It looks easy. You tap a tree, collect sap, boil it down and get maple syrup.
But, the new technology behind this ancient skill of making maple syrup, which goes back to aboriginal tribes throwing hot rocks into wooden trays to boil down the sap, brings its own set of problems.
Today’s maple syrup operation is a far cry from what were considered modern sap houses a few years ago. An example is Walt’s Sugar Shack in Ameliasburgh Ward, just east of Consecon, where the traditional “first tapping” ceremony for the Quinte District Maple Syrup Producers Local was held Friday.
The sprawling group takes in from Kingston area, through to Oshawa and embraces hundreds of maple syrup producers.
Brian and Jane Walt are relatively new, starting up with their family’s heritage 10-acre sugar bush in 1999 and expanding to now more than 1,300 taps. The property goes back in the Walt name about 200 years, however.
Representing the association was Chris Koomans, president, a producer from the Waupoos area, who presented the Walts with a plaque in recognition of their hospitality. Producers from a radius of 30 miles also attended, with Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff doing the official tapping assisted by Brian Walt’s father, John, using an old-fashioned stick-mounted bit.
(In most past ceremonies, power drills were used.)
Walt was making no predictions about the coming year’s harvest. “We won’t know until we see it.”
Getting back to technology, the process was improved in the 1800s when evaporators were developed, using sheet metal soldered together in specially designed pans. These later led to some concerns about exposure to lead from the solder used in the process, corrected in recent years by moulded stainless steel pans.
The Walts stick to old fashioned wood fire, but with high-tech differences. They use a reverse osmosis machine to concentrate the sap, and pre-heating with a steam unit before boiling. The efficiency, said Walt, is amazing. “We used to use about 40 cords of slab wood, now we only need about six or seven cords.”
Another modern device automatically controls the boiling point based on air pressure. That alone can affect the boiling temperature by up to one to two degrees, he said, “and that can make quite a difference.”
The Walts have now become part of the county’s growing tourism industry, attracting many visitors throughout the sap season. “People just drop in on weekends, 7:30 on a Saturday for coffee and breakfast. Then they usually pitch in as volunteers to help repair or build something or other chores. We couldn’t really operate without our volunteers,” he said, adding that the camaraderie with the visitors is one of the highlights.
The current system of collecting sap by a network of plastic hoses continues to be plagued by gnawing activities by squirrels,”but we just live with it,” he said. Other problems in their particular area are large flocks of wild turkeys which will sit on the lines and can bring them down. At another sugar bush in Tyendinaga Township an unexpected problem one year was a herd of elk which roamed through the bush, wreaking havoc with plastic lines.
Within the next few days, clouds of steam from dozens of sap houses across the region will herald a new crop of fresh maple syrup, a product which recent research indicates is better for one’s health even than honey, based on nutritives and enzymes.
Also announced was a one-day family event at the farm in August to raise funds for a new county hospital, a project which the Walt family all support.
Originally posted at insidebelleville.com