The maple syrup production report will be reduced from the usual weekly update to periodic updates for the remainder of 2015. Spring and summer are just around the corner. Let’s hope for a season of adequate rainfall, warm sunshine and low pest pressure, to promote healthy growth in the sugar bush and the manufacture of the 2016 maple sugar crop.
Maple syrup production has ended now in early southern areas of Ontario. Maple syrup production has almost wrapped up in the latest northern areas for the 2015 season, although buds on sugar maple trees are still dormant this week, a little snow is still on the ground, and a few producers are trying for a little more sap in the north to top off their syrup crop. Good sap is still flowing in the north this past week where freezing nighttime temperatures and thawing daytime temperatures have occurred.
Syrup producers in Ottawa Valley and east of Algonquin Park report a large sap flow lasting several days the previous week, which at some operations eliminated the annual supply of firewood fuel for the year. Red maple is in bloom and sugar maple buds are now breaking dormancy.
Photo 1. Down to the final boil in northern regions, with a little more sap flow this past week. Right photo – wild leeks are the first green of spring in the bush and may be a bit too easy to spot for collectors of wild foods. Wild leeks are a high-valued food, are easily over-harvested and have become a plundered plant species in many areas. Know who is walking through your woods and protect your natural resources.
Photo 2. A sequence of photos showing bud development from April 1 to April 24, Waterloo area. Buds on sugar maple trees continue to break out of dormancy, although slowly with the return of cold weather this past week. Slow development has helped prevent freezing injury to sensitive tissue inside the buds. Increasing daylight and warming temperatures will soon push budbreak and leaf emergence.
Many maple syrup producers in Ontario are content this year, having achieved an average expected maple syrup crop. Operations having efficient vacuum tube sap collection are reporting as much as a ‘crop-and-a-half” with record yields.
Off-flavour sap that was collected in the first sap runs affected many producers this year, which researchers describe as ‘metabolism’. The current understanding is, metabolism in sap occurs from a lack of thawing events during winter. Although the resulting syrup is described as having a sharp off-flavour, it may be useful as a processing grade for BBQ sauces and other value-added products, but not a pancake syrup.
Producers will be busy over the next few weeks cleaning and sanitizing sap collection tubing and processing equipment. It is also a good time to identify any equipment that is not suitable for maple syrup production. Sap collection equipment that is made of galvanized metal, such as buckets and sap storage tanks should be replaced with stainless steel tanks or food grade plastic containers. Sap or syrup pans that have lead solder joints or repairs are best replaced with modern tig welded pans. Stainless steel valves, fittings and tubing can replace brass, galvanized fittings or plastic materials that are non-food grade.
Photo 3. Left photo – a new wood pellet evaporator is easily cleaned and sanitized, housed in a facility that passes a third-party audit inspection. Modern maple processing equipment is manufactured throughout with sturdy stainless steel materials, from hobby sizes up to the largest commercial evaporator. Right photo – galvanized syrup drums and other galvanized equipment have been eliminated from most commercial maple operations.
A few remnant producers may still have non-food grade equipment, who generally do not attend annual workshops, can be difficult to contact, and may or may not be aware of modern food safety requirements for maple syrup production.
Two auction sales for bulk maple syrup
As a unique marketing opportunity, maple syrup producers have organized two auction sales of bulk maple syrup.
Photo 4. The Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative Inc. will hold a maple syrup auction on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The Huron-Bruce Produce Auction located in Holyrood, just north of Lucknow, will hold a maple syrup auction on Tuesday May 5, 2015.
Photo 5. At the auctions, bulk maple syrup will be sold in food-grade stainless steel drums or in new food-grade 20 litre plastic pails. A small sample container for taste-testing is provided for each batch to be auctioned. Non-food grade containers are strictly not permitted. Syrup must be at or above the minimum legal density of 66.0 Brix and all batches will be tested to qualify.
Planning for a maple orchard
Sugar maple orchards are becoming more common around Ontario. The planning required to establish a maple orchard can begin a year in advance of planting the trees and includes: determining the quantity of trees and species, ordering trees from the nursery, design, adjusting drainage, planting groundcover and site preparation, so that the trees can be planted without delay.
Soil and site conditions that are ideal for sugar maple trees are similar to commercial fruit and nut orchards. Deep fertile, naturally well-drained, loam and sandy-loam soil, with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0 can provide optimum growing conditions for sugar maple orchards. Commercial fruit orchard operators usually have soil samples analyzed every five years to have a detailed report on fertility. Maple orchards would benefit from an initial soil test to indicate the quality of the site.
Photo 6. Far left – a soil pit and soil lab test can help determine the quality of the site for maple trees. Centre – sugar maple trees alternate with spruce and white pine down each tree row. Spiral white tree guards protect young trees against voles, rabbits and southwest sunscald injury. Clean cultivation in the year of planting is a common practice in fruit and nut orchards to eliminate weeds however, an orchard-mix groundcover should be planted later the same season to protect exposed soil. Far right – to help reduce damage to trees by deer, a plastic water bottle, slitted on the sides, hangs upside down on a rebar post, to keep rain off the bar of soap inside.
Photo 7 . Young sugar maple trees are sensitive to winter sunscald injury when located in open exposed settings, as are many varieties of fruit and nut trees. A bright sun on a cold winter day thaws the trunk on the southwest exposure during sunset, which quickly freezes again after sundown. Repeated freezing-thawing kills the patch of bark, often appearing first as a single vertical split.
Photo 8. The loosened bark and cambium dies back, exposing the underlying sapwood. Drying and wood decay often follows. Far right – to prevent sunscald, an old orchard technique is to coat the lower trunk with white latex paint mid-fall, repeated every two or three years, to reflect sunlight off the trunk during winter and keep the bark frozen, as seen on this hazelnut tree. Avoid oil-based paint, which kills the tree. Shading the trunk on the southern exposure with conifer trees can also keep the bark frozen in winter on young sugar maples. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer, or too much manure mulch applied late spring or during summer, can increase winter injury in trees by delaying the tree’s ability to become dormant during fall and early winter.
Conventional maple orchards have a planting density of 40 – 70 trees per acre (90 – 170 trees per hectare). Maple orchards planted at much higher densities with earlier tapping are currently a focus of research at the University of Vermont and may prove to be feasible in the future for increased syrup production.
Photo 9. Left – a nicely manicured maple orchard near Elora, Ontario. Pruning is beneficial every few years: to maintain one central stem, to push the canopy upwards, and clear the lower trunk of side branches, which helps keep the sapwood free of defects for future tapping. Thinning the number of trees per acre may be required as the orchard canopy develops, to promote large spreading crowns and high sap sugar concentrations. Centre – maple orchards are often included as tour stops at the annual industry summer conference. Attendees get to hear from the experienced experts, the syrup producer (Fortune Farms, Almonte Ontario). Right photo – sugar maples were planted in an orchard design in the early 1900’s in Fergus Ontario.
A conventional maple orchard, located on the best site may take 25 to 30 years to reach a tapping size. Growth rates slow as site quality decreases. Sites that are less-than-ideal, such as on stoney dry soil or heavy clay soil, can still support sugar maple orchards, as long as drainage of excess soil moisture and the depth of soil to the underlying bedrock is adequate.