This year, we were not able to share one of our most favorite seasons, the sugaring season with you. While we ran a few programs in early March, our beloved Maple Sugaring Weekends were cancelled – we missed seeing you all out on the trails learning about the history of sugaring and tasting that oh, so sweet treat. However, even though programs were cancelled, the sugaring season went on and we had a great year for producing our own maple syrup.
Vin, whom some of you know as our property steward and who is an incredible birder, also leads our sugaring efforts. We had a few changes to our operation this year and we asked Vin to share his insights on sugaring at Moose Hill over the last 12 years.
When I started here we had about 80 taps (some trees have more than one tap) and made approximately 10-15 gallons of syrup for a couple of years. We steadily increased the number of taps and in the past few years, we were up to 155 taps. During this time, the taps have been rotated to other trees in the same season when the original taps showed signs of slowing down, bumping our number of taps up to about 250. These increases brought syrup production into the 35-40 gallon range.
In 2018, we purchased a larger (30 inch by 8 inch) evaporator which made it possible to expand production even more because this new, larger, and more efficient, evaporator could process sap much faster. The old evaporator boiled off 20 gallons per hour, but the new evaporator boils off up to 70 gallons per hour.
In 2020 (this season), we decided to increase the number of taps by 115. As we have always used a traditional bucket collection system that would mean a larger increase of work. However, this would be done by using tubing as opposed to the traditional buckets. Tubing is a more efficient way to obtain sap and yields more sap per tap than buckets. The reason behind the yield is because tubing is considered a “closed” system, allowing very little outside air to infiltrate the area where the spout goes into the tree, resulting in less buildup of microorganisms. These microorganisms eventually cause the trees to stop the flow of sap prematurely so the tubing helps to extend the sap season. Once a tree is tapped, a traditional spout that has a bucket generally runs for about five weeks. Attached to the tubing system, that same spout will run for about 8 weeks or more, ultimately providing more sap. Another advantage of the tubing system is the natural vacuum that is created within the tubing which also increases the yield. This is due to the sloping terrain in the section of sugar maple woods that we tap (our main sugarbush). The weight of the sap in the small diameter tubing (3/16 inch) is what creates this vacuum and in year one has outproduced the traditional buckets at least two to one, if not more.
We installed five main (lateral) lines with about 20 tapes per line. These five lines flow down to a low spot in the sugarbush into a 300 gallon holding tank. From there, the sap is transported to the Sugar House holding tanks, and then into the evaporator for processing. The last two seasons have been average or above average for sap flow. In 2019, an above average year, about 2,800 gallons of sap were collected. This year, which was an average flow, the additional 115 taps on tubing yielded close to 5,000 gallons. The 2020 season also turned out to be a short season for sap flow. The trees were taped at the end of January (traditionally, on average, it is the first week of February) and slowed considerable by the end of the first week in March due to the weather being too mild. I wasn’t able to rotate any of the buckets to other trees this year to extend the season, which further illustrates how effective the tubing system functioned in year one.
All in all, I’m very pleased with the tubing. There was a large learning curve to a new system and there are still many bugs to work out, mostly in transporting sap. But, as we look forward to next year, we will retire the bucket system in our main sugarbush. Don’t worry, all the places we go to for programming and the Maple Sugaring Weekends will still feature the traditional buckets. But, by converting the rest of our main sugarbush to tubing, and using the same amount of taps, our production will likely go up even higher.
Our next challenge to work on – the bottling operation. This is a time consuming job that was developed based on past production. With an increase, we will need to think about how we make that more efficient.
With the large increase in sap production, you might wonder how that actually translates into syrup volume. As you might remember, the traditional formula for sap to syrup is 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Over the years, we have noticed that it is often more like 45-50 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. There are a number of reasons why this might happen, but that’s a story for another day.
Here are a few stats from our last four seasons of maple syrup production. In 2017, we produced 37 gallons of syrup; in 2018, we produced 35 gallons of syrup; in 2019, we produced 53 gallons of syrup and then this year, 2020, we produced 76 gallons of syrup.
We don’t sell our syrup by the gallon, but in 8 oz bottles and 1.75 oz maple leaf bottles. This year, our 76 gallons of syrup translated into 1,100 bottles and 335 maple leaf bottles. Now that’s a lot of syrup!
With Moose Hill and our Gift Shop currently closed, you might wonder how you can get some of our delicious maple syrup to enjoy. We have once again partnered with our neighbors and friends at Ward’s Berry Farm and they are selling Moose Hill syrup – so another reason to support a local farm and get a sweet treat from us.