The work begins in early January by drilling a small hole into each tree and inserting a fitting known as a "tap" or "spout". This will allow sap to be drawn from the tree using a vacuum system. It takes three men anywhere from 15-20 days to tap 10,000 trees based on snow depth in our mountain sugar bush. A new tap is used every year to ensure the quality of our syrup as well as the health of the tree.
The season begins when winter temperatures begin to warm in March and April. Ideal weather is above freezing and sun during the day with below freezing tremperatures at night. This will allow the sap to begin to flow through the "tap hole" we drilled, down our extensive tubing system and into tanks at the sugarhouse. The video on the right shows the sap ending its long journey and being fed into one of three, 5,000 gallon stainless steel storage tanks. On a good day there can be as much as 20,000 gallons of sap that flows into our sugarhouse! When dealing with that quantity of raw product, efficiency has to be of the highest priorities.
Raw sap from a maple tree averages about 2% sugar content with finished maple syrup at roughly 66%. Utilizing a Reverse Osmosis (RO) machine we separate sugars from water and "squeeze" the sap from a 2% sugar content to a 18% concentrate. The concentrate is then pumped to another tank and ready for the boiling process. The separated water or what is called "permeate" is then stored and used for cleaning purposes. This allows us to operate at the highest possible efficiency which is paramount when dealing with an estimated 175,000 gallons of product throughout the season.
From the RO the concentrated sap is slowly fed into the evaporator and the boiling process begins. Depending on the sugar content, it can take anywhere from 40-50 gallons of raw sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. The evaporator takes about 15 min to get 250 gallons of cold sap to a full boil. When the unit is running full speed we average about 55 gallons of finished syrup per hour! Take a look at the video to the right to see the boiling process in action.
The finished syrup is approximately 215 degrees when it is fed through a filter. The filter press is a series of plates with filter paper in between each plate. The syrup is pushed through the filter press under high pressure and the finished product is the crystal-clear syrup we all know and love.
Still extremely hot, the syrup is then "hot packed" into barrels or bottles at no less than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This process of hot packing ensures the syrup is safe for consumption and provides and extended shelf life. The video on the right shows a quick clip of the bottling process. The picture below shows just a fraction of the barrels used to store the finished syrup.
Keeping it Clean
Cleanliness is one of our highest priorities at Idle Hour Maple Farm. That’s why we felt it important to voluntarily have our sugarhouse certified by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association. This ensures that we are following Good Manufacturing Practices in order to bring the consumer a consistent, high quality product with every purchase. Throughout the entire season we have strict daily cleaning schedules for all of our equipment and production facility. This includes daily cleaning of the tanks, RO, evaporator and any surfaces within the production area. This standard of sanitation allows us to guarantee that our product will be of the highest quality time and time again.
As temperatures continue to warm the season comes to an end. The equipment is washed and made ready for the off season. Each tree is visited yet again to remove the tap in order to allow the tree to properly heal. We look toward the coming season, evaluate the sugar woods for production improvments and execute an improvement plan.