Ontario Maple Syrup Production Report on February 26, 2015

Welcome to the Ontario Maple Syrup production report for the 2015 syrup season.  The report will be updated each week, continuing until sap collection and the syrup processing season is completed in spring.   Each message will include a summary of sap flow events across the province, producer reports on syrup colour and flavour, tapping and processing tips, sugar bush management practices, regulatory requirements of grading and labelling, meeting announcements and other timely information.

Current activities around the sugar bush

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Photo 1.  Mainlines and lateral sap tubing are suspended just above deep snow.

Temperatures have been too cold for tapping maple trees. Damage can occur if frozen trees are tapped. A suitable temperature to tap maple trees is a trunk temperature of no less than -5 ⁰C. Milder temperatures are forecast beginning next week in early southwestern areas of the province. Trees that are deeply frozen can require a number of days of cool conditions to reach the recommended tapping temperature. Keep a close watch on the long-range weather forecast to plan tapping work.

bark split 1 year

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Photo 2.  Two growing seasons have passed since this tap hole was drilled into a sugar maple tree that was too frozen for tapping (left photo: one year, right photo: two years).  Splitting of bark due to improper tapping causes significant injury and can open up the tree to decay organisms.

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Photo 3.  On a healthy sugar maple and proper tapping practices, this tap hole has healed over with new sapwood after one growing season.

Syrup producers have been focusing on cleaning and sanitizing sap collection and processing equipment in preparation for the first sap flows. Clearing downed limbs and resetting vacuum collection tubing has been hampered by very cold temperatures, chilling wind and deep snow cover. Proper warm clothing, good physical fitness, having a buddy system and access to communication are important when working in the sugar bush.

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Photo 4.  Maple syrup producers are cleaning and sanitizing sap tanks, evaporators and all equipment that will be in contact with food.  In a modern facility, such as this Waterloo area syrup operation, the ceiling, walls and floors are designed to be easily cleaned and sanitized.  A good supply of potable water is essential, just as any modern food processing facility.

For chainsaw use, ensure that all proper safety equipment and protective clothing are worn. A certified course in chainsaw operator safety is recommended. Contact the Ontario Woodlot Association for upcoming chainsaw operator courses at: info@ont-woodlot-assoc.org or telephone (613) 258-0110.

Are your maple trees healthy?

Determining the number of taps to install in each maple tree depends first on the health of the sugar bush and second, on diameter of each trunk. A sugar bush managed using best practices should be in good condition for tapping in 2015 unless under stress due to recent insect pest or disease outbreak, or damage to crown branches from heavy ice accumulation or strong wind.

Observe tap holes from previous seasons. A healthy tree will heal over previous tap holes with new sapwood within one or two growing seasons. Small diameter tap holes of 5/16th inch diameter will heal over faster than the larger 7/16th inch diameter tap holes.   Trees that require more than three years to heal tap holes may not be in a healthy condition.

In most areas, soil moisture has been relatively good this past fall and early winter. Recent significant snow fall will add to soil moisture levels and will help insulate shallow tree roots from episodes of extreme cold.

The spring and summer of 2014 was a relatively good season with adequate sun and rainfall for maple trees to produce sugar and the other unique ingredients of pure maple flavours. Large seed crops occurred in 2012 and 2013 in many areas, while 2014 was a low seed crop year for sugar maples. Recent research has determined that higher than average sap sugar concentrations often occur following low seed crop years.

SW summer conference Carolinian sugar bush

Photo 5.  Viewing an impressively large Carolinian sugar bush in southwestern Ontario during the 2014 maple industry summer conference.  The 2014 growing season provided warm sun and adequate rainfall to enable sugar maple trees to manufacture the 2015 maple syrup crop.  We continue to realize the immense ecological services that are provided to us by having adequate healthy forest cover, in balance with agricultural and urban land.

Sugar bushes that sustained moderate to heavy loss of canopy due to ice storm damage and branch breakage during the winter of 2014 have begun to develop new canopy. Areas damaged by ice in 2014 include Wellington / Waterloo, Halton Hills, Peel and southern Quinte. Producers affected by ice storm damage may decide to reduce tapping for another season to help maples recover faster.

Current tapping guidelines for healthy sugar bushes

Remember, the primary objective when tapping a sugar bush is to minimize injury to the trees while optimizing sap yield.  The decisions on tapping rest with each producer.

  • Trees 10 to 18 inches (26 – 46 cm) in diameter at chest height can have one tap per tree. Some producers prefer a minimum diameter of 12 inches (30 cm) at chest height.
  • Trees greater than 18 inches (46 + cm) in diameter at chest height can have two taps per tree.
  • Trees larger than 30 inches (76 + cm) in diameter can have three taps per tree, particularly where aging trees are in decline and tree removal is intended soon. Taking out an old declining maple tree can be a difficult decision to make, however, the new opening in the canopy will allow regeneration of young sugar maples and continuation of the future sugar bush. Old trees can also become a hazard to workers from falling limbs if left too long.
  • Where a sugar bush is considered to be in a stressed condition, producers can consider no tapping for 2015, or limit the number of taps to no more than one tap on trees having attained the minimum and larger diameters.

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Photo 6.  On the left, one tap per tree for trunk diameters between 10 to 18 inches at chest height.  On the right, two taps per tree for trunk diameters of 18 inches or larger.  These tapping guidelines are determined for trees that are in a healthy condition and not under stress. 

Avoid drilling tap holes and setting spouts into maple trees when the temperature of the wood is colder than minus 5 ⁰C. Setting spouts into frozen wood can easily split the bark above and below the tap hole, causing sap to leak down the trunk instead of into the spout or bucket. Severe splitting can take years to heal or may never properly heal if wood decay occurs.

Avoid taping trees that are less than 10 inches in diameter at chest height. Undersized trees may not grow sufficiently to replace new sap wood that is removed due to drilling tap holes.

Tapping at an upward angle

Photo 7.  Drill tap holes no more than 1½ to 2 inches deep into healthy sapwood at a slight upward angle. An upward angle will create a slope to naturally drain sap and rainwater from the tap hole after the harvest season is finished.   Dry tap holes are less likely to develop wood decay.

Utilize the entire circumference of the tapping zone, not just the southern exposure since there are no differences in total sap yield.  Each drop line from the spout to the lateral tube can be 30 to 36 inches in length to allow placement of the tap on any side of the tree at various heights in order to spread out wound response injury sustained by drilling the tap holes.

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Photo 8.  An open tap hole and rectangular stain columns created by other tap holes can be seen as excessive tapping on one side of the trunk, likely the southern exposure.  Stained wood does not conduct sap and is a natural wound response by trees.  Good clear sapwood on the other side of the trunk could have been utilized, spreading the non-conductive stain columns more evenly around the tapping zone.

Preparing sap collection tubing and syrup processing equipment

When thawing temperatures allow it, rinse all sap collection tubing with clean potable water prior to the first sap flow, including drop lines, lateral tubing and mainlines.   Where isopropyl alcohol was used to sanitize tubing last spring, rinsing with potable water is still recommended to ensure tubing is clean and ready for sap collection.

Some producers dump the first run of sap, which can sometimes have a natural off flavour and is not ideal for processing into syrup. Dumping the first batch of sap also helps to rinse tubing prior to the best sap flows.

Clean and sanitize sap collection tanks, tubing and evaporator pans in preparation for the season. Replace equipment components that are not suited to food production that may be in direct contact with sap, syrup and value-added maple products. Stainless steel, food grade plastic and other approved food grade materials are recommended.

All equipment that is used to measure boiling point and sugar density can be cleaned and calibrated to ensure accurate readings are made. Read the operating instructions to re-familiarize yourself with each instrument.

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