Author Topic: Maple sugaring  (Read 514 times)

cordex

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Maple sugaring
« on: February 05, 2024, 08:33:45 AM »
Sugaring was always something I'd wanted to try, but never had the trees to do.  After moving to our rural property, on a whim I bought a very basic maple tapping kit.  Just a tapping bit, a handful of plastic taps, and attached drop lines to go into a bucket.  The first spring we owned the property we weren't living there, so I didn't try tapping.  The second year I noticed the weather was right, so I grabbed a drill and some buckets and set a handful of taps.  I tried boiling the sap off in the kitchen but I quickly learned why people don't generally do that.  We had a particularly good run and pretty soon I realized that either I was going to have to quit or upgrade.  I bought a stainless evaporating pan from a local company that manufactures them, cut a steel drum stove to fit it, and started boiling weekly batches of sap.  We made about a half gallon in total and gave most of it away in little 4 ounce bottles.  My son - then freshly two - loved to hike out to collect the buckets of sap and test each one.

Over this past winter I started putting together two projects to improve collection. 

First I built a home-made, solar powered vacuum system, bought a bunch of 3/16" tubing, and check-valve taps.  I was a bit worried about the battery life of the system and had a fallback plan to run an extension cord from the barn to the collection point, but so far it has been able to run all night with a 50% duty cycle.  Apparently the temperature switch didn't kick on last night when the lines froze, so I still have some work to do on it.  My son has figured out how to pull the discharge hose from the vacuum unit to fill his little cup with sap.  He sorted out on his own that he needs to replace the hose in the barrel once he has taken his toll.

Secondly I built a home-made RO system to concentrate the sap prior to boiling.  I haven't used it yet except in testing, but will probably concentrate straight out of the collection barrel into 5 gallon buckets.  It'll reduce by at least half the boiling time.  One thing I might add to that system is a UVC light to try to sterilize the concentrate output.  I figure that might keep the sap good for a little longer.

It's one of those hobbies that encourages constantly increasing investment for a frankly tiny final benefit.  The syrup I make isn't really any better than the Costco syrup that is far, far cheaper.  I think my next addition will be a vacuum filter and probably a second vacuum pump to collect from another part of my property, assuming I can get good sun there.

Fun way to spend a few weeks each year.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2024, 09:27:09 AM »
Last night I used the RO unit to take about 13 gallons of sap and concentrate them down to 5 gallons.  That is a lot of boiling I don't have to do.  At the current sugar concentrations that will yield a little more than a third of a gallon of syrup.  If this productivity sustains for a couple of weeks that'll put me at about 3 gallons of finished syrup.

I upped the duty cycle of the vacuum system to 45 seconds on and 20 seconds off and it was still running this morning.  Tonight I'll push it higher.

French G.

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2024, 09:49:54 AM »
Might be my old age project.  We own a few trees now, looking to lease some or work for someone. My county goes all out for a two week maple festival,  about ten camps that sell to the public.
AKA Navy Joe   

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cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2024, 10:44:44 AM »
It's easy to start at a very small scale.  Fun to at least learn how to do it.

French G.

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2024, 12:23:16 PM »
I've made one quart whilst humidifying the house.  The one  big danger is that I am a stainless welder by trade. The ol hey I can make that slips into my mind too much.
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sumpnz

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2024, 05:42:58 PM »
I want to I try this on my big leaf maples.  Supposed to be a different taste vs the eastern hard maples.  Just as good, just a bit different.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2024, 05:56:18 AM »
I want to I try this on my big leaf maples.  Supposed to be a different taste vs the eastern hard maples.  Just as good, just a bit different.
There are a bunch of trees that can be tapped. All the maples, birch, box elder, black walnut, and butternut are all suitable, although seasons can vary and the non-sugar maple varieties tend to require even more sap per unit of syrup.

Let me know if you try it.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2024, 07:29:57 AM »
Looks like a 60 on/20 off duty cycle was too much for the 20ah LiFePo4 battery.  Not sure if it makes sense to upgrade the battery this year or just hold off until next.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2024, 09:40:51 AM »
Looks like a 60 on/20 off duty cycle was too much for the 20ah LiFePo4 battery.  Not sure if it makes sense to upgrade the battery this year or just hold off until next.
Went back and checked the security cameras.  According to the indicator light it looks like it died just before 0600.  I might knock a couple seconds off the on time, but that's really not too bad.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2024, 10:16:06 AM »
It was overcast yesterday and the solar panel didn't quite have the sun to both run the pump and fully charge the battery, so I swapped in a 15AH battery I had and put the 20AH on a charger.  If I have to swap out once a day that wouldn't be the end of the world, but mostly clear days I should be able to let it ride.  I thought about top balancing the cells and putting them in parallel, but I know that's not ideal with different capacities.

I ran another batch through the RO system last night and let it concentrate down to about 5% before putting it in a bucket and sticking it in the fridge.  Amazing how sweet 5% tastes.  I'm going to do a boil this weekend and see what we can get out of it.  Looks like the weather will be beautiful for it, then get back to the freeze/thaw cycle next week so hopefully the run continues.

I was taking my son around the little patch of woods on the south side of the driveway I'm working in and realized I missed one of the sugar maples I had marked last spring.  I'm also running a single tap on some absolutely monster sugar maples.  This weekend I'll probably tap that tree I missed and put another tap into three or four of the big guys.  If I'm feeling adventurous I'll tap another ten or so on the north side of the driveway but I don't want to trench in a vacuum line to reach them, so that would mean daily bucket hauling.  Just have to decide if I'm getting enough syrup or not.

sumpnz

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2024, 05:39:49 PM »
I ran another batch through the RO system last night and let it concentrate down to about 5% before putting it in a bucket and sticking it in the fridge.  Amazing how sweet 5% tastes.  I'm going to do a boil this weekend and see what we can get out of it.  Looks like the weather will be beautiful for it, then get back to the freeze/thaw cycle next week so hopefully the run continues.


Downside here is we haven't frozen hard enough for weeks.

Eta: just checked.  Jan 18 was the last time at my house we were even slightly below freezing.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2024, 11:43:15 AM »
First boil of the year.

Sitting here with a cold glass of water purified out of the sap enjoying the fire.

RocketMan

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2024, 12:59:03 PM »
First boil of the year.

Sitting here with a cold glass of water purified out of the sap enjoying the fire.

Safe to assume this is water distilled out of the sap?  Is it common to set this water aside for drinking?  Does it has a certain maple flavor, or is this removed in the distillation process?  Asking since I know nothing of the process.
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cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2024, 01:46:57 PM »
Safe to assume this is water distilled out of the sap?  Is it common to set this water aside for drinking?  Does it has a certain maple flavor, or is this removed in the distillation process?  Asking since I know nothing of the process.
This year I built a RO system to pull clean water out of the sap to reduce the amount of boiling.

Raw sap has a very slightly sweet taste to it (depending on sugar concentration), but not really a maple flavor at all. The RO water is just clean water. Mostly I dump this clean water or use it for rinsing equipment, but it is good to drink too. The maple flavor builds during the boiling process and as it gets concentrated.

I’ve heard of people selling sap to drink in various formats as a natural cure-all, kind of thing, but I don’t put any stock in it. Fun to try though.

I’m finish boiling about two gallons of 33% sugar sap, so if I don’t screw up I will have almost a gallon of syrup at the end.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #14 on: February 10, 2024, 04:24:06 PM »
Ended up with three quarts, probably because I didn’t guess the volume correctly on the two gallons.

I went back out and added 5 taps - 4 as extras on some really big trees that already had one and one on a tree I missed when tapping the first time.

zxcvbob

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #15 on: February 10, 2024, 05:35:18 PM »
Box elder is supposed to be a good tree for syruping.  It only has half the sugar content of sugar maple sap but you get 4 times as much.  If you're concentrating it with a RO filter, the lower original gravity shouldn't matter much.
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cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #16 on: February 10, 2024, 06:49:14 PM »
I’ll have to look to see if we have many box elder come spring.

I’ve almost talked myself into trenching my driveway so I can get the trees on the north side with the same vacuum system, but I think I might be better served next year by taking my solar vacuum system and putting it on the north side and building a second system that runs off 120v and an extension cord for the south side.

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2024, 04:46:41 PM »
My grandpa is bordering on hospice care and is down to eating almost nothing.  About the only two things that regularly sound good to him are milk and ice cream.  I've been taking him milk from my neighbor's cow and ice cream I make from that milk.  Yesterday I made a batch of ice cream using some of my maple syrup as the sweetener.  Came out pretty well, but I thought the maple was a little subtle.  Took it to him while the kids were watching the game last night, so we'll see what he thinks next time I come by.

This morning I spread some sugar sand on toast for breakfast.  I know it's generally considered a waste product, and I try to filter most of mine off when it comes off of the main evaporator before the finish boil, but when a little settles to the bottom of the jar I'm not going to throw it out.

Below is my evaporator in action.  I took the barrel stove and cut out where the pan would sit, then welded on sections of T post to reinforce the barrel and provide a better surface for the pan.  French G, I won't bother to show you closeups of how amazingly perfect the welds are, so you can just mentally substitute whatever the sexiest welds you've ever seen are.  I also ran some fiberglass insulating rope along the rails to try to make a better seal and to further cushion the pan when I'm moving it.  The barrel stove has firebrick on the bottom and most of the way up the sides to try to focus as much heat as possible upward, although plenty also gets pushed out the chimney.  Once it gets up to temperature it produces essentially no visible smoke.

I have an adjustable duct fan forcing air into a tube in the lower part of the front of the barrel stove which I can use to fine tune the heat pretty effectively.

The warming pan in the back keeps a slight trickle going into the main pan after the boil is developed.  The goal is to keep about the same level in the main pan and regularly add to the warming pan as needed.

I have this next to a wood pile, but most of the wood I actually burned was windfall from the yard and woods.  Every once in a while I'll throw in a few split logs just to keep things going for a bit longer.

It also went far quicker with the RO prefiltering.  In the second picture I'm running the RO straight out of the sap collection barrel and into the warming pan to get the last bits of sap from the day.




The weather has been good for sap flow, but it has been running pretty slow.  I'm not sure if that is leftover from a few warmer days or if I screwed up my vacuum lines when I added the new taps.

JTHunter

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2024, 11:58:44 PM »
Cordex - what do you mean by "RO"?
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sumpnz

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #19 on: February 13, 2024, 01:30:17 AM »
Cordex - what do you mean by "RO"?

Reverse osmosis

Ben

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #20 on: February 13, 2024, 07:42:08 AM »
This is cool stuff. You're really getting into the "professional homesteader" category with all the stuff you've been doing! Ready to survive the zombie apocalypse and/or start your own youtube channel!  =)
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cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #21 on: February 13, 2024, 07:54:53 AM »
This is cool stuff. You're really getting into the "professional homesteader" category with all the stuff you've been doing! Ready to survive the zombie apocalypse and/or start your own youtube channel!  =)
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JTHunter

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2024, 11:53:24 PM »
“I have little patience with people who take the Bill of Rights for granted.  The Bill of Rights, contained in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, is every American’s guarantee of freedom.” - - President Harry S. Truman, “Years of Trial and Hope”

cordex

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #23 on: February 18, 2024, 10:19:59 PM »
Had some family stuff today, so I got up at 0630 for my second boil. I had a less sap this time - maybe 8 gallons of concentrate - and I had the process down so it went pretty quickly. I had let the battery in the vacuum system run dead because we have been in a hard freeze for a few days

I took the time to build a good fire lay, torched it up and set the pan on it. There was a bit of ice in the pan that needed to melt out, but as it loosened I pulled the chunks out. I added the sap, turned up the airflow, and let it cook down. It was windy and about 10 degrees when I started, but a hot fire and big container of coffee made it downright pleasant out there. A couple of my kids came out to keep me company when they woke up, which made it even better.

I took it almost to 35 percent before one of my daughters helped me filter it and we took it inside for a finish boil. The adjustable fan has really made the fire more controllable.

I boiled it and got it up to about 50 percent and decided to wash the filter cones. I wasn’t paying attention and when I looked over I saw it foaming out of the 8qt pot. I probably lost a pint or more of syrup to that inattention. I should have put some butter on the inside lip of the pan, but I had always caught foamovers before they happened previously.

It was warming up so I swapped the battery in the solar vacuum system and let it run. Hopefully I pull enough for at least one more boil.

Oh well, another few pints in the pantry.

sumpnz

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Re: Maple sugaring
« Reply #24 on: February 18, 2024, 10:39:37 PM »
Do you can it after reducing?  Pressure or water bath?