Sugar bush activities
Maple syrup producers were very busy over the past week tapping their sugar bushes. Many patiently waited for thawing weather above -5 ⁰C to drill and install spiles when the risk of bark splitting was minimized. Cautious tapping can pay off with significantly better sap yield, due to efficient vacuum collection and healthier trees.
Many commercial producers in early southwestern regions completed tapping their trees by early to mid-week. Several reported two or three boils are now completed, producing mainly extra-light and light colour grades of syrup.
Tapping trees is progressing in later areas of the province in northern and north-eastern regions. The majority of commercial syrup producers are not likely to miss out on any significant sap flow events this year.
Photo 1 & 2. Syrup producers in central areas experienced challenges moving through deep powdery snow. Tappers wearing snowshoes were still sinking knee-deep. Right photo – Terra Cotta Conservation forest boils their first sap in a new education facility for maple syrup production and sugar bush management during Maplefest week.
Producers who have equipment to measure sap sugar concentration reported sap sugar ranging from 1.0 to 1.5 ⁰Brix. Sap sugar concentration often begins the season low and increases as sap flow progresses. The enzymes that convert the immobile starch back into sucrose, which dissolves and flows freely in sap water, will act faster as thawing temperatures become more frequent.
Sap flow predictions
As snow continues to melt down and away from the base of tree trunks, sap should begin to flow more vigorously and sap sugar concentration will hopefully increase. Long-range weather forecasts indicate good sap flow conditions will occur next week in many areas of the province.
Sap flow conditions can be predicted by watching for consecutive nighttime freezing of -5 ⁰C followed by daytime thawing of +5 ⁰C. In addition, low atmospheric pressure during thawing temperatures will often increase the volume of sap collected due to the pressure gradient being larger from inside the trees to outside the trees.
Photo 3. At the farm gate, fresh Ontario pure maple syrup from the 2015 crop is now available at local farms. See the website for the Ontario Maple Syrup Producer’s Association to locate a local syrup producer or pancake house experience.
Hot packing maple syrup
Maple syrup having a minimum density of 66 ⁰Brix, should be hot packed into containers for retail sales and into bulk containers that are used for long-term storage. Packing cold syrup into containers is not recommended and results in mouldy syrup. Hot packing will reduce or eliminate the incidence of spoilage mould in syrup.
Photo 4 & 5. Small glass containers can be problematic for mould growth after hot packing. Preheating glass containers, for example, in a hot oven, just before filling with hot syrup can help destroy mould spores that may be present on the inner glass surface or inner cap liner. Preheating the glass will maintain the hot syrup temperature and lengthen the duration, that is, extend the exposure time of spores to heat.
Maple syrup should be at a temperature of 82 to 85 ⁰C (185 ⁰F) when filled into containers. After the cap is secure, immediately turn the container on its side or upside down. Some producers invert the hot container back into the cardboard box the bottle came in.
Try to maintain the sealed container at the hot pack temperature for a period of 3 to 5 minutes before allowing it to cool. Then cool the hot containers quickly by placing them on a table, spread apart in a cool area. Some producers use an electric fan to cool the containers faster. Never immerse hot glass containers into cold water, which could cause the hot glass to shatter.
Photo 6 & 7. Hot syrup will shrink in volume as it cools. Fill the bottles to minimize the volume of airspace in the neck, which helps reduce the incidence of mould, plus it will satisfy customers by having an appealing full bottle. Right photo – To destroy surviving spoilage spores, tip the filled bottle on its side or upside down immediately after capping, to force hot syrup into the neck and inner cap liner.
The recommended hot pack temperature plus the added exposure time will help kill any spores that may have been present on the inner surface of the container during filling. Inverting the container while still hot will kill spoilage spores that may have been present on the inner cap liner and bottle neck. Any condensed water that may have formed in the airspace will be forced to mix back into the syrup. Mould spores can germinate easier in water than in syrup at 66 ⁰Brix.
Photo 8 & 9. Left photo – With incomplete hot packing, mould can develop in the neck where the syrup meets the airspace. Right photo – Containers that are commonly used for fresh milk are not designed for hot packing temperatures for maple syrup. These containers are usually cold packed, they are not hot packed and their use for maple syrup is discouraged by the provincial industry for retail sales.
Clean storage for new containers and packaging inventory
It is important to have a clean and tidy area, or a designated room for storing empty containers, packing and label materials that will be used for hot packing maple syrup and packing other value-added maple products.
Containers that are intended to hold food or beverage in a safe condition to the consumer require special attention. Bottles, plastics jugs and tin containers arrive to the farm from the manufacturer and supplier clean and ready to fill. Although clean, we should not assume the containers are in a sanitized or sterilized condition.
Packaging material usually arrives in bulk cardboard boxes or plastic wrap that may not be entirely sealed to outside air. For this reason, the environment that is used to store packaging materials should be kept as clean as possible.
Photo 10 & 11. A dedicated storage room for packing inventory should be clean, tidy and secure. Steel shipping containers can provide clean secure storage, in this case, one is utilized for packaging materials, the other will be converted to a cold storage for syrup in retail and bulk containers, to ensure quality. Sturdy steel shipping containers also support the stainless sap tank above
Plan for a dedicated space where the containers will be kept clean and dry, free of dust and dirt, minimize exposure to spoilage organisms (spores), where pests such as small animals are excluded and trapped. Avoid storage locations that are not clean, such as a firewood shed, in the basement or loft of a livestock barn or in a drive shed.
The storage should be accessible and convenient to the areas they will be needed, such as near the syrup hot-packing area.
There should be some degree of security to deter tampering or theft of inventory. The storage may not need to be heated during winter.
Maintain good inventory practices. Traceability, or keeping records of where and when items were purchased are important in the event defective materials or other problems occur by the manufacturer.
Workers who are handling the materials should have clean hands and clean clothing. For example, clothing worn to muck out a livestock barn should not be worn inside the sugar house, which is a food processing facility.