Dispatch from the Sugarwoods, 2018 - Part 5

Dispatch from the Sugarwoods, 2018 - Part 5

So it never came back for us. It’s been perfect sap weather here for the last few weeks, but there’s been no sap coming out of our lines. The sap’s running – I’ve been stacking firewood near a maple with a broken branch and the sap’s been steadily falling from it – it’s just that our tapholes are dry. Now two months old, they’ve developed a microbial-induced scab that prevents deliquescence.

We processed a few more dribbles of sap since my last post; our last boil was April 4. In adding up our notes on the season I see that we generated 15.4 gallons of sap per tap, which is just shy of the 16-gallons-per-tap goal that we consider to be “a crop.” On most years that equates to about .37 gallons of syrup per tap, but on this year it meant only .26 on account of the poor sugar content. In real world terms, we fell about 300 gallons of syrup short of our goal. We’ve been on a five-year run where we’ve either hit or exceeded our target crop, so in the big picture it’s not surprising that we had an off year – this is agriculture, after all. But it’s still disappointing. On good years the last boil is a celebratory affair; this year we just shut off the lights and went home.

I’m out of steam, both where it comes to the season and where it comes to writing about it. So I’ll leave you with a picture of the year’s first fungus – the first I’ve seen anyway – which I found in the sugarbush while pulling taps. Little red cups that beat out the coltsfoot to be the first ground color of the year. Good luck to all you sugarmakers who are still going. And happy spring to everyone.

Dispatch from the Sugarwoods, 2018 - Part 4, Part 3, Part 2, Part 1

  1. Pete Antos-Ketcham → in Starksboro, VT
    Apr 13, 2018

    Hi Dave - thanks for the annual reports again. We had a similar experience to you. We just boiled our last batch on the 11th - like you we were just tired and ready to be done. We made about 5 gallons shy of our goal but it took a little more than a cord of wood extra than usual to get there as we struggled with sap ranging from 1.2 to 1.5. It was a weird season. Time to clean up, pull the taps, and start thinking about the garden.

  2. Keith Johnson → in N. Smithfield, RI
    Apr 13, 2018

    A sad day but we still enjoy your commentary and consider them a ritual of our late winter and spring.  Just wait til next year when we will give it Hell again.

  3. Chuck Wooster → in White River Junction, VT
    Apr 14, 2018

    Hi Dave—

    Were you using check valves this year? We “upgraded” to check valves this year on our 550 taps and experienced much the same ending as you did - sap clearly running in the woods but not in our two-month-old tap holes. Couldn’t tell if the check valves hadn’t come through or if they had already given us an extra week.

    We averaged .20 gallons per tap - a bit better than usual in our red maple-dominated woods, probably due to natural vacuum in the skinny tubing.

    Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts with everyone.

  4. Dave Mance → in Corinth, VT
    Apr 18, 2018

    Hey Chuck,

    We were using check valves—both black and clear. The longer I use them, the less confident I am in them. This seemed like the perfect year for them to help add length to the season, but anecdotally, at least, they don’t seem to have given us any more length than other sugarmakers around here I know who didn’t use them.

    By skinny tubing I take it you mean 3/16s? How many years have you been using that and what’s your impression of it? I’ve heard some producers say that they’ve been having problems keeping it clean and unobstructed after a few years of use.

  5. Chuck Wooster → in White River Junction, VT
    Apr 19, 2018


    We’ve been using a mixture of 3/16 and 5/16 in recent years and decided to convert everything to 3/16th this year with new drops all around.

    I made a little gauge setup that I can use to check the vacuum at each tap hole (unplugging the stubby and plugging in the gauge) and often found vacuum greater than 20 lbs. So that part is amazing, though I also found neighboring lines, identical-seeming in every respect, with no vacuum. My guess is that I hammered too hard and split some holes.

    We haven’t been rinsing lines at the end of the season, and my thought was that using check valves to minimize back wash would be cheaper than rinsing. I haven’t had any gumming up issues in the 3/16 so far, though only half of the laterals are more than a season old at this point.

    Interested to hear what other people are experiencing with gumming up.


  6. Richard Root → in Weathersfield, Vt.
    Apr 25, 2018

    I tried the check valve spouts a few years ago and didn’t find them to be noticeably effective.  I have no reason not to trust in the official research on them, but I also haven’t heard many endorsements from other sugarmakers as of yet. 

    The one season I used them, I noticed that they often became contaminated with a tiny piece of woodchip from the taphole.  The woodchip, or what I would describe more as a particle given that it was really small, would lodge in against the check valve ball and cause the ball to stick in place.  Sap still was able to get out around the ball (thankfully), but it was also able to get back in the hole.  Tapholes were drilled with a new bit and with appropriate care to make a clean hole.

    When I pulled spouts at the end of the season, I found that sap in the droplines would often flow out the spout when it was hanging down after just being pulled.  That made me look closer to see what was going on, and that’s when I noticed the tiny wood particles wedged against the balls.

    100% clean tapholes would solve this issue, but that is hard to do given that it only takes a fragment of a woodchip to foul it up.

    I have a few lines of 3/16 and like how they run, though I will probably continue to lower the tap count on the lines.  I started with 25 taps, then down to 20, and still the taps lower on the line do not run as well as the upper most.  Tim Wilmot recently described in an article that 5 tap runs out performed 15 tap lines, and that agrees with what I’ve seen visually.  Mine tie into my existing system of pumped vacuum where most of the taps are on 5/16.

    Haven’t had an issue yet with 3/16 lines getting plugged or gummed up.

    Overall 2018 was a good year in terms of final production in our woods.  It was a long one, though, and took a lot of days of short runs to get there.  Thawed out around noon and frozen up by 8pm were how most days seemed to go. 

    Enjoy reading your dispatches, Dave, and the comments from others as well.  Thanks.

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