Sap flow activity
Sap harvest and maple syrup production finished two weeks ago in earliest southwestern areas. Mid-season regions were still processing new syrup over this past week and mid-season producers will be harvesting the last sap runs this coming weekend, April 7-9.
The forecasted weather predicts very warm temperatures for next week in all southern regions, which will push maple buds out of dormancy. The north will continue for at least one or two more weeks.
The new maple crop
Grey/Bruce County: final crop report, summarized by Nick Bereznick
- Volume of syrup. low range: later start or no vacuum 0.7 to 1 litres per tap; high range: 1.45 to 1.88 litres per tap; one report of 2 litres per tap
- Volume this year as compared to past seasons: with no vacuum, below; some said average; others said slightly under last season
- Flavour: ‘great’, ‘delicate’, ‘excellent’
- Filtration problems: some reports of heavy sugar sand, especially towards the end of the season, but no filtration problems in general
- Clarity of sap: almost all producers reported clear sap with some reports of cloudy sap towards the end of the season
- Tubing damage: most reported minimal damage; but some reports of heavy damage in larger operations
- Other comments: one producer reported syrup foamier than usual when bottling
In eastern Ontario – Sharbot Lake, Lanark and Eastern Counties, most producers are reporting a fairly good syrup crop yield so far, all colour grades are represented with excellent maple flavour. Dark syrup was processed this past week, larger quantities of Golden and Amber syrup have been produced. This week under vacuum, sap ran without freezing nighttime temperatures, as root pressure is actively forcing the sugary sap upward into the tree canopies.
Near Moose Creek, sap sugar concentration is holding at 2.7 ⁰Brix, ending their season this weekend with an estimated 1.3 litres syrup per tap.
In north late-season areas, buds on maple trees are still dormant and sap is still of good quality. With more deep snow yesterday, snow cover remains in northern sugar bushes and is helping to slow down development of maple buds. North Algonquin and Algoma regions should have very good sap runs over the coming weekend and again next week.
The commencement of sap harvest and syrup processing typically can vary by two or three weeks in Ontario, from earliest to latest areas. In very rare years, sap harvest has begun in all regions at the same time.
Hot packing maple syrup
To prevent the occurrence of spoilage organisms and preserve quality, maple syrup needs to be hot packed when filling consumer containers. Hot pack maple syrup at 85 to 88 ⁰C (185 to 190 ⁰F). Seal the cap securely and turn the container on its side, or inverted back into the cardboard box the containers came in, for about 5 to 10 minutes. The hot syrup will kill spores on the inner cap surface and in the neck of the bottle.
The hot temperature should be maintained for roughly 10 minutes because the duration of the heat treatment also plays an important function in killing spoilage spores. Then set the filled containers on an open airy table to cool.
Cooling the filled containers quickly after the heat treatment will stop the cooking process. If left hot for too long, the syrup will continue to cook in the container and can spoil the flavour and darken the colour out of grade.
As the container cools, condensed water can form on the inner glass surface of the air space, where free water can create conditions for surviving spores to grow. Once cool, invert the bottle again to mix any condensed water back into the syrup.
Preserving quality of maple syrup
Refrigeration has long been known as a means of preserving food quality from spoilage organisms. Refrigeration is a somewhat recent adoption for the maple syrup industry. Syrup producers build cold storage facilities to add assurance that maple syrup quality will be maintained, particularly during warm spring and summer months.
Others may be frustrated with having to deal with mould growth in bulk storage containers or in consumer containers, where naturally cool storage areas are not available on the farm. Some basic food processing science is a necessary skill for maple syrup producers, in addition to understanding trees.
Maple syrup orchards
Spring tree-planting season is a busy time for farmers who are involved in planting windbreaks, adding forest cover to their land and planting new commercial fruit and nut orchards.
Tree planting can include establishing a sugar maple orchard for future maple syrup production. Sugar maple, black maple, red maple and soft maple trees can be planted for maple syrup (big-leaf maple in British Columbia). Ontario has thirty or forty maple syrup orchards in various stages of growth, with the oldest now being tapped for syrup production.
Tree-based industries in horticulture and forestry generally operate with an estranged arrangement, under two different provincial governments and segregated institutions of higher learning. Silviculture is forestry. Pomology is orchard production utilizing flowering trees. Future graduating students could have broader job opportunities and transferable skills with integrated teaching of tree-based industries.
Thousands of farmers and landowners in Ontario make their living from diverse tree industries, in horticulture and in forestry.