Friday, April 19, 2013

Maple Mania

by Andy

What a week for maple sap! The weather that has made people miserable across the upper Midwest has made a lot of syrup producers very happy. Temperatures that hover around freezing are perfect for pumping sap out of the trees.

I have been collecting maple sap and boiling it into syrup every Spring since I started to work for Lake Country School. For the first couple years, every spring we would try to tap a few more trees. We eventually got to an equilibrium at about 100 taps. We decided that with 100 taps we sometimes had too much sap, but most times it was just enough. When it was just enough sap, we would have enough sap to collect all week and to boil all day on a Saturday and finish in the evening or at worst on Sunday morning. That is perfect because the sap boil coincides with the weekend when we often have helpers visiting. When it is too much, we either have a day of boiling mid-week or we take the sap to our neighbors, who will buy the sap. This past week was on a whole different scale.

The flow started last Thursday. By Friday afternoon, the bags were mostly full, and by Saturday morning every bag that didn't have a hole in it was full to overfull. We boiled that sap all day Saturday and all day Sunday and finished it on Monday morning. This was just in time, because on Monday afternoon we collected again and the bags were all full again - about 280 gallons. We started boiling on Tuesday, but we couldn't finish, because the bags were mostly full again on Tuesday afternoon when we went out to collect - another 200 + gallons. By today, Friday, we had almost finished boiling down Tuesday's sap, when we went out and got 40 more gallons. I thought we might finish tonight, but then the sap has flowed again today, and I anticipate another 50 to a 100 (or more?) gallons by tomorrow morning. So maybe we will finish by Sunday evening - more likely on Monday, because we will probably get another run on Saturday (maybe 100 more gallons? Who knows?).

If we go until Monday, it will be an all day, every day boil for a whole week. In the past, we have only ever boiled for 3 straight days a few times, let alone 7 days!

Here is some math: for every 40 gallons of sap, we average one gallon of syrup. Estimates might be for 700 gallons or so of sap (give or take what flows on Saturday). That will give us about 17 gallons of syrup. But maybe as much as 20, depending on how sweet the sap was. That is about as much as we usually make in a whole season.

More math: When the boil is going strong, we can boil off 10-15 gallons of water per hour. But we aren't able to monitor the fire all the time. During the day we add sap and stoke up the fire as hot as possible and then we go do stuff, returning to re-stoke the fire and add more sap about every hour. In this system, there are sometimes big gaps where the fire dies down. We also let the fire die down overnight. We probably get 8 to 10 good hours of boiling per day. So that will add up to our 700 gallons in 7 days of boiling.

Ridiculous. Thank you to the trees and to everyone who has helped haul sap and split wood!

Please consider coming out to visit this weekend, when we will for sure be boiling sap. Call ahead.


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