Sap flow activities and the syrup crop – March 5 to 12, 2016
Ontario maple syrup producers have been very busy this past week keeping up with a number of good sap flows and boiling the new maple syrup crop. Maple syrup production has been tricky this year, with such mild conditions and reduced snow cover in many areas. Long standing producers who keep detailed records of dates, temperatures and sap flow events at their operation, utilize these past accounts to help them make decisions.
Early season areas: Southwestern Ontario to Niagara and southern Prince Edward County, producers are reporting good progress on the harvest and syrup processing this week. Syrup production ranges between 40 percent to 100 percent of a normal average yield of mainly extra-light and light colour grades, with medium just beginning to appear late in the week (new grade standards: Golden and Amber).
Producers have started pulling taps from soft maple trees where buds are swelling now towards bloom. The sap harvest season on hard maples may end after next week in early areas, as exceptionally warm weather advances the buds out of dormancy.
It is normal for maple syrup producers in early areas to be fully tapped and processing syrup anytime during February. The first good boil this year west of London occurred February 1st, which means the sugar bush was tapped during the last week of January. Collection and processing of the earliest sap runs have provided the best total yields.
Mid-season areas: From Huron and Grey / Bruce Counties, Wellington / Waterloo, east to Lanark and District and the Eastern counties, producers report a range of 10 to 50 percent of a syrup crop processed so far, depending on how early taps were installed. Sap sugar concentration this week ranges from 2% to 2.5% to a high of 5% on open canopy trees.
Mainly light colour grades of syrup so far, amber just beginning, all with very good maple flavour. Snow cover was at 6 to 8 inches early in the week and has melted quickly during this warm weather. Eight to ten boils are reported where taps were in early. Campbellford area reports the lowest amount of niter ever observed, with easy filtering for nice clear syrup.
Vacuum pumps and tight sap tubing is paying off this season for many producers. The lack of freezing nighttime temperatures this week has not provided for good natural sap flow, however, running the vacuum has kept sap flowing fairly well since the last freeze at several operations. Thawed soil, ample soil moisture and warming temperatures have enabled tree root activity to rehydrate the trees. Producers in mid-season areas are hoping for a return to cold freezing nighttime temperatures and more sap.
Late season areas: Producers in late areas have been collecting sap for one or two weeks so far and syrup production has begun for them, following recent colder winter conditions. Snow cover remains in northern sugar bushes. Snow will help keep the air temperature cool during the warm weather that they have also experienced this week. Moderate sap flow should occur this coming weekend. The forecast shows nighttime temperatures will trend to colder later next week. Buds on maple trees in late northern areas will remain dormant beyond a few weeks yet.
Some producers prefer the convenience of using high efficiency oil-fired and propane-fired evaporators. Electric evaporators are the newest technology for processing sap into syrup and have zero carbon emissions at the sugar house.
Maple education and mentoring
Experienced maple syrup producers can be the best educators for new and future syrup operators. While textbook production guides are available and are packed full of useful information, working alongside one or more producers can be some of the most useful time spent, covering many of the practical unwritten aspects of the business.
Leading edge maple syrup producers are often the first to experiment with many ideas and thoughts. They can make key observations that can eventually change the way some common practices are done. A few hours of total immersion in mentoring can provide valuable knowledge.
A few syrup operations have built museum quality exhibits and conduct hands on activities to help educate their customers about the history of maple syrup production. One operation offers a chance for guests to make their own maple syrup any time of year from partially boiled frozen sap.
Conservation Authorities and other publically operated field stations have an important role in educating the public about forest stewardship and conservation, about our natural resources and heritage. Maple syrup production is included as part of the educational effort at many Conservation forests that have sugar maple trees.
While the historical methods of syrup making are demonstrated, Conservation educators also attend the same workshops as commercial maple syrup producers. Sustainable sugar bush management, sap collection, syrup processing, colour grading and food safety are included in the education effort at Conservation forests.
Sugar bush health
Monitoring the health of a sugar bush is best done every time you enter the forest. Observations can be made all season long. With leaves absent, winter time allows a clear view of the shape and size of tree canopies. Ideal sugaring trees that have large spreading crowns can be clearly seen. A sugar bush that is stocked with many healthy trees will support full summer leaf canopies to manufacture large quantities of sugar.
Sugar energy is utilized by the trees during spring and summer for new growth of the tree, a seed crop and root system, for repair of wounds, defense against diseases and insect pests, and an ability to defend against other stressors, such as periods of drought or harsh cold winters. Sucrose sugar is converted to starch in fall and is stored in plant cells during winter. Stored starch is the important energy reserve that is utilized by the trees between growing season.
Trees that lack a large canopy, or have been damaged previously by heavy ice accumulation or wind can be identified this time of year. Trees damaged by disease or by insect pests can be marked for removal or identified as potential habitat to benefit wildlife, depending on risk to the remaining healthy trees and on the desire of each operator to provide habitat for wildlife. Young understory trees can be managed to eventually take over as the future sugar bush or diverse woodlot.
Landowners can learn to make their own management decisions, or they can hire accredited consultants or supporting industries to assist with the overall management of the sugar bush and woodlot. The Ontario Woodlot Association provides a useful service for anyone wanting to learn more about all aspects of forest management.