’s a lot of new equipment, each requiring quite a bit of setup and ongoing fiddling.

[The installation this week of the decidedly low-tech “new” stack]

Very few of them came with directions. The couple manuals that did come with them. turned out to be written in French. Even after translating them, they weren’t very helpful. But that’s sugaring. Part of the fun is the fiddling with the equipment to make it all work together efficiently, causing all sorts of opportunities for arguments and mayhem.

It kept us in the shack more than we should have been and spending less time out in the woods. I’m looking forward to this coming boiling season to get out into the sugarbush a little more often, checking lines and spending less time with wrenches and duct tape.

This past week we had a couple warm days, including a beautiful 40-degree run overnight with mist and rain that must have had the sugar maple trees ready to pop with sap. We and most others were caught out unready to tap (still are), and now it’s cold again. I’m betting on this coming weekend, after Valentine’s Day to tap out. We should be ready by then, even though we still have lots of line work to do.

As far as new technologies we’re introducing in 2009, we have a short list. We’ll have steam hoods this year, which isn’t that big a deal. They came with the used evaporator we bought. This directs the steam out the ports in the roof. We may also introduce automatic draw-off, which is a clever device that senses the temperature of the fluid in the sugar pan and opens up a valve only when it reaches the boiling temperature of maple syrup. This will free up an extra hand in the sugar house, although it does involve a lot of fiddly settings and is yet another thing that could go awry. I broached the topic with the guys, and they all furrowed their brows.

Other than that, our priority has been redoing many of the older lines we use, so that we can get much more sap this year to feed the larger evaporator. We completely re-did our bush in Strafford, expanding it to about 1050 taps, and just this past week started running line to an additional 200 trees here in Thetford, making for a combined total of about 1,600. With good vacuum and a good sap year, this might provide as much as 700 gallons of maple syrup, doubling or tripling our production from last year.