…and now for something completely different…
Canoe bow waves are quickly lost
on the shoreside
But go on out of sight
on the lake side.
The constant swish-swish of skis
On a day long ski.
The constant swish-swish of wiper blades
On a day long drive.
My dog, trotting barefoot
Steps on a garden slug
Nothing of it.
Word spreads quickly
as I approach the pond.
All becomes quiet.
Hidden in the vines
a large warted cucumber
jumps out of reach.
of marshmallow snow
on a branch,
await the trigger of my hat
to melt their way down my back.
Deep in the tomato jungle
Fruits of yellow, purple and red
Tell of their readiness
To go to market.
Snowflakes hurry through my flashlight beam,
As my boots knead new snow with spring mud,
On my nightly Hajj to keep the boil alive,
For as long as possible until the dawn,
To match the power of the flowing sap,
With my meager evaporator and will.
The prize at the finish line are jars of syrup
Photos. . .
. . . from the 2005 sugaring season at Snakeroot Organic Farm.
The season began on February 5th, continued for two weeks, stopped for three weeks, then began
again on March 13 and lasted until March 31. During many of those days we were boiling almost
around the clock in our small 18" x 36" evaporator.
We have seven trees tapped singley, where the sap is collected at each tree. We do this because
some of our trees are easy to get to (near the side of the driveway) but hard to reach with
maple tubing. The pair pictured here wakes up late and is always a good producer late in the season, even
though it is in an open location and not shaded by surrounding trees. This pair of maples is right beside the
driveway on your right at the end of the driveway when you drive in.
THE EAST LINE - 69 taps.
Most of our sap is collected via maple tubing running downhill to the sugarhouse from up to a
thousand feet away to the west, north and east. Small 3/16" maple lines run from tap to tap on the trees, then dump into a
½" main line after collecting sap from two to thirty trees, depending upon the density of trees and the local slope of the
land. Sap from these smaller branch lines empties into a main line on its way to the sugarhouse. It is these main lines that run into 5
gallon jugs or 30 gallon barrels near the sugarhouse.
Here you can see the 5 gallon jug at the end of the East line. In a day with a good sap run, this jug will have to be emptied every 90
minutes. In 2005 there was a ten day period where almost every day was a very good sap run.
Shoveling the thirty foot path to the jug must be done after every snow.
This is the view if you walk up to the jug in the previous picture and look back up the
The East Main Line as it arrives from the sugarbush. This side of the bush has less slope that
the west and north branch lines, so the line approaches close to the ground as it arrives to
give the line maximum slope. As you can see in times of deep snows, the line can be buried in
snow, which means it won't thaw very easily even on a sunny day. On good sap flow days after a
heavy snow, such lines need to be cleared of snow so the frozen sap in the lines has a chance
to thaw and begin running downhill again. The area where the snow is cleared from around the line is
actually two feet off the ground.
In the distance you can see a lighter colored branch line as it heads down to the main
THE WEST LINE - 54 taps.
The West Line was our first attempt to use regular black plastic ½" water pipe
for a main line. The cost is about 2/3 of what the regular blue ½" maple main line
costs, and many maple operations are using it. After having lived with it for two years, I
would not recommend it on any installation with a slight slope like the West Line has. The
reason is that with the black pipe it is impossible to tell if there is any sap being retained
in the slight sags that occur between supports. In a setup with a good slope, even the uphill
side of a sag is still headed down hill. In a very moderate slope setup, the blue maple
½" lines are translucent enough that you can see if the sap is collecting where it
shouldn't. Live and learn.
You can see the difference in this picture as the last one foot extension on the line is the
regular blue maple line. Regular hardware store fittings for ½" plastic pipe fits
both types of line.
THE NORTH LINE (30 taps)
THE BUS LINE (111 taps) - 141 taps total.
We have connected these two lines together just so they can both empty into the same
container. When the sap flow really begins, the 5 gallon jugs will fill up in less than 30
minutes, so we use 30 gallon plastic trash cans to collect the sap. Even these fill in less
than a day, so during the height of the season we set two together and use a length of maple
tubing to siphon them together giving us 60 gallons of storage.
Here you can see the flow rate is pretty fast, and this keeps up for six to eight hours on
a good sap day. After several days in a row like this, panic sets in as we begin to run out of
sap storage space. Next to the barrels you can see a stack of ½ gallon recycled juice
jugs in trays. We have enough of these to hold another 50 gallons of sap.
Our evaporator will boil down between 40-50 gallons in a day if we boil from
7am to 10 pm. This makes for a long day.
Stepping back from the last picture we see the two 30 gallon barrels with the jugs stacked
next to them. On the left is the West Line and on the right is the Middle Line, with its 24
taps. One of the reasons this site was chosen for the new sugarhouse was that for most of the
day the sap jugs are not sitting in the sun. This is not especially important early in the
season, but as season winds down with warmer weather, the sun-warmed sap can sour quickly.
This photo was taken at about 11 in the morning.
Turning about we look toward the sugarhouse, with the West Line in the foreground. This
sugarhouse was built in December of 2002, using ideas gleaned from the shortcomings of the
first sugarhouse built in December 2000. We made it larger to hold more dry firewood, added
more shelving to hold all the miscellaneous syruping implements, and made more work
It also has a steam vent which has prevented clouds from forming in the sugarhouse on windless days. The vent can be partially closed
on rainy days and completely closed for the off-season. The top of the steam vent propped wide open can be seen next to the stovepipe.
Plastic sides and a plastic skylight over the evaporator provide plenty of light until just after dusk, when the flashlights come out.
INSIDE THE SUGARHOUSE
Besides boiling, the sugarhouse is used for STORAGE! Storage of dry firewood for the boiling
season and storage of sap ready to go into the evaporator. At the start of the season firewood
fills about 60 percent of the sugarhouse.
On the right is the evaporator and on the left is a third barrel (of four), more trays of
½ gal. jugs, and the seven 5 gallon jugs, all holding sap waiting its turn to be
boiled. Additionally we have six 2½ gal water jugs; all told our storage capacity is
around 250 gallons, not including the evaporator itself, which holds 15 gallons when full.
IT ALL COMES DOWN
TO THE BOIL
Every morning the now cooled almost-syrup from last evening's final stoking is drained off into jugs to be brought up to the house for
final finishing over the wood cookstove. Meanwhile the ashes need to be cleaned out under the firebox, and the new fire laid as new sap
is added to the evaporator, keeping in mind to use the "first in, first out" system for the sap storage so you are boiling the
oldest sap first, lest it go sour if kept too long. Once the new sap is in the pan the fire may be lit. In a few minutes larger sticks
are laid upon the blazing kindling; shortly after that the logs and quartered logs laid on the fire and soon what was 15 gallons of cold
sap just minutes before sings as it tentatively begins to simmer.
It is at this point that a few wisps of steam can be noticed wafting
above the evaporator. Ten minutes later the roar of the fire is drowned out by the rush of the boil, a sound reminiscent of a waterfall
that signals sap is being turned in to syrup. The evaporator fire will need re-stoking every 45 minutes to an hour.
The formerly smooth surface is now jumping with excitement in every corner of the evaporator. Steam bellows forth, up into the steam
vent, instantly clouding the glasses of any who attempt a closer look. Mere sap is being turned into mighty syrup!
Through the fired
hours of evaporation and carmelization, the alchemy of transformation occurs where the slightly sweet sap of a local tree is turned into
a highly sweet and uniquely flavorful syrup sought by millions to lift their spirits on a pancake morning.
The maple steam and the
roar of the boil last only a few weeks each year, and occur in all the world only in a relativeley small region of northeastern North
America; but within that time and space can be experienced and even performed by anyone wishing to tap a tree and to light a fire.
In the view of the sugarhouse, you can see how the snow has melted away from the stovepipe and steam vent. In 2004, the roof over the
evaporator was improved by adding a board roof covered with roll roofing. The rest of the roof covering the end with the firewood is still the
original used greenhouse plastic, which allows much more light into the sugarhouse, as can be seen in the next picture.
Just a week away from the end of the 2005 sugaring season, you can see there is still plenty of firewood left. Better too much than
too little! Much of this wood was put under cover the previous fall and is not quite dry enough for prime burning wood, but will be
perfect for the 2006 season. At the start of the season, the firewood came right up to the back of the chair, full from one side to the other.
More Questions? Want to Visit? Get in touch.