The 2018 maple syrup season is underway across much of southern Ontario, while northern producers are prepared and ready for sap harvest. Syrup producers in the south have had several good sap runs during the end of February and have been boiling again during the first week of March.
Earliest areas of southwestern Ontario have produced 50 to 75 percent of a syrup crop so far, up to 1 litre syrup per tap, where vacuum sap collection is very effective. Amber and Dark colour classes having excellent maple flavour are reported. Filtering sugar sand has been average so far with no significant difficulty.
Grey-Bruce area reports 20 to 30 percent of the syrup crop has been processed so far and sap runs have been a moderate flow or half-runs, few really good runs so far. Most producers are making Amber syrup with some Dark syrup just showing this past week. Lots of damage to tubing caused mainly by squirrels is being repaired daily.
Lanark and District and eastern counties are reporting frequent sap runs and very nice maple flavour this season. 2018 has resulted in a very early start date of sap harvest for eastern syrup producers.
In the northern Algonquin region, many producers have completed tapping their sugar bushes during previous thawing conditions with one small sap run so far. The snow is not deep and the ground is nearly bare in some areas towards Sundridge, where in most years, snow depth averages 40 to 60 cm in early March. The sap harvest season in the north is still considered normal for this time of year.
Similarly, on Manitoulin Island and St. Joseph Island, many producers have completed tapping their bush and are awaiting good sap flow conditions to begin harvest.
The week ahead
In the forecast, temperatures will freeze during the night and hover near freezing during the day over the coming week for many areas. Sap flow predictions are looking somewhat questionable for the southwest due to cold, favourable to good for Peterborough to Ottawa and the Eastern counties, and favourable northeast toward Ottawa Valley. Northern regions including Thunder Bay, trees will likely remain frozen due to deep freezing at night with little opportunity for thawing during the day. Sunny calm conditions may encourage a little sap to flow later in the week.
Tapping below the lateral line
Recently, maple researchers have been testing the idea of installing tap holes below the lateral vacuum tubes on maple trees. Normally the tap hole is positioned above the lateral line with the intent of draining the spile and drop line between sap runs, to prevent sap from freezing and tubing connections from coming apart due to expanding sap ice.
Modern sap tube collection systems that operate using high vacuum (25 to 28 inches of vacuum) may be able to keep sap tubing drained of sap between runs. The advantage of tapping below the lateral line will allow producers to tap lower on the trunk into areas that have not previously been tapped. A larger tapping zone on the trunk will significantly improve the availability of clear sapwood for tapping, and less need to drill more than one tap hole per spile, when fresh clear sapwood is scarce and hard to locate.
Producers can keep a close watch on spile connections at the tap hole and on tubing connections in the drop and lateral lines, as the industry gains confidence in this new tapping technique.
The flavours of maple syrup
The flavour of maple syrup changes from the beginning of sap flow to the end of sap harvest. Researchers have investigated how the natural flavour components change in sap as maple trees progress through winter dormancy until bud growth resumes in spring.
Reference: Dr. Marie Filteau, Food Science Department, Laval University
Each consumer may have a preference for their favourite maple syrup flavour. Maple flavours begin as a light and mild maple flavour, progressing to medium and stronger flavours near the middle and end of the season. The Very Dark colour class has the strongest taste compared to lighter classes, however is expressed as less maple component as seen in the graph above.
Whether it’s for fresh eating or as an ingredient in cooking, there will be the right flavour intensity to satisfy all taste buds.