Without leaving the comfort of your classroom or home you can visit us at LM SUGARBUSH LLC and watch as we tap our maple trees and produce pure maple syrup here in Southern Indiana. School classes and homeschoolers can use this as a Virtual Field Trip without even venturing out into the cold weather.
Of course, there is nothing like the real thing, so if you live within a few hours of us, come see us during our Maple Syrup Festival - February 28 & March 1 and March 7 & 8, 2015
At the end of each syrup season, usually in late March, the spiles are pulled from the trees, allowing the tapholes to begin to heal, the tubing is rinsed and the spiles plugged, and the collection tanks are cleaned and turned upside down to await the following syrup season. The vacuum pumps are brought to the sugarhouse to store them out of the weather and the evaporator is cleaned and the pans stored upside down for the off-season.
In late December and early January of the new season, we go through the sugarbush pulling the tubing up out of the previous fall's leaf cover. Then we haul loads of repair tubing and main line to the sugarbush to begin the process of repairing and maintaining the sap collection lines to ready them for the syrup season. The squirrels have chewed on the tubing, there has been damage to the main lines by falling branches, and just time itself takes a toll on the lines.
We take advantage of the great working conditions on any warm December and early January days to finish checking all the tubing and main lines. Once we tap we will have an approximate total of 3300 tapholes in 1600 trees, more than 10 miles of tubing and about 1 1/2 miles of main line in our sugarbush.
Caleb tapes the mainline to the support wire
A drop line with 2 spiles
Replacing worn tubing with one of the pre-made drop lines
This tree gets a drop line with 2 spiles
New tubing rolled out between trees
Daniel soaks the tubing in hot water
Daniel and Caleb make new drop lines while working in the woods
The vacuum pumps at the sugarhouse for maintenance
Part of our woodpile for fueling the evaporator later in the season
Another woodpile, covered to keep it dry
In addition to the work in the woods there is a lot to do at the sugarhouse. We must clean the evaporator and the Reverse Osmosis machine. The RO machine removes up to 50% of the water from the sap before we boil it. All the storage tanks need to be cleaned and some minor repairs need to be made on other equipment. During slack times our young crew cuts firewood. Mike drives the tractor and wagon and does some cutting, but leaves most of the work to the young backs in order to save his constantly aching back. We will begin to tap when the weather is right - this varies from year to year. The best sap weather is 45 - 50 degrees during the day, with some sun and 20 - 25 degrees at night. It takes us 4 - 5 days and 3 tapping crews to tap our entire sugarbush. Once we get started we try to tap all our trees as quickly as possible so that when the sap starts flowing we can concentrate on collecting and boiling. So when the days warm up there will be a great flurry of activity at the sugarbush.
A picture of the flat, front pan taken from above the evaporator
The firebox is the source of heat for the evaporator
Daniel adding small sticks to the fire
SYRUP MAKING GLOSSARY
Main line – One half inch, three fourths inch or one inch, fairly rigid, blue, plastic piping used to collect sap from the tubing and carry the substantial flow from the sugarbush to the storage tanks.
Reverse Osmosis machine - A large, noisy machine with long, cylindrical membranes that separate water from water-soluble solids, such as salt or sugar. Reverse osmosis is used to make fresh water from salt water, and maple syrup producers often use it to remove water from sap before boiling. This saves greatly on time, labor and fuel since the resulting sap has a much higher concentration of sugar and requires far less boiling time.
Sap – The watery solution obtained by tapping trees, this can vary from 1 – 2.5 % sugar and averages 1.8 % sugar.It takes an average of 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup.
Spile – Tubular device inserted into a taphole in a maple tree that carries the sap to the tubing.Ours are made of bright blue or green plastic and are 7/16” in diameter.
Sugarbush – A grove of maple trees.
Sap weather or tapping weather – Freezing nights and thawing days in late winter when the sap flows.
Tapping – The process of drilling holes into the maple trees and inserting the spiles to obtain sap.
Tubing – The 5/16” green, or purple, ultraviolet flexible hose used to carry the sap from the spiles to the main line.
Vacuum system – The use of vacuum pumps to gently draw the sap through the tubing and main line into the sap tanks to increase the rate of sap flow.