Maple Syrup Production Report for February 13 to 18, 2013

Welcome to the Maple production report for the 2013 tapping season. The maple report will be updated once per week by each Monday afternoon. Each report will provide a summary of provincial sap flow events and syrup quality reports from the previous week, which is made possible by assistance from commercial maple syrup producers located across the province. The maple agriphone will also include predictions of approaching sap flow events based on extended weather forecasts, and guidelines on sap collection and syrup production. The weekly report will continue until shortly after the 2013 tapping season is completed.

Sugar bush condition

The health status of sugar bushes this year is likely stressed due to extensive dry weather that occurred last year. In many areas of southern Ontario, there was a lack of snow cover during the winter of 2011/2012, followed by extended drought from spring through to fall of 2012. The amount of sugar energy, stored as starch, in maple trees during the current 2012/2013 winter is likely low.

Syrup producers who are concerned about sugar bush health may decide to install no more than one tap per tree. For severely droughty areas, some producers have decided not to tap severely affected trees this year, with hope their trees will recover by 2014. Trees that are severely affected by drought can require several normal growing seasons to fully recover from the effects of drought.

Guidelines on tapping maple trees

Many syrup producers and maple researchers are adapting to climate variability and its effect on sap flow. Deciding when to tap the sugar bush is based less on traditional tapping dates that were followed by previous generations of syrup makers. Many commercial producers now decide to tap by monitoring the weather. Significant sap flow events can be missed where producers are not prepared to collect sap. Particularly in southwestern Ontario, good sap flow conditions can occur any time after early February. Early tapping is now considered normal for the commercial vacuum collection industry.

Several producers in southwestern Ontario using vacuum tubing collection have already completed tapping their sugar bushes, while producers in later regions including eastern and northern areas are beginning to tap their sugar bush. The use of closed vacuum tubing systems and small diameter spouts can help prevent premature drying of tap holes, and useful for tapping ahead of normal dates.

For bucket collection operations, tap holes are exposed to the drying effects of air and can cause tap holes to dry up prematurely where taps are installed too early. Producers still using buckets to collect sap should delay tapping until late February or March when conditions are favourable.

How many taps per tree

Reduced tapping, or conservative tapping guidelines are recommended for the 2013 tapping season for vacuum tubing or gravity tubing collection as follows:

Trunk diameter at chest height Number of taps per tree
less than 12 inches
no taps
12-18 inches
1 tap
18 inches or greater
2 taps
old spent trees
consider removal, regenerate new trees

It is important to follow the tapping guidelines to prevent excessive drilling damage to the tree trunk in the tapping zone. Tapping a maple tree has shown to reduce new wood growth by 15 to 20% the following spring and summer. This reduction of growth is considered acceptable as long as the trees are healthy and are the correct diameter for tapping. Tapping trees that are undersized can significantly delay growth and maturity of trees, and therefore will negatively impact the future sugar bush.

Important: drilling tap holes and setting spiles into trees should only be done when the temperature of the wood is above -5°C to prevent splitting of the bark and wood at the tap hole.

In the sugar house

In the sugar house, sap storage tanks, evaporator pans, filters, pumps and syrup storage tanks need to be cleaned and sanitized before the first sap is collected. Where approved chemical cleaners and sanitizers are used, thoroughly rinse all processing equipment, including all sap collection tubing, with clean potable water prior to commencement of sap flow.

All equipment that is used to measure syrup temperature and sugar density needs to be in proper working condition. Take a moment to review the instructions on how to properly calibrate each piece of measurement equipment. The only way to know when syrup has reached the minimum sugar concentration of 66 °Brix is to be confident that each device has been accurately calibrated. The minimum density of 66 °Brix for finished syrup is important to prevent spoilage organisms and is also legally required for sale.

Protect yourself in the bush

While working in the sugar bush, maple syrup producers should take all necessary safety precautions to ensure the risk of injury is minimized, such as:

  1. Always wear protective clothing
  2. Wear appropriate protective equipment including a helmet, hearing and eye protection. Wear certified protective clothing and footwear when using a chainsaw. Take a chainsaw safety course.
  3. Watch out for hazards in the bush, such as dead trees, hanging limbs and any trees showing weakness above ground.
  4. Tractors or other heavy equipment should have roll-over protection and impact frames installed over the driver. Wear the seatbelt.
  5. Never work alone in the sugar bush, especially when using chainsaws. Have cell phones or a radio with you to call for help if necessary.

This report was prepared by Todd Leuty, Agroforestry Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Producer reports are appreciated and can be forwarded to E-mail or telephone (519) 826-3215.

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