We interrupt Spring to bring you the return of Winter.

At least for northern Minnesota we are indeed experiencing a repeat of earlier season weather. However for the Sawtooth Maple Syrup gang there hasn’t been much of an interrupt – we never did got off our snowshoes.

Hello everyone, here is our sugarbush update!

We have indeed been making pure maple syrup, and the lovely bottle shown below is evidence of what we have been making. This sample was pulled off the pan on Friday (Apr13) and is a medium amber with an incredible flavor I call “immaculate maple”, and graced with the color of a fine Cognac! Click the image to get the full experience.

For those interested in the finer details, the sugar content (s.c.) was at 3.2 on April 13th and has been averaging 3 throughout the season. Our highest s.c. recorded for 2018 was on April 10th at 3.6 and our lowest was 2.1 on March10th. We have had five boils since March producing an estimated 60% Dark Amber. It’s a popular color you know …

Yes it has been a long season, even though for some or most sugar makers the sugaring season hasn’t really started. We expect to see real results this week as the temperature trend is swinging up to the low to mid forties for daytime highs and freezing temps at night – perfect!

On another note, I owe a heart-felt apology to the Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker. In my last post I reported some of the issues we were experiencing in the field. Namely the bird bites on our spouts and we discovered the real culprit to be the Hairy Woodpecker (see below). Seems our white spouts have been mistaken for bits of suet (my thinking). We really don’t know for sure what’s driving them to hammer out hundreds of spouts. We’ll take any hypothesis you may have and a solution to the problem will get you rewarded with a pint of the above “immaculate maple” syrup. At any rate, I’m sure the sap-sucker is relieved to be acquitted of all charges.

Though there seems to an extension of  Winter, we don’t really believe spring has been cancelled and with this recent snowstorm, the trees will be on ice for a little longer making our season a little sweeter. Stay positive on your sugaring front, my gut tells me we’re all going to have a wonderful harvest.

Carry on regardless!

-Greg

 

The Word is the Bird!

“The birds are back!” came the call over our text message communication thread.

Look closely at the side of the spout. Holes are pecked by the sap suckers causing vacuum leakage.

Of the many challenges to bringing in the harvest, it is the pests we encounter that makes the relatively short season a bit of a trick. In this case it’s the Yellow-bellied Sap Sucker causing our headaches this season, and they don’t like our spouts in the trees. It’s not just one or two spouts to be replaced but up to 30 in any particular section. However, the trouble is short lived, maybe a week of inconvenience and the birds move along.

At this point the squirrels have been easier to deal with.

 

In production news: Sugar making on Sunday (3/18) produced 275 gallons of finished syrup … a very mapley flavor as it came out of the pan. So we are off to a good start!

Day to day the sun’s intensity can be felt as we struggle through the snow checking lines and tuning the sugarbush to its best ability. The snow pack is deep, but is also transitioning from a hard pack to a mashed potato consistency. The question before donning our gear and tackling a section of the sugarbush may be: “Snowshoes? Or no Snowshoes?”

You may think with some of the warmer days we have experienced there would be more of a sap run, but the trees have not wanted to budge here on the shore of NE Minnesota.

These transitional days from winter to spring are the most difficult, but we’ll find our rhythm once we are past the start-up pain and get on with the business of producing 100% pure maple syrup.

Rest assured, Spring is Within Reach – Our 2018 Maple Syrup Season Update

Often, and I mean quite often while running the usual grocery store, gas station and hardware store errand in town (be it Lutsen or Grand Marais), I get asked:

“How’s the Maple Syrup?”

To which I reply (in January and February): “It’s still in the trees, I hope.”

It’s common to be asked by our neighbors who know us and our woods-work these wonderful questions. And we love to answer them because we are so passionate and exited about our sugar farming. So how is the maple syrup? Well there is some exiting news to talk about in this blog and forthcoming blogs; about what’s new in the sugar bush, and what’s cool about our current and new customers.

In January (on the 23rd  precisely) Chris, Kirstin, Calvin, Ian and Greg charged up their drills, shouldered their tap packs, rallied the dogs and marched out of the sugar house to begin the task of tapping 24k+ trees. We can attest that there have been some incredibly beautiful winter days and some, well, down right exotic days. Brrrr!

Below watch Kirstin at work tapping maple trees.

As of today 99% of the sugar bush is fully tapped and we are in the preparation stage to our seasonal harvest.

Click to see full image

Dropping off the tank at the sugar bush. A big thanks to local mechanic Joe Hall … Like a boss!

Click to see full image

Installation complete, the new sap tank in place. Now to the roof …

One new addition is here!

You may be interested to know of the arrival of a new 4800-gallon sap tank. It was delivered two days ago and installed on Thursday the 22nd.

 

 

 

In the coming days Chris and Calvin will finish the Sugar House extension with a metal-roofed canopy that will cover both the 4500 tank and the new 4800 sap tank.  Hook up the plumbing and “Bob’s-your-Uncle!”.  Now we’re talking capacity!

As we progress to the cusp of Spring, transfer lines will be connected and some lines will be sloped and then the whole network will be tested together under vacuum. Like tuning a giant orchestra for the big concert!  The sugarhouse will get some reorganizing, the membranes will be installed in to our Reverse Osmosis (RO) machine. The evaporator will be given a final vacuuming, assembled, polished and hooked to the plumbing and finally the tanks will be washed diligently while we await that first call of our 2018 season: “SAPS RUNNIN’!”

If I may suggest … On your next visit to Minnesota’s northland, stop by Wild Country’s little store for a bottle of Pure Maple Syrup and other fun things – it’s always open! Snowmobilers can easily zip off the State Trail on their way up or down the shore to visit our farm – the trail crosses our driveway. If you like snowshoeing there’s plenty of trail blazing to be done (and appreciated) just send us a note if you’re up for the task. I’d keep the cross-country skiing to the trails but after, come enjoy our farms marvel of tubing and taps while you snack on a maple caramel or pick up a bottle of Minnesota north shore country maple syrup.

As I write the maple blog today, abundant snow-fall graces our North Shore again adding another foot or two to our snowpack. The winter won’t be long lived as we hear often the Pileated woodpecker drumming and the Chickadees singing their spring song to the increasing sun’s intensity and the longer days. Life is on the way again in our frozen land – Just give it a couple weeks and the trees will be awake giving their sweet nectar that we will transform into a delicious treat to top your pancakes or lattes!

Tapper Greg

Ta-Da! Season Finale …

Quite a season as we perform our finale for 2017. It’s hard to quit when the sap keeps flowing, but all good things come to an end.

Looking back over the daily journal for 2017, this season proved to be the earliest on record starting our first boil on February 19. Our conclusion was April 14th. Not a record breaking season for us, but we made really great tasting syrup. The majority of the maple syrup we produced being Dark Amber (Grade A).

The last phase of our season, is preparation for the 2018 season; Line cleaning!

If you are reading this, are a local and looking for a short-term job working in our sugarbush. Please contact us. Must be physically fit and able to carry a water-pack weighing 35lbs.

Here is the Wisconsin Sap Report from Roth Sugarbush.

Waiting for the BIG flow …

Included video here – When changing the flow direction of the syrup across the pan, we draw off 15 gallons and change sides. Put it back in to the pan for finishing, wait a little bit and Bob’s your uncle …

There’s never a guarantee as to how much sap we’ll get in a day. Big flows are illusive and we’re hoping in the coming weeks it will hit. Temperatures forecasted look conducive!

Slow and steady wins the race …

Since April 1st we’ve been making a lot of Dark Amber – Grade A, and buttery flavored at roughly 325-350 gallons a day.

Sugar Content has been holding at 2.5, which is good. But could be better. The sugar sand has been nominal and our pan cleanings have escalated to an every other day thing.

Here’s the Sap report from Wisconsin, seems they’re on the end run. But we’re doing great here in NE Minnesota

Waiting for the Sap to Hit the Pan

To make today’s update when there is really not much to update, seems silly. However this is farming, and there’s always something that needs doin’, and that’s not silly.

The weather, in full winter glory with excellent temps (teens) and sunny days for enjoying late-late winter, has not been cooperating much in the way of sugaring. It’s been 14 days since we last boiled. We have passed through DST, St Patrick’s Day, and tomorrow Monday the 19th, is the Vernal Equinox – We welcome Spring with open arms and uplifted faces. Looking at our past journals, I see that last season we began our first boil on March 8th. This season, we started February 19th!

So we make meals, clean the sugarhouse, brush the dog and walk the lines. These doings are done in a preseason ritual and because of the hard-hard freeze we just endured, it’s like hitting a reset button (in my opinion) on the sugarbush. And then there were high winds and most recently a six-inch snowfall up here in the elevations.

Double bummer! A very large diameter Aspen, tall and aged, took a blast of wind from the northwest yanking over a healthy maple and it’s roots – Buggering a mainline and pulling out several lateral lines with their accompanying drop-lines.

High winds makes most of us cringe, but to a maple syrup farmer it is down right concerning. Invariably branches tumble on to sapping lines, but worse is to find a large and giving maple pulled up by her roots. Very sad! And then a game of strategy as to what to cut first (see photos below) like a giant Jenga game, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of a tree when releasing the strain.

 

The weather trend however, and at least for the next couple days will be climbing. If the sun comes out, the intensity will trigger a flow … and then there will be more to report as the sap hits the pan.

Here’s the latest Roth Sugarbush report for Saturday March 18th

Click to zoom

Overkill on the photos, but it was an event …

Function restored. That other tree will have to wait …

High Winds and Single Digit Temps

High winds and single digit temperatures put a stop to our production today.  And the colder weather trend may hold for more than a week.

Greg and Marianne spending a steamy day at the pan.

We had a good boil yesterday (Tuesday) that brought our running total to 995 gallons of finished syrup. The sugar content of the sap was at 2.2, a solid 40:1 ratio. We made mostly dark amber and a little bit of medium. The steam in the sugarhouse was ridiculous at times. It just wouldn’t abate and most likely was related to the high winds and down-drafts tumbling about the rafters.

After lunch I poured off a quarter mug of dark amber in to my coffee mug; really excellent taste and a good pancreatic surge for the afternoon.  I also observed very little niter in the draw off buckets which says we haven’t hit the main part of the season yet. And more importantly very little scale if any in the main pan.

 

Radar image of Monday night thunderstorms.

Monday we had weird weather (again) – Rain in the day and thunderstorms in the night – the sap flow was moderate through out, and we collected enough to make five drums worth on Tuesday.

The question of the week by the way, came from Colleen of St. Paul asking if our syrup is Vegan?  Absolutely!  We are certified organic, and that means we use no animal products in our processes like defoamers during the boil. We use safflower oil.

Also Tuesday, we had a nice visit from folks on vacation who just wanted to catch the action at the pan. Thanks for stopping in Peter and Nabeda.

All for now and enjoy this video short of the winds battering the steam a way from the evaporator stack. What an interesting day!

-Greg

Unprecedented Early Sap Collection

… All went well at the evaporator.

Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Company in Maple Syrup Production

It happened, and we were prepared – but it was a scramble and an unexpected thing to start the boiling process on February 19, brewing up 171 gallons of lovely Grade A Dark Amber that day.

Every season we start the tapping process in late January. Our observations in the forest at that time (this season) –  Water was flowing beneath the snow and under our snowshoes. So a sense that there may be an early warm-up rested uneasily at the back of our minds. We finished our tapping in early February and, instead of the customary idle time to put the pan together and connect up transfer lines and fix stuff, we just kept the tasks and farm chores on a steady pace. In fact my plans were to update the web pages during the cold spells; instead we made over 700 gallons of maple syrup.

Here’s some quick data:

Sugar content in February and on:
0219 = 1.7
0220 = 2.0
0221 = 2.1
0223 = 2.1

Over 50% of the syrup we produced was Dark Amber followed by a Medium Amber and finishing the run with a couple drums of Light Amber – all Grade A of course.

Starting with a concentration of 8 brix the first day of boil and gradually increasing to 11 brix by the time we concluded the four day run. Niter was almost non-existent and very little scale was found on the front pan. But we’ll be cleaning the pan within the week regardless and in preparation for the next round.

Panoramic of the sugarbush driveway

Other sugarbush observations and news:

Plenty of snow resides over the roots of our trees (thankfully) with a two to three foot base, snowshoes are required to walk lines but with the hard freeze we are enjoying, one could ride a Fat-Tire bike a top the snow.

Dropline damage

Drop line squirrel damage – A busy season for Red Squirrels who enjoy pestering the sugar makers.

It has been a busy year for Red Squirrels, Pine Martens, and other critters that like to chew our lines – we’ve been going through the electrical tape like we own stock in it. Scotch Super 33 is the best by far for all weather patching. But sometimes there is little other option but to replace drop lines and laterals all together. Grrrr!

 

 

 

 

 

February 20, 2017 weather radar screenshot

In recent weeks it had been sunny and mild here on the farm. But on the FEB20 we got hammered with rain, and the sap kept filling our collection tanks. >

 

 

We’ll be on standby for the duration of the cold snap which is expected to last in to the second week of March – but that could change.

Until next update, enjoy your late winter outings. – Greg