Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

Sugaring 2014 – Re-Filtering Last Year’s Syrup

Little Creek Maple Farm Syrup

Prior to running this years syrup (2014) I figured I would run what I had left over of last years (2013) syrup though Daryl Sheets Filter Press.  I probably had a little more than a gallon of syrup that I had real issues filtering last year.  Some of the frustration I now know was finishing the syrup to heavy, which made it harder to run through the gravity filters and I am sure I may have pushed some of the sugar sand through.  This made for an unsightly layer of sugar sand in the bottom of my 8 oz. and 12 oz. glass bottles.  So these bottles sat for a year and we would use them as we needed more syrup.  This unsightly product prompted me to get a filter press.  Probably overkill for our small scale operation but if I am going to do something I want to do it right.

The first steps involved in setting up the press can be found in my previous post about The Dry Run with Daryl’s Press.  So, after opening all the old small bottles of syrup and dumping them with all the settled sugar sand into a double boiler, I began re-heating the syrup up to 185F so I could run the syrup though the maple syrup filter press made by Daryl Sheets.  I used three cake plates as you can see below and cycled the heated syrup with diatomaceous earth (DE) through the press and filled up some glass quarts.

Below I removed the end waffle plate from the filter bank.  The filter papers stayed on after removing the waffle on the end and I was surprised to see what looked like some brown syrup or sediment trapped in the bottom left corner of the cake plate.  To describe the process of what happens simply.  Hot syrup with DE is allowed to flow freely into the cake plate via the hole on the bottom right.  The DE collects on the surface of the filter paper inside the cake plate and the syrup pushes through the DE and filter paper to the waffle plate where filtered syrup leaves the waffle plate via the holes that you can see in the bottom left of the waffle plate in the left image.  The filtered syrup than travels out of the bank via the hole on the bottom left of the filter bank.

Back plate removedMaple Syrup Filter Press

Removal of the last cake plate from the press, it came off easily with filter papers on both side of the cake plate stuck on as you see below.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in OperationDaryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

After setting the cake plate on a real dinner plate, it was time to reveal what was behind the filter paper.  There was a layer about 1/8” thick of DE on the inside of the cake plate, with the brown sediment concentrated down at the outlet of where the syrup would pass from the cake plate to the waffle plate to leave the press.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in OperationDaryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

More of the same as I removed each plate.  Each side of the filter paper had a nice cake of DE that was about 1/8” in thickness.

Daryl Sheet's Filter Press in Operation

The final result was 5+ quarts of crystal clear syrup.  I had to keep checking this batch up to the light for at least a week because I could hardly believe the clarity.  I know a lot of people have success with gravity filtering, and the press is not cheap, but in my mind Daryl’s filter press is worth every penny, based on the results that I observed.

Homemade Maple Syrup

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May 4, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tree Down!

Well we awoke Saturday morning to a surprisingly sunny, and mild day.  The weather forecast was for the entire weekend to be a washout, so the lack of rain was a huge bonus.  We gathered the kids and some buckets and went down to check the sap flow.  Just before we were to check the first buckets I saw that the tree in the center of the picture below has fallen on one of our lines.  The tree was obviously one of the many standing dead trees that I have yet to take down.  We had some high winds on Friday that probably contributed to it’s demise.

Falled Tree On Maple Line

Lucky for me, I had the chainsaw in the garage ready to go, and the tree was nice enough to fall in right over a ditch that made cutting a breeze.

Husqvarna MapleYellow or Black Birch

After I finished cutting all my helpers were lined up to shuttle firewood up to the house.

Cutting up Fallen TreeFirewood Chain

Once the wood was brought up and split we collected the buckets for an afternoon boil before the rain!

Maple Sap in 5 Gallon Buckets

March 30, 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 – Our New Filter Press

Daryl Sheets Filter Press

The couple of warm days here this week have really started to get the family anxious.  With the warmer weather and some of the snow staring to melt, we know it won’t be long before its time to start tapping.  We are entering our third season of sugaring, and are looking to further streamline the process.

The first year we started sugaring (2012) our biggest hurdle was boiling all of the sap we collected.  That was slow going on the BBQ grill!  So last year (2013) we decided to invest in a wood fired evaporator, knowing that we were going to get up to 40 or so trees.  Everything thing worked great and we were able to boil off all the sap collected at a much better evaporation rate, but we had one catch.  We had our toughest time filtering our syrup.  We ended up with some great clear batches and other batches that ended up with so much sugar sand in them that we kept those for ourselves or maple nuts.  Not wanting to end up with that much syrup on hand again, we decided that we needed to go hardcore on the filtering.  I saved up all year and decided to invest in this shiny contraption.

The above photo is of a 5” maple syrup filter press made by Daryl Sheets in Pennsylvania.  This contraption should hopefully take our filtering to the next level and give us crystal clear syrup for our 2014 Maple Sugaring Season.  Now all I need to do is get some food grade hoses for the inlet and outlet, a stainless steel nipple for the outlet as well, and a new stainless steel pot and we should be in business.  Like everything else maple, I am sure there will be a learning curve on the whole filtering process.  There is a lot of information out there for the small sugaring operations, but I have found that until you actually try something in the field and make a mess, you never know what is going to work.

After consulting my records for the last two years, it likes like the sap really did not start to run until Valentines Day, so another two weeks before we get tapped in New Hampshire.  This may change depending on weather…

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , | 12 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 – Maple Saturday Afternoon!

Late Saturday afternoon, much to my surprise, the sap was running.  It was warm out, maybe upper 30’s, but it was cool with a stiff breeze, and I wasn’t expecting much.  However, when we went to hit the dump, we were shocked to see the buckets overflowing!

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We had to rush to the dump before they closed and hurry home to empty the buckets before we lost anymore sap on the ground.  We were truly shocked!

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Things were thawing and the “Little Creek” was running.  The boys had a blast splashing in the water, thank goodness for boots and snow pants!

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It took us a good while to empty all of the buckets and bucket brigade them to the driveway where we took a quick break and paused for another photo shoot after all this was probably going to be our best run of the season.

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After getting the buckets up to the top of the driveway reality set in and I was reminded about the other 16 gallons of sap we collected the previous night!  Not to mention we still had 4 more trees to collect sap from behind the house…

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As the sun was setting reality was about to set in – 50 gallons of sap!  Looks like we are boiling all day Sunday.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Maple Saturday

We were surprised this Saturday by my folks.  Lucky for them we chose today to make maple peanuts, and finish out a batch of syrup.

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The recipe for maple nuts is simple, and I have posted the recipe previously here.  Basically, you heat 6 ounces of syrup to 240F and add it to some preheated nuts, stir until the syrup sugars, and the pour the sugared peanuts onto a cookie sheet to rest.  Then wait 30 minutes until cool to eat, if you can wait that long!

With the maple nuts ready, I turned my attention to finishing our syrup.  We had about two gallons of “almost syrup” that I had brought to about 50 on the Brix Scale and had placed in the fridge.  To finish the “almost syrup”, I did two batches on our stove, boiling each batch until they reached at least 59 on the Brix scale when hot.

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As you can see, the first batch of syrup was a little heavy at 62 Brix so I brought the second batch to exactly 59 Brix, so they would be a little heavier than they needed to be when blended together.  I filtered all the syrup through several synthetic filters and one Orlon filter, and into a stainless steel bowl.  I then put this bowl on top of my stainless steel pot that had 2” of water in it that I had brought to a boil while filtering the syrup.  The idea here is to create a double boiler and bring the filtered syrup up to 185-190F so I can hot pack my syrup in glass bottles.

I decided to give the West Bend 30 cup coffee urn another shot at bottling the syrup this year.  I already had an epic failure on the last batch I made, and I was determined to make this thing work, because bottling has been a pain.

While I was finishing the syrup, I put a couple inches of water in the coffee urn and turned it on.  It took a while to go through the “brew cycle” and when it was done and in “warming mode” signaled by the little orange light glowing, I left it as is with the hot water in it.  After I brought the filtered syrup up to 190F in the double boiler, I quickly had the wife empty the hot water in the coffee urn into the sink and I poured the syrup into the coffee urn.  This was quite the scene and I am sure my parents enjoyed watching the show!  Now with hot syrup in the urn, we could bottle fast and easy from the urn’s spigot.  I did have to teach Wen how to pour the syrup.  Apparently, someone had never poured a beer from a tap before, so her first bottle of syrup was a little bubbly to say the least!

The coffee urn is definitely a huge time saver when bottling!  We went through 22 glass bottles and 2 mini plastic bottles super fast.  For anyone trying to bottle with a coffee urn – when you get within a couple inches of the bottom you need to unplug the coffee urn so you don’t burn out the element before you bottle your last couple of bottles.

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I love seeing the finished product jarred like this.  Kudos to Wen for getting this awesome shot.  After everything cooled down, the syrup graded out as Medium Amber!  Fun times!

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Little Creek Gear

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Grammy in Florida has been busy this sugaring season! The boys got their own official sugaring gear this week complete with fancy maple leaves.

I am partial to the blaze orange shirt myself and Wen likes the blue shirt the best, but both will look equally awesome on the kids. Very professional and many thanks to Grammy in Florida for all of her hard work!

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Slow Week

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Well as you can see from the picture above things have been cold here. Most of the lines have been frozen solid. The weather today did poke above freezing for a bit, but not long enough to get the sap rolling.

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We did go and check the buckets all last weekend and you can see we had quite a bit of snow melt until our most recent storm yesterday. Unfortunately the buckets were dry!

I have been slowly taking our couple of gallons of maple sap concentrate and reducing it to almost syrup on the stove. I am down to about three gallons of very sweet almost syrup. Possibly bottling some more maple syrup either the end of the week or this weekend.

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The kids have been having a blast on all the snow bridges and breaking the creek ice, however that has all changed with yesterday’s snow. Hopefully it will stick around until this weekend.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Green Waffles

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Well I had a slight technical difficulty with our last batch of syrup. As you can see in the photo above I have about a 1/4″ of sugar sand that settle out in last weeks batch of syrup.

This has caused be a fair amount of stress trying to figure out the cause of the build up. We have filtered the same way we always had since we started last season and I had checked the syrup density prior to bottling so I was stumped. We noticed within an hour or so of bottling these jars that there was a hint of cloudiness. Additionally the syrup was not filtering as easily as prior batches. What was odd was the lack of filtering was not due to clogged filters with niter or sugar sand, but what appeared to be syrup. This was odd because I had the syrup fairly hot to filter.

I should have known to stop and recheck the density of the syrup but it was late and I wanted the satisfaction of bottling the 1/2 gallon we just made. I had a slight foam up after I checked I the density the first time which appears to have been the culprit. Basically the syrup I checked with a density of 61 Brix became more dense when left on the heat and foamed up.

I finally got to confirm my suspicions this morning over some Green Waffles! My darling wife decided to surprise the kids and I with some awesome waffles. I figured what better to confirm the density of last weeks syrup than to crack open a bottle and check the cold density.

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I got out my trusty stainless steel hydrometer cup and hydrometer and checked the cold density at approximately 68F. Now the syrup should be testing out at 65.6 Brix in order to be syrup. Any less than this value and its not legally syrup, any more and I am way too dense and I can expect cloudy syrup and settlement of the suspended minerals over time, both of which I was already experiencing.

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I could tell as I was pouring the syrup from the small 8 ounce bottle that the syrup was indeed much thicker than any of my previous bottles. I put the hydrometer in the syrup and my suspicions were confirmed at almost 71 Brix in density. The syrup was way to dense! Other than the in appealing sediment at the bottom of the jar the jar the syrup was awesome and definitely thicker than we were accustomed to.

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For my oldest to actually taste it and then pour more onto his waffle, we had confirmation that the syrup was good! So I am on the fence…do I keep these bottles as is and reserve for personal use or do I un cap, add some more less dense concentrate and re-bottle…

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Only time will tell.

    March 17, 2013 Posted by | Cooking, Sugaring | , , , , | Leave a comment

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