SweetWood Maple Products

Pennsylvania Pure Maple Syrup  


Maple Season 2018

January 2018

We spent lots of time last year getting ready, so this year was a bit easier.  Firewood was stacked in the new addition to the west side of the sugarhouse.  We re-used our old porch floor from the house addition as the base.  This wood shed will make our firing easier  since it is more local to the front of evaporator.

Tubing lines were down and slack in the main lines, thank goodness we were disciplined about that last year.  Why?  We had three trees down from the summer wind storm.  We lost a large silver maple, and two sugar maples now have no tops.  We had to work around these for now.  Future firewood, but not at the expense of tapping trees!

Nathan and Andrew helped work as a team to set lines in place, and lots of repairs.

Major issue this year is the faulting of the 10 gauge buried cable that supplies the sugarhouse.  It has been an issue from many years ago.  There must be a stone or break in the line.  I already did one repair where the line was broken, but it still keeps tripping.  I will try to dig a trench at the same time we bury a gas line at the church.

Other major issue was the cold weather snap just after the new year.  Woke up on Monday to 4" of water and the well pump running.  The pipe that supplies the outdoor hydrants burst in the garage.  Besides pumping out, I had to dig out the line outside as the pipe was split in several places.  We were very thankful, there was mimimal damage!

Early February 2018

Still struggling to get the system online, lots of repairs.  Should be tapping on 2/9 or 2/10, but will miss the first runs.

Rental trench machine worked well for the church gas line, but was not up to the task of digging the trench for the new electricl line.  Therefore, I will be stuck running a 10 hp generator until I can get the line done.  Not ideal, but at least it's an option.  The 2 hp vacuum pump consumes 12 amps @ 220 volts. 

02-14-2019, 9:00 PM 

Generator is wired in and the pump runs.  Ran a separate line from the new shed to power the lights so the generator does not have to run all the time.  Slow going, it will be tough to be ready.  Weather looks not so good for extended runs, but will probably tap on Saturday.

Also, the main 4 branch sap ladder exploded from frost.  Our bout with really cold weather in January took its toll on many things.

We also decided to update the vacuum pump exhaust to exit out the side of the sugarhouse.  This will help with oil smoke, and maybe even improve vacuum flow.

02-16-2019, 10:00 PM 

Finishing the cleaning of the tanks, and gound some debris in the releaser lines.  I had dissassemble and clean out with a wire snake.  Still struggling with vacuum flow for some reason, but will have to work it out tomorrow.

02-17-2019, 3:00 PM 

Just came in from tapping with all the kids.  We estimate about 250 taps for this year.  We had some more repairs to do as well.

Vacuum pump flow is still a problem, and discovered another clog in the main line just ahead of the releaser.  I made the mistake of leaving these lines open, so over the course of 7 years, critters got in there and build a nest.  Flow is better now, but we will see.  Weather is still warm, so not sure what will happen.  This is a year where tapping in late January would have been purdent.  I had one of those years a while back, but tough to predict

02-18-2019, 9:00 PM 

Came back from Bible study and turned on the vacuum pump.  Still having issues with flow.  Trying to get the sugarhouse ready to go.  Generator is working ok, but really loud.

The evaporator and head take are still not cleaned.  I will have to leave early from work tomorrow to do that.  Things are always down to the wire with sugaring.  There is NEVER enough time to do it all.

02-19-2019, 9:00 PM 

Got off work at 4 pm, have the vacuum pump running briefly. Main concern is lighting the fire and putting acid cleaner in the evaporator.

Back in 2015, we decided to put in the frost free hydrant system.  It is really nice having the hydrant in the sugarhouse now, makes all this work quick and easy.

Floor of the sugarhouse is covered in mud, so that will need cleaned once it dries out.  That might be a while, rain is in the forecast for this week.

I purchased a new Honda pump for this year.  No shame as the homelite was purchased back in 2000 when I first started sugaring.  I did some re-plumbing, and had to do some head scratching to get it right.

02-20-2019, 12:00 PM 

I took my last vacation day today to get everything going.  I got the head tank and evaporator cleaned by 11 am. 

STILL having flow issues with the vacuum pump.  I helped myself by installing a valve to shut off vacuum close to the releaser.  That makes troubleshooting much easier.

Anyway, I found a very cold spot near one of the fittings.  The extreme vacuum flow was acting like a venturi.  Guess what?  Two more clogs in the vacuum line.  Burned another hour fixing, but now the woods pulls vacuum like crazy!

02-20-2019, 11:30:00 PM 

Vacuum is on and pulling the first 200 gallons of sap.  The system is finally running well.

Honda pump works like a dream.  Very quiet and started on the first pull.  It makes the 150 foot trip from the tanks to the sugarhouse very easy.

Proceeded to pump another 225 gallongs, 200 gallons, 150 gallons and 50 gallons.  Total so far is 825 gallons, with 5 gallons of light amber drawn off the evaporator

While we were waiting for the evaporator to heat up, the kids went out and found/repaired vacuum leaks.  We now have over 20" of vacuum in the woods!

We also fixed up the electric line with a temporary fixt that allows us to not use the generator.  This was a sanity saver for sure.

02-23-2019, 9:30:00 PM 

Ran pumps all day, gathered 225 gallons of sap.  Slightly cloudy, but seems good.  Total is 1050 gallons.

We also repaired the leaking faucet on the filter tank, but that meant letting food grade sealant sit up for 24 hours.  So, we did not get to draw off any syrup.

Tomorrow does not look good for a run, so we will be waiting until Sunday to see what happens.

02-25-2019, 9:30:00 PM 

Well, not much sap today.  I let about 50 gallons of sap wash the tank out in the woods.  I also let the vacuum pump run to clear the lines.  With another day of 50's, I pulled all of the soft maple taps.  We cannot risk mixing buddy sap into a good run. 

Fixed a small main line leak while pulling soft maple taps along with a tap out from a tree falling on a branch line.  With these correction, we are now at 22" of vacuum in the deepest part of the woods.  Still pulling 25" at the releaser.

Forecast looks pretty good for tomorrow.  I have some more fittings to update on the pump line.  Also give the head tank one more rinse. 

02-26-2019, 1:00:00 PM 

I went outside in Meadville and broke a bud to see if it was green.  This was a red maple, but it was a bit green, soft and swelled.  Even for this far North, the warm weather was taking it's toll.

02-26-2019, 8:30:00 PM 

Sunny and 50 degrees today yielded 175 gallons of sap. 

I did finally measure the density with a refractometer- 1.5%.  Rule of 86 translates this into approx 60:1.  Not so good for boiling time, but at least it's good syrup!

Had a rough time this evening keeping the foam down on the last two partitions in the syrup pan.  I ended up drawing off some lighter density syrup just to keep it under control.  I should have cleaned the pans a bit better after the last boil on Friday.

02-27-2019, 11:30:00 PM 

Collected about 400 gallons this evening @ 1.5% density.  As I was dumping in the previous day's boil into the evaporator, I noticed some thick or ropy sugar sand and a citrus smell.

Invited the kids to come down to the sugarhouse tonight.  They had some fun seeing the sap tank, loading wood and watching the draw off. 

Paul was insistant on tasting syrup, so I reluctantly drained a tiny bit into a bottle from the syrup tank (cold syrup from last night).

To my surprise, the syrup was a slighty bitter, yet strong citrus flavor.  I was very surprised with this type of off flavor.  Tracing back, it must have been gathered after the warm week and just made it to the front of the evaporator a few days later.

We kept track of the syrup coming off the evaporator.  When the metabolism flavor began to ease, we drained off the off flavor syrup into a separate bucket, then started new.

Fortunately, we got a few gallons of good syrup in addtion to the 4 gallons of citrus flavor.  It wasn't bad stuff, just different.  We will leave it sit a few days and sample again.

Late night, didn't hit the hay until midnight.  I am tired already and it's early in the season.

02-28-2019, 10:00 PM 

Ran the pumps again today starting at 10 am.  Andrew and Nathan got them going as it topped out at almost 60 degrees.  I am not liking this weather.

Had 175 gallons in the tank, but it had a slight green tint.  I almost just dumped it after my off flavor experience yesterday, but instead brought some in to boil.  Also broke a maple bud close to the house.  It was a bit green and slightly swelled.  Not good.

Ate dinner while boiling inside, but the sap seemed ok.  I went ahead and lit the fire at 7:30 pm.  Was done at 10:00 PM after drawing off a few gallons of good medium amber syrup.

Looks like a big cool down, hope the trees make it without budding.  If so, we will have a nice season ahead.  We will see.

03-01-2019, 5:30 PM 

No run today due to weather, but that's good since the power was out from 2 am until now.  Major weather system have left 2 million without power.  Some will not get power until Sunday in remote areas.

03-03-2019, 10:00 PM 

It has been a freeze and very little warming for several days.  Today it barely got above freezing, but that allowed for some needed clean up.  Also re-plumbed the pump line to accept 1" NPT valve down at the tanks. 

I turned the pumps on for a bit, but only getting 18" of vacuum.  I have a suspicion that the storms of Thursday pulled down some lines.

Started the big sugaring room cleanup last weekend.  I should have it mostly licked today.

03-04-2019, 10:00 PM 

Another night below 20 degrees, so didn't even start the pumps until after church.  I enlisted the kids to look at the lines and why we only have 18" of vacuum.  One squirrel chew fixed, then TWO lines down and totally open to the air (falling debris).  So, back up to (or down to) 25" at the releaser.

About 85 gallons gathered today in the brief few hours in the late afternoon.  Wind was still very cool, just cracking 40 degrees for about one hour.

Slowly getting the sugaring room back into shape.  I got the vent re-routed to the west side of the house today.  Should be all set to start making Maple Cream.

Weather looks barely doable for sap for the next few days.  Teens at night make the sap slow to run the next day. 

03-05-2019, 9:00 PM 

Weather was a bit warmer for longer today verses yesterday.  We pumped up about 150 gallons before shooting off to the soccer game.  We will boil tomorrow.

03-06-2019, 10:00 PM 

Another 200 gallons ran today, which was a surprise.  Only 1.3 %, which makes for 66 gallons/gallon of syrup.  We boiled tonight and got about 5 gallons of medium to dark amber syrup.  No off flavors this time!

We really fought foaming, which must be the cloudy syrup and excess sugar sand. 

Kids had a great time, and we even did Keys for Kids and Bible reading in the Sugarhouse.

No good weather in sight, will be waiting past the freeze.  Maybe Sunday boil?

03-10-2019, 10:00 AM

With no runs in sight, I decided to see if the 5 gallons of light syrup would make good cream.  Well, besides boing too high (238 deg vs. 232 degrees), the batch was perfect.

Continued Saturday and Sunday.  40 lbs of cream made from 5 gallons of syrup.  What a blessing, it is great stuff.  Those who came to our evening service at church benefited as we gave away 1/2 lbs of maple cream.

03-12-2019, 10:00 PM

We had en entire week of not much sap weather, but somehow ended up with 75 gallons of sap a few days ago.  We ran pumps yesterd and today and pumped 200 gallons t the head tank.

Started the fire after Soccer game, but the steam did not smell good.  I tested the sap, only 1.1 %, which is a really high ratio.  Borderline old sap combined with using lots of wood for each gallon of syrup...time to dump it.  We flooded the evaporator and let it boil a bit, then let it all run out after the fire was out.

We also used Clorox on the head tank and woods tank along with lots of fresh water.  No sign of runs for maybe another week? 

03-19-2019, 9:00 PM

Collected 275 gallons of sap this evening (100 gallons from yesterday).  We washed the pans and scrubbed over the weekend, so boiling tonight had sweet in the front pans, and raw sap in the flue pan.

After 2 hours of boiling, the needle stayed at 5 degrees above boiling and would not move.  Occasionally hit 6, but no syrup for sure.  I learned two things, first was that if you see a long dry spell coming, let the whole evaporator go sweet or finish separately.  Letting 10% or less sugar content sap sit for long periods, even partially frozen, degrades quality severely.  Second, I learned that a mid season scrub is a good thing, but don't expect to make syrup soon even if you saved concentrate from last time.  If you are going to fire up for the first time, save the sweet for the next firing as long as it is moderately cold.

Also, raw saw does not smell as good as more concentrated syrup.  I need to not panic as much with the smell in the future.

Anyway, good smelling and tasting stuff.  This week looks like a tap killer, with not much sap.  We will see how it goes.

03-21-2019, 9:00 PM

We collected another 175 gallons from the past two days.  Sugar content was at 1.6% with clear sap.  We fired up the evaporator this evening and drew off a few gallons in two batches, but could not muster a third before running out of sap.  The evaporator boils 80 gallons/hour after the first hour, so only 2-1/2 hours of boiling.  Not bad.

Wood pile looks like 3 more major boils, or around 600 gallons of sap and we will be done.  Weather looks like it might cooperate.  We are up around 2,400 gallons total (2,600 including bad sap).  That is over 10 gallons of sap per tap, so a good season.

03-24-2019, 9:00 PM

A few more freezing nights and lots of vacuum, but not much sap.  Collected 125 gallons.  Taps appear to be slowing down.  Barely ran the evaporator, and no syrup draw off.  Running at 1.3%.

We actually had a few minutes to enjoy some hot dogs with the boys.

03-26-2019, 9:00 PM

We continued to run pumps, but most of the tap holes are very slow.  Sap at 1.6% but only another 85 gallons.

03-28-2019, 9:00 PM

Peepers were in full swing this eveing!  Drained the back pan and transferred into buckets.  Filled the back pan with water from the head tank and started boiling.  I thought I was smart and put uncured fire brick as a barrier in the back of the arch to help focus the flames on the front pan.  The moisture caused the bricks to emit minor explosions for hours.

Surprisingly, the process did not take too long.  As a mater of fact, I over fired and had to shovel out to keep the pan from burning.  I even had to add water!

Final Report - 2018

Well, looks like about 38 gallons for the year from 2,600 gallons.  Sugar was low for sure, but it's better than nothing.

I was sure I would run out of wood (on purpose) this year.  Another strange year for the books.

2018 February Weather

2018 March Weather