Monday, April 11, 2016

Maple Syrup in the Woods

After we drove down the long farm lane past the elk, we came to the sugar bush.  With their effort to host school children and fund-raising events, they have quite a facility here.  But let me tell you about the maple syrup production itself.

In a modern operation like this one, it starts off with a tiny little plastic spile in a Sugar Maple tree.  all of these have to be removed and placed in a new position on the tree for the next season.  The tree naturally heals the small holes.

This tree, at nearly 16" diam. was large enough to carry two spiles; the number (or the number of pails that you sometimes see on large old maples at the side of the road), depends on the tree diameter.   The line from the individual spiles loops down to join a line between trees.

Putting out the lines is a HUGE job; they use plastic strapping to hold the tubing at the right height, and gather them gradually together into larger tubes like these ones.  They have to be slanting slightly downhill for the sap to run toward the sugar shack.

The woods becomes a tangle of blue tubing and black strapping, all designed to avoid damaging the trees.  They're left up all year, but get flushed and cleaned with a cleaning fluid every season.  There are strict government regulations over maple syrup production to ensure food safety.

All the larger tubes eventually find their way to a small receiving station where the sap is pumped into storage tanks, and then on into the evaporator.  It's a big job to lay out the whole system and make sure it works well.  The sap only runs when the temperature has been down below freezing overnight and rises above freezing during the day.  It never did rise that high on the day we were there, so they were unable to be actually making syrup for visitors to see.

Inside, the sap runs into an evaporator.  This farm is using Ontario's first electric evaporator - there is no fire, and therefore no chimney and no steam vents on this one.  The operator here describes it as much more efficient and labour-saving compared to the usual wood-fired evaporators.  It was about 1/3 the size of the big one I showed you two days ago.

Like all operations, the final step is critical, and getting the brix measurement of sugar content is the important moment when the syrup is finished.  There are various methods, but the neat little blue gizmo here is a modern technique, where two drops of sap on the sensor gives you an exact reading.  The wooden box with five small bottles is the most common way of grading syrup.

This shot was taken at a different farm, holding the grading standard up to the light of a window to show the different colours.  The best is the lightest, but the strongest tasting is the darkest.  You need to know your maple syrup to decide what grade you enjoy most.


Today we woke up to a rising temperature, and fog.  There was snow on the ground, so as it evaporated the fog formed quite thickly, enough to cancel the school buses around here.  But the temperature kept on rising, and at noon the sun actually came out briefly!   At least the fog cleared away and I got out to run a few errands.  But it would have been very sloppy walking in the woods today!  The forecast is looking very good - spring might actually finally be here.  Except for a blip of more cold weather tomorrow, it looks like sunshine all day every day until it hits nearly 20°C by the end of the week!  A lot of folks are going to be happy to see that!


  1. This is such an amazing endeavor. I wish I could be there with you, and I know even without any prompting that I would like the darkest syrup, tasking the most maple-y. :-)

  2. Interesting to see how a commercial operation makes maple syrup.

  3. Just the photo and a thought of pure Canadian Maple Syrup is enough to set me to make some pancakes!!! What an undertaking to get the process into the refinery? Snow, for you, maybe near the end. and here we are truly into Autumn/Fall. A little snow falling in the far south, some frosts, and a whole lot less sunshine hours in the day.

  4. We are think that this is the real beginning of spring finally !

  5. I hope spring is finally on your doorstep! All that water will take some time to absorb I guess. The maple trees have not disappointed though.

  6. Hello, it is an interesting process making the syrup. I am ready for some pancakes now. I am hoping the weather warms up soon, we are having a chilly rainy day today. Happy Tuesday, enjoy your day!

  7. although you say "modern operation" i could not wrap my mind around those blue tubes, attached to trees being "modern!! the process is amazing, and i would imagine the syrup has a very unique and special flavor. not the syrups we have become accustom to!!! i enjoyed this entry much!!!

    we have warm temperatures here at the jersey shore and we are having rain!!!

  8. I've always gone for the darker syrup!

  9. so very interesting
    it is amazing that syrup does not cost more than it does
    i so enjoy it!
    thank you for sharing

  10. Lovely photos and post quite the contraption there isn't it ? but really interesting in how it all works . Yes the weather is improving a lot here to and we are happy about that ! Thanks for sharing , have a good day !