A sap collection project was our main focus in the sugarwoods this year. How important is sap collection to a sugarmaker’s maple business? Very important, both economically and to the health of the trees. So much, that after reviewing our system, it prompted a major investment and overhaul. Our sap collection project has been ongoing through 2015 and into 2016 and is winding down this week.
Spring & Summer 2015
We made the decision to take down 14 year-old tubing covering 60 acres and consisting of 3500 taps after the 2015 maple season last spring. After the tubing was down, a 2 month job, our forester, using our Forest Management Plan, headed out to mark trees that a logger would harvest. A logger completed the work from October to December. The management practices that we implemented from the plan:
- To harvest a percentage of tree species to release young maple trees and open up the forest canopy allowing the crowns of the maples to grow large and healthy.
- The plan requires us to leave tree tops in the woods to decompose and replenish the organic matter in the soil.
- Course woody debris, two dead standing trees per acre, were left for wildlife habitat. Small animals, woodpeckers and bats, to name a few use these tree tops for homes, foraging for food and as a safe hiding place from predators.
Working behind the logger, our crew started laying out the plan for the new pipeline system in early December. This winter has been an usually warm winter on our farm and navigating the trails through the woods has been a muddy mess.
Efficient Sap Collection
Maple syrup production starts with your sap collection system. Sugarmakers are always weighing the pros and cons of a tubing replacement for the overall health of the trees and best economic benefit of the investment. There is a lot of information available to assist with making those decisions. The Proctor Maple Research Center, a field research facility with the University of Vermont, focuses their research on the sugar maple tree, the collection of sap and the production of syrup.
Our tubing was aged, weathered and cracked, and well past its prime. The old, obsolete layout of the tubing is being replaced wih a new layout that will allow for easier maintenance throughout the sugaring season as well as increasing the flow of sap and transporting it back to the sugarhouse quickly for processing.
Looking at a topographical map and employing an expert tubing installer, we mapped out where the wet and dry lines mainlines should be to most efficiently reach all areas. This allowed us to pick up new trees that were on the outskirts of the woods and had not previously been tapped. With this change of design and addition of trees that grew in the last 14 years to become large enough for tapping, we increased the taps in this area from 3500 to 4300 taps.
Last fall our delivery of mainline, laterals, drop lines, parts and every other thing we needed to support our sap collection project arrived. To put the piles in perspective here’s how it measures:
- 14,333 feet or 2.7 miles of drop lines
- 54,000 feet or 10.2 miles of main lines
- 75,000 feet or 14.2 miles of lateral lines
Vacuum System for Sap Collection
Another big change to our sugarwoods system was the elimination of bulk storage tanks and the use of pumping stations. Pumping stations move the sap quickly through the lines to the sugarhouse where it can be processed as soon as possible. When sap sits around in a collection vessel waiting to be pumped back to the sugarhouse, it warms up and the quality starts to deteriorate. We also realized that we had virtually no vacuum in the furthest sugarwoods, a mile and a half from the sugarhouse, thus adding to the slow down of sap moving through the lines. A high rate of vacuum will yield more sap per tap and doesn’t have to cause ill health effects to the trees.
The best tubing systems are those that are straight, tight and downhill. Where the slope of the land was not adequate, we used many posts to support the mainlines and to gain the downhill grade needed. We have 3 pumping stations at different low points in the woods. The sap flows to these pump houses and is pumped up the hill and to the sugarhouse.
Even Smaller Spouts for Tree Health
Smaller spouts are another new practice that we will be implementing with this season’s harvest. The smaller spouts are designed to be less invasive to the trees by requiring a very small 1/4″ hole through the tree bark and into the wood to capture the maple sap. This size hole is down from 5/16″ in recent years and from 7/16″ for bucket spouts.
Sap Collection in 2016
Due to the warm winter temperatures in the northeast, I’m always asked what kind of a season we will experience. Usually, my answer is “ask me on May 1st”. The most important thing is that the trees are wet and it doesn’t warm up too quickly. Sugarmaking is evolving with climate change, but Vermont sugarmakers are being innovative and using the best technology available as they continue to hold on and produce the best maple syrup in the world. On our farm, we reserve our best maple syrup for our customers.
Overall, our new tubing system with high vacuum pressure will enable us to have increased sap quantity, better quality syrup, with less invasion to the tree and its health. Here’s to a the oncoming maple season!!
Click on all the images in this post to enlarge.