Almost exactly 7 years ago, we decided to tap some trees.
At the end of the season, having boiled down approximately 1 gallon of syrup in the same time it took some of our surrounding neighbors to boil 50, we vowed to get serious about syrup. So we upgraded:
The first year we boiled in our driveway, where we built the house. At the end of the season we dragged the house and the equipment down into the middle of the ancient sugar bush, where we’ve been ever since, making increasingly larger amounts of syrup until we maxed out our system with 75 taps and 12 gallons of product. We lived in our Swamp Yankee sugarhouse for 4 more years until we decided to join the big boys, bulldozed the old structure and built a new one. We spent one more year with our little 2 by 4 until we could upgrade.
Houston! We have ignition:
The evaporator, which in true New England style came unadorned and un-assembled, is only part of the new equation. Outside, the forest is tied up with blue tubing, wiring and black water pipe to carry everything down into a 1100 gallon storage tank. We have 181 taps this year, which still marks us as small. Eventually we’ll have 3-400.
The new system, though we ordered it in May, didn’t even arrive until November. Instead of hibernating the winter away we started up the new project by stringing the two mainlines; an operation involving stringing high tension wire in a straight but descending line through your forest, and then attaching black water pipe to it. The laterals started going up in early February. Meanwhile Lionel set about trying to figure out the myriad pieces of the evaporator along with trying to creatively solve issues such as how to warm the space to 60 degrees or above in order for the refactory cement to set properly, without electricity.
It hasn’t been without hiccups. The 7 feet of snow began to melt and I realized I had once again placed the lines way over my head, so the days saw me dragging ladder, hammer and drill while I slowly post-holed my way to an inaccessible tap. The planned location of the evaporator and the actual location of the roof jack didn’t mesh, due to a misunderstanding on our part on whether the stove pipe could have bends in it, so the evaporator is currently half blocking the door and not directly under the cupola as planned. And when we finally lighted it up our elation quickly turned to concern when we began to smell a chemically burning smell and saw white smoke rising from the bottom. The smoke quickly dissipated though, and we have since attributed the episode to New Evaporator Smell.
We were a week late getting started but curiously, so was the season, as if it was waiting for us and not the other way around. This week has seen fairly cold temperatures and next week is trending only slightly upward. Where it used to take us 4 or 5 days to boil down five hundred gallons of sap, we can now do it comfortably in 2. We can make syrup in the pan instead of having to finish it off on a turkey baster. We have a canner instead of a funnel and a headlamp and a hot pot of syrup. We’re getting less Swamp Yankee by the day.
Although the fact that the evaporator blocks the door makes up for it, I suppose.
So far, so good. We’re not expecting a stellar production year, but we are expecting more than last year. Next year might see another mainline and possibly moving the evaporator to its correct location. But the big, hard push is done. And as always, looking back, I’m amazed we even got this far. Onward and upward and marching into spring.