Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

Sugaring 2014 – Impromptu Blower

Partially Fronzen Sap into Filter

Even with yesterday’s 50F degree day we still had some buckets with a little bit of ice skin on the top of the sap.  I am too stingy to discard this ice for fear that I am throwing out even the tiniest bit of maple sap, despite what I have read about this ice containing virtually no sugar at all.  After filtering out the maple sap I got my oldest to stack some of the fire wood I split into our garden dump wagon.  The wagon helped to keep it off the ground.  I have confirmed that wrist sized pieces really do work best, and I use a mix of hardwood and softwood off cuts from the wood shop.

Firewood for the Evaporator

After reading a lot of posts about adding blowers to evaporators to increase your boil, last year and this year on the Mapletrader Forum, I figured I would see if a little Air Under Fire, AUF would actually work.  I read about people adding fans in front of their ash door and last summer I picked up this Lasko fan for the house.  The height seemed right and it was adjustable, so I could set it on the ground and aim the air straight into the ash pan of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  Now Bill Mason does have an add-on option for a blower that you can to most of his evaporators and hindsight being 20/20, I should have ordered one set up for my particular evaporator, but I was unaware of the benefit until I saw it first hand yesterday.

Portable Blower for Mason Evaporator

So below is my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator, boiling outside with the temperature around 40F and a slight wind from the West.  This was my normal set-up the pan boiled and I had steam and I want so say I was probably in the 5-6 gallon range on evaporation rates but I did not see the billowy steam that you would see at larger sugarhouses.  I had written my lack of steam off to just boiling outside.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator No blower

Below is a photo of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the Lasko fan set at it’s lowest speed and aimed into the ash pan of my evaporator.  I propped the ash pan door open with a small board.  As you can see the amount of thick steam coming off the pan was noticeably different than the photo above.  I was shocked!  Now because I was melting a lot of ice during this boil I did not have a good way to measure the evaporation rate, but the thicker plume of steam coming off my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator made me feel awesome.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator With Blower Fan

When the wind blew strong enough to disperse the quick column of steam you can get a feel for the rapid boil that was in my stainless steel syrup pan.

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Even as I was melting frozen sap, the column of steam I was seeing was intense.  At the end of the day I boiled of many buckets worth of liquid sap and frozen sap that I swear would have taken me two 4-hour boils and I was wrapping up shutting things down in under 4-hours because I ran out of sap.  Hopefully during the next run, I will be able to time and watch the evaporation rate using the blower with a little more accuracy than I have so far, but this will definitely improve things for me as long as I have the sap to run my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the blower fan.  Two words of caution to anyone planning on doing this.  First shut off or point the fan away from the ash door when you are ready to reload more wood.  If you keep the fan on you will below coals out the wood door when you load.  Second you have to be mindful of a few hot coals blowing out the ash door as you turn the blower on/off or point it in the ash door.  This was not a big concern for me as I boil outside on pavement that is typically wet with snow melt.

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March 16, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2014 – Maple Sap Filtering Set-up

Our latest sugaring device.  This little set-up has made filtering large quantities of maple sap a breeze.  I cut the bottom off of a 5 gallon bucket.  I took 4 small spring clamps that I had laying around from last year and used them to clamp filter material on the top of the bucket.

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Use then set the cut bucket inside the regular bucket and pour your sap through the filter into the clean sap bucket below.  This worked awesome!

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Our end result was clean clear sap from with no debris from the woods.  Cheap and effective.

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March 15, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , | 2 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – First Boil

2x3 WF Mason Evaporator

Luckily for me, I had last Friday off to prep the evaporator for our first maple sap boil last weekend.  There were 2 major project on deck that needed to be completed.  First was to modify my poly 35 gallon leg tank to make it a little more user friendly.  For anyone familiar with these tanks they give you a small 4-5””” diameter hole at the top of the tank (sorry no before photo) which makes it nearly impossible for you to clean the inside of the tank and makes it a major chore to install the bulkhead style fitting on the outlet of the leg tank.  I read on the internet last year about how people were modifying these tanks to accept a 5-gallon bucket, and basically cutting a big hole on top.  Unfortunately I did not have the gumption to cut this tank last year.  After the pain that was to clean I figured I would go for it this year.  The first thing I did was to cut the bottom 3” off of one of my food grade buckets with a saber saw equipped with a fine cutting wood blade.  The saw made quick work of the bucket, and because the 5-gallons buckets are tapered I knew I could trace the outline of the bucket on top of the tank to give me the hole size for the top of the 35-gallon tank.

This was not as easy as I thought, because I did a flat cut on the bucket when I should have used more of a radius to follow the curve of the tank.  This is hard to explain in words and I have a lack of photos but anyone that does this modification will understand.  After I roughly traced the outline on the tank, I drilled a starter hole the size of the saber saw blade and made my initial cut.  I found myself having to go back and widen by initial cut at the two sides in order to fit the bucket into the tank.  I made a couple small cuts and would check the fit until it was snug.  Once you can fit the bucket in the tank you just push the bucket further down into the tank to tighten the fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrupIMG_8975

As you can see form the photos below you end up with a pretty tight fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucketModified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucket

With my sap storage tank ready to go.  It was time to focus on the stack for my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  I unwrapped the tarp off the steel section of my evaporator and installed a new 6” diameter, 24” long base section on top last years elbow.  For anyone who has not used lock seem stove pipe it is a paint in the butt.  First make sure you wear gloves when working with stove pipe. Its easy to get cut if your are not careful.  I did read a trick last year that I figured I would pass along.  If you push the two seams together while pushing them down you change the circular shape of the pipe into more of a heart shape that makes it easier to start the lock seam of the stove pipe.

WF Mason 2x3 evaporator stack

Next I cheated and slapped last years section of stove pipe on the newer section.  As you can see there is a noticeable difference in just one year of the stove pipe being exposed to the weather.  I have a total of 6’ of stove pipe on this outdoor rig.  The rule of thumb I read was 2’ of pipe in height for every 1’ of pan length so in my case my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator has a 3’ long pan so 6’ seems to work fine creating plenty of draft.  In the background you can see my Garden Bean Trellis serving double duty as support for the smoke stack.  I basically have two 6’ section of lightweight conduit attached to the trellis at what end and attached to the smoke stack with some wire.  Pretty basic, but serves the purpose until we get a sugar shack.

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All that remains is to set the pans and fill with sap.  Saturday we boiled during the day for 4-hours or so.  We had about 40 or so gallons of maple sap previously frozen solid by the polar vortex that we were able to slightly thaw overnight in the house by Saturday morning.

WF Mason Rapid Boil

We stoked the fire got a rapid boil going and then slowly added large block of maple ice.

WF Mason Evaporator boiling ice

Thawing that much ice forced me to keep a good eye on our stack temp and the sap in the pans so I could maintain a rapid boil.

Inferno magentic stack gage

Sunday I started late thanks to daylight savings time and got in my first night boil.

Night boiling on a 2x3 evaporator

There is something special about boiling at night.  Its hard to describe but there seems to be more steam rising in the moonlight and the wood in the firebox seems to glow just a little bit brighter and feel a little bit warmer.

WF Mason 2x3 Evaporator Fire Box

I was not quite sure how well we did where everything was frozen, and we had some additional sap run last weekend but I be we went through between 50 or so gallons of sap over 4 hours each day so we probably had an evaporation rate of 6 gallons per hour despite melting ice.  It was a good weekend that left us with about 4 gallons of sweet.

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2014 – The Polar Vortex

Frozen Sap

Well the photo above kind of sums up this past week of sugaring!  Nothing has ran since last Sunday February 23rd, 2014.  We have been in the freezing tundra of New Hampshire or caught in some kind of polar vortex.  Despite the last couple years of unpredictable warm-ups, it is looking like this year will be more of a typical winter and sugaring season.  So, I sit here wondering yet again for the 3rd season in a row if we may have tapped our trees to early?  Only time will tell, but the reality is tapping last weekend made so much sense, given the warm weather and timing.  It’s always easier to put the taps in on the weekend then during the week. We will just have to wait and see, but the freeze up provided for some pretty good photos as we walked the sugar bush this afternoon.

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The 10 day, puts any worthwhile sugaring another week away with the first glimpse of sugaring weather occurring on Friday March 7th!  It will probably take at least a couple days to thaw us out too!

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The sap is frozen like water in the lines and in the buckets.  I would estimate 15 or so gallons frozen in the buckets with more in the tubing.

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All of the tees are iced up solid from each drop line…

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To each end line ring where the tubing terminates into a 5 gallon bucket.

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And a drip frozen in time, just before it hits the pool of frozen sap in the bottom of the bucket.  Truly wild!

March 1, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugaring 2014 – First Taps of the Season

Maple Bucket Brigade

Well we got started on our maple sugaring season yesterday, with 40+ degree weather yesterday, it was time to get the taps in.  Thankfully I had lots of  energetic help.  The boys rounded up the buckets and helped blaze trails through the snowpack!

Maple Sugaring Tools

On our way to tap the first tree with the kids, notice that I no longer need to carry any tools, just an iced coffee for me this year.

Shoveling out snow to get to the maple tap

Our first tree required a little shoveling of the driveway snow banks before we could reach it, but the warm weather made for easy shoveling.

Kids Maple Tree Tap

As you can see the snow got a little deep once you stepped off the well packed down trail to the tree.  Lucky for me, I was just the supervisor and all my assistants had the tools we needed to tap this maple tree.

Maple Tap

My oldest got to drill his first tap into this maple tree.  It’s a little challenging when you have two people driving, but we managed to get it done.

Hammering in a Seasonal Maple Tap

Not to be outdone, it was no time for the younger son, to hammer in the plastic tap.  Watch the fingers!

Maple Tap on Tubing

After attaching the tubing to the tap, this red maple is now on the lateral line and dripping sap.  Only 40 plus taps left to go…

Sugaring season wouldn’t be complete with out my oldest looking to taste the sap as it flows out of the trees.  He is always amazed by how it runs out of the trees and how it tastes.  This boy loves the sweet taste of the maple sap, but not pure maple syrup, go figure.

Tasting Maple Sap

This year we had so much snow it was fun watching the kids try and navigate the deep snowpack.  I found myself just watching them trying to walk around and it was hard not to giggle a bit when they got stuck.  It was a good day yesterday, and hopefully today we can dig out the evaporator and finish up the last couple taps that will be on buckets this year.

Maple Bucket Lids

This year with the deep snow, I found it helpful to have one of these bins to haul around in the woods that contained everything we needed to tap our trees.

Maple Tool Tote

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sugaring 2013 – Finishing Up

Last weekend I finally got around to taking our last batch of maple sap concentrate and reducing it to syrup.  An hour or so of boiling and we were ready to filter.

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This go around I wanted to use a jelly bag filter that I had read about online and ordered from Amazon.  It was kind of a let down when I opened the package and discovered how cheap it was.  I am hoping the bulk of the cost is in the cloth filter and not the frame… Anyhow I clipped the frame to one of our stainless steel bowls wrapped the cloth filter around the frame and lined it with some of my pre-filter material.  It seemed to work well.

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Later that night I put the filtered syrup onto a pot with about 3” of water in it.  Essentially creating a double boiler.  At the same time I am re-heating the syrup to 185F for bottling I also put about 3” of water into my West Bend 32 cup coffee urn to pre-heat.

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When the syrup hits 185F and the Coffee Urn runs through its brew cycle we are ready to bottle.  With the help of the wife she dumps the water in the urn into the sink and quickly sets the urn back down so I can dump the hot syrup from the bowl into the urn.  All this is done in a matter of seconds while the urn remains plugged in.  This being our 3rd time performing this juggling act we have it pretty well dialed in.  Next Wen begins to bottle while I cap the full bottles and set them on their sides.  The whole process takes a couple minutes per gallon of syrup.  Two important points when doing this.  Make sure you have all of your caps and bottles ready to go before heating anything up and make sure you keep an eye on the level of syrup in the urn, because when the level of syrup in the urn gets low you need to unplug the urn so you don’t overheat the syrup or burnout the element in the urn.

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We found out the hard way that a cloth or glove is needed for the 12oz jars.  For some reason the additional fill time of the 12 oz. jars causes the jars to heat up a lot more in your hand than the smaller 8 oz. jars we had been using previously.  We also ran out of the cool black plastic safety cap and had to got with the ghetto red metal caps on a couple of bottles.  Another 108 ounces of syrup to this year’s tally.

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April 17, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Our Last Outside Boil

Roasting Marshmallows

I finally got some time to boil.  It’s a good thing too!  We had maybe close to 40 gallons of sap that needed boiling right away.  I had done my best to keep the 5-gallon pails buried in the snow bank, but after a string of warm spring days with temperatures well into the 50’s, my stockpile of snow was shrinking.  Heck, I was starting to see some shoots pop on one of my raised beds!

I had a few errands to run in the morning, so I got started boiling late morning around 11:00AM and loaded the last pieces of wood closer to 6:00PM.  This latest stretch of warm weather had left the buckets dry all week, and all the snow in the woods had disappeared.  The majority of this sap was collected towards the beginning of the week and because it’s so late in the season I am hoping for some Grade B syrup.  The really dark maple-ly stuff that can be used for cooking or beer.

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It was a little windy Saturday so this was my best steam cloud picture.  I had to time it just right when the wind had stalled.

Towards the end of the boil the wife and kids decided they wanted to have some roasted marshmallows!  I figured what the heck, and told them we could roast them if they could find the camping forks.  The kids had roasted marshmallows and hot dogs for dinner.  At the end of the night I ended up with a little more than 4 gallons of concentrated sap, which provided I have time on Easter, I will boil down to almost syrup, and eventually bottle sometime during the week.  I am only expecting 1/2 gallon of syrup, so we will have to wait and see how it turns out…

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Evaporation Rates

I have found myself with a curious quandary regarding evaporation rates.  One that could easily be solved if I took the time to carefully measure and record the amount of sap I boil off in a set period of time.  While it sounds straightforward enough, my current liquid measuring tools are a 5 gallon bucket, that is not graduated, and a watch that I am seldom wearing when boiling…

Basically I have observed two different amounts of steam being generated by my new WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Sized Evaporator.

The first scenario has the ash door open and I am experiencing a rapid boil in the pan, but limited visible steam off the top off the pan.  As seen in the video below.

Little Creek Maple Farm March 3, 2013

The second scenario involves a much more substantial amount of steam when I open the fire box door to load more wood.  As seen in the next video below.

Little Creek Maple Farm March 3, 2013

The puzzle, which scenario would you expect to have a greater evaporation rate???

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013–Calibrating My Syrup Thermometer

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As part of my new syrup pan set-up I had a port for a syrup thermometer installed at the draw off on the pan.  Nothing fancy as most syrup pans have this, but little did I know that I had to calibrate the thermometer.

The thermometer is specifically made for sugaring, and was purchased at Bascom’s Maple Store, and came with my syrup pan as an option.  As you can see from the dial face the gauge starts at zero and then goes up from there.  The thermometer needs to be calibrated so that the zero equals the boiling point of water, in most cases 212F.

To calibrate the thermometer I needed to immerse it passed the groove on the thermometer’s stem in boiling water for 3 minutes and then adjust the little set screw if necessary to zero the thermometer.

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I found that it was easier to hold the thermometer in the boiling pot of water by sticking the stem through a 5/8” wrench.  It kept my hands far enough away from the boiling water and heat, and also helped to securely hold the thermometer when making the small adjustment to zero the thermometer.

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I had to make one small adjustment because the thermometer was reading about a degree lower than zero after being submerged for about 3 minutes.  I simply adjusted the set screw and the thermometer was zeroed.

For those that may not know, maple syrup is made when the temperature of the syrup is approximately 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.  Hence the significance of the 7 on the dial.  When the liquid I am boiling reaches the 7 degree mark I can begin to draw off some syrup from the pan and confirm its density and finish it on the stove if necessary.  Hopefully this will be a little more accurate than the thermometer I was using last year in my pans which tended to read a little hotter than it was suppose to.

February 10, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2013 – The First Taps of the Season Part 2

Saturday night I checked the 10-day forecast on Wunderground and proceeded to get very nervous and anxious.  Apparently this is a common trait among “Maple Sugarers”.  The 10-day forecast was showing a warming trend starting Friday February 8th.  This trend included  40-degree highs with 20 degree nights from February 8th into February 12th.  This is ideal weather for sap flow and with the potential of the first big run a week away I felt a sense of urgency to get some taps in.

I made up 10 drop lines, using some tees and two lengths of tubing, 30” and 36” long. I also found out I needed to make sure the tubing covers both barbs of the fittings that I was using.. Apparently this is important when you put tension on the lines to help prevent the line from pulling out when under tension.  I had read about using hot water to soften the tubing prior to pushing it onto the fittings, so I figured I would experiment with this a little prior to heading into the field.

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We cut the lateral line, readied the hot water, and my trusty assistant put his end of the line into the hot water to soften the tubing.1st Attempt at Tubing 2013-02-03 019

We kept the line in the water for about 30 seconds to heat up.  We then removed the line quickly and pressed it onto the tee fitting on the drop line.  We did one side at a time.

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Finished drop line in place, only 49 more to go…

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The first tap in place and connected to tubing, not as exciting as I would have hoped, because I realized the drops may work better with right angle taps…

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The first of seven taps on tubing that we completed.  It was a chilly Sunday, and the temps seemed to stay in the low 20’s all day on the north slope of our hill, so unfortunately no sap was flowing.

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February 5, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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