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 – 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 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 – 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

Sugaring 2013 – Saturday Boil

Believe it or not Friday’s snow storm appears to have been great for sap! I did not empty the buckets last night and some of the single tree buckets are almost half full this morning.

I had 44 gallons of sap on hand in the snow bank that I needed to boil down.

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I started early yesterday bringing the evaporator up to a boil by 7 AM. Not bad for a Saturday morning.

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I boiled most of the morning slowing down around lunch to go collect more sap with the wife and kids. Everything was flowing so well we were concerned one or two of the buckets would overflow if not emptied. Temperatures hit 54F here.

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By 1:00pm I pulled the last bucket out of the snow bank.

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Only to start refilling the bucket holes in the sap storage snow bank with 5 more buckets. We found its easier to handle them by filling up to the 4-gallon mark and its also easier to measure how much you have. So our collection at noon netted us another 20 gallons.

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Guess I know what I will be doing on Sunday.

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , | 1 Comment

   

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