Provincial overview for March 20 to 26, 2016: This past week sap harvest has now ended in early areas, while producers further north are still collecting fresh sap and boiling this year’s maple syrup crop. Across Ontario, maple syrup producers report very nice maple flavours this year, typical of each colour grade for consumers and bulk buyers to choose from.
The current weather system (Thursday & Friday) of snow in the north and freezing rain and ice pellets in the south is causing ice accumulation on trees in some regions. Watch carefully if you are out in the sugar bush for falling limbs and chunks of dislodged ice.
Early season areas: In southwestern Ontario, Niagara and along the Great Lakes, syrup producers are finished the sap harvest for the 2016 season. Many ended last week around March 15, where sap sugar went from a high of 2.4 ⁰Brix ending the season at 1.7 ⁰Brix. Producers have been pulling taps from trees and have started cleaning and sanitizing tubing systems.
Syrup producers using vacuum tubing who tapped early according to this winter’s weather conditions, ended their season relatively satisfied with a crop ranging from 70 to 90 percent (0.8 to 1.0 litres syrup per tap) of an average yield. A few producers exceeded their normal syrup yield where new tight vacuum tubing systems were running.
All colour grades of syrup were made, one producers reporting: 50% light, 30% medium, 10% amber, 10% dark.
Producers using bucket collection in early areas processed 30 to 50 percent (0.4 – 0.6 litres per tap) and are a little disappointed this year, although could be expected using buckets during this odd winter season.
Mid-season areas: Buds on soft maple trees are in bloom now. A few producers are finished now. In colder areas, buds on sugar maple trees have begun to swell and elongating but are still good for sap collection through the coming weekend. Producers can check all new sap closely for the first sign of buddy off-flavours.
Sap harvest continued this past week with a few large volume sap flows and boils reported from Grey / Bruce over to Lanark and District and Eastern Counties. While the final yield is not known yet for mid-season areas, producers are reporting 50 to 80 percent of a syrup crop is processed so far. One producer that tapped early and is using vacuum, reports 1.2 litres syrup per tap.
Haliburton and Kawartha report they continue to make progress but have been aggravated by frequent slow sap runs and freezing up of sap lines. Sap sugar concentration ranges from 1.8 to 2.0 Brix and is trending downward now. Medium and amber grades are common this week with very nice maple flavours. Sugar bushes are bare towards Lake Ontario, snow remains on north facing slopes in the colder regions.
One illusive woodpecker in Grey/Bruce Counties, who remains at large, is boring holes into the spiles within the sapwood – it must be very good quality sap at this operation.
Late season areas: To the north, syrup producers report progress with a syrup yield range of 30 to 60 percent on vacuum collection. Much of the syrup so far is light (golden) colour with medium (amber) beginning. North facing slopes and higher elevations near Powassan are yielding better than expected. Snow remains about a foot deep on north facing slopes.
Deep accumulation of snow is forecast from Parry Sound to North Bay, which will slow things down for a bit. Buds on sugar maple trees in the north are still dormant for more than a week yet. Excellent sap flow conditions are expected in northern areas over the coming weekend into early next week. Later next week in the north, low freezing nighttime temperatures are forecast, which may freeze up the trees yet again, but will help keep buds dormant longer.
Sugar maples can teach us many things
Cleaning and sanitizing sap tubing
Although maple syrup producers may be tired after completing the syrup processing season, it is best to clean and sanitize sap tubing as soon as possible once sap collection is finished for the year. Warm weather will soon be upon us and mould can grow inside tubing quickly in the sugary residue if cleaning is delayed too long.
Clean tubing first. Sanitize tubing second
Sugary sap and biofilm residue that accumulates inside tubing can be removed after the harvest season by several methods. Sap can be removed by leaving the vacuum turned on while pulling taps from trees, which draws residue downhill, that is, away from the small lateral tubes towards larger mainlines.
With vacuum on, potable water can be drawn into each spile and drop line in sequence towards the sugar house, to rinse out lateral tubing. Cylinder-shaped sponges that are sized according to tube diameter can be vacuumed down larger mainline tubing to help squeegee thicker biofilm off inner surfaces. The sponges usually (hopefully) reappear downstream in the sap extractor tank. The same sponge technique can also be used with a specific sanitizer after the cleaning process is completed first.
Another washing method is to pump potable water from the bottom mainlines upwards into the sugar bush tube network to rinse remnant sap and biofilm out of the tubes. One mainline and its lateral tubing system is washed at a time in sequence. Check-value spiles will not work with this washing method unless check-valves are equipped with adapter fittings onto drop lines.
A drawback to this washing method is that biofilm residue can be blown through spiles into the tap holes, which may not be ideal for healing of tap holes. Old tap holes need to be kept dry and hopefully not loaded with sugar, where wood decay organisms can fester in summer until trees heal the tap holes.
Sanitizing sap tubing: Sanitizers that are used in maple sap tubing are chemical products that kill microorganisms to disinfect surfaces that have been previously cleaned.
Many maple equipment dealers can provide federally approved sanitizers for use in maple sap tubing. Producers can request printed information from dealers showing proof the sanitizer is a federally accepted product. Federal food inspectors may request to see this documentation from producers during inspections.
Sanitizers are common to all modern food processing industries and must be approved for use in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada. Maple industry research scientists both in Canada and the United States test various methods of cleaning maple sap tubing and the efficacy of various sanitizing products.
Federal registration of sanitizers and pest control products is similar, however is often not harmonized between Canada and the United States. The lack of harmonization does not restrict trade of food between countries, as long as producers within each country follow their own established regulations. Sanitizers that are approved in Canada may not be approved for use in maple producing States, and vice versa.
Use the correct equipment (backpack with calibrated doser) and federally prescribed method when applying isopropyl alcohol (IPA) sanitizer in maple sap tubing – IPA is approved for use in Canada. IPA is not currently approved for use in maple sap tubing in the United States.
Maple industry researchers will continue to work collaboratively, using evidence-based testing, of sanitizers and various cleaning methods on maple sap tubing, for the mutual benefit of the maple syrup industries.
Maple syrup producers in Canada and in the United States can verify with their own provincial or state regulatory agency of approved sanitizers and other pest control products.