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Greetings again from Sweet Brook Farm where we are in the process of making our gourmet maple syrup.  This is the next installation in our story of how we get the best tasting maple syrup available today.  When you read these posts, we hope you get the feeling of how much TLC goes into this process.  This is truly a labor of love for all of us here at Sweet Brook Farm.

As we’ve mentioned in several prior posts, one key aspect that makes our maple syrup here at Sweet Brook Farm special is that all our sap is pumped automatically to our sugar house for immediate processing.  Our pump house is designed to keep the maple sap cool and deliver it with a bare minimum of hold time.  Our sap never sits around or warms up in collection tanks or buckets so it yields the purest syrup possible.

The almightly pumphouse!

Sap lines, vacuum lines, and our main pump-up line are all are tethered to the pump house, which is a small 8’x10’, well-insulated structure that rests at the low point of our system.  All the sap drains to it by gravity via the underground lines so it never warms up in tubing that is heated by the sun.

Mulitple lines are tethered to the pump house

Inside the pump house, the sap is never allowed to freeze.  A small ceramic heater, shown at bottom left, maintains the temperature around 35°F inside.  The main vacuum releaser and a 1.5 hp sap pump are mounted above a 300-gallon stainless steel tank.  During periods of peak sap flow on warm sunny mornings in February and March, the sap will be flowing in from 3,500 taps at about 30 gallons per minute.  Since the working volume of the tank is only 100 gallons the average residence time of our sap is only 3 minutes!  The remaining 1,000 taps in our system flow to an electric releaser housed on another part of the property.  This will be the topic of a future article.

Sap pump and heater

The black plastic tubing is connected to the vacuum manifold on the releaser with clear “tiger flex” tubing.  In total there are 11 lines bringing sap and vacuum to the main releaser which will be dumping its 19.2- gallon load of sap about every 40 seconds during a good sap run.

Tiger Flex Tube Connections

Each line enters the main manifold through a ball valve which allows us to isolate each line from different areas in the sugar bush and to check for air leaks in the system.

Sap lines are isolated to simplify checking for leaks

To inspect a line, we simply close the valve for a few seconds and then open it and observe the flow of sap through that line.  If a big blast of air comes in we know where to look for air leaks.

Checking for leaks

The sap drains from the manifold section into the releaser tank.  As the tank fills, a float valve rises in the tank.

Float valev in releaser tank

The float valve shuts off the vacuum to the releaser for a brief moment and the sap dumps into the storage tank below.  As the sap empties, the float falls inside the releaser, and vacuum is restored.  This is an entirely mechanical apparatus, and all the moving parts must be lubricated on a daily basis to keep it working smoothly.  A vacuum gauge on the manifold allows us to set the vacuum in our sugarhouse for the best operation of the releaser.  We target 24” of vacuum in the pump house.

Vacuum is lost briefly and sap dumps into storage tank below

When sap is flowing into the tank, the pump is controlled by a float switch in the back of the tank.  In the front is where the sap is suctioned into the pump.  A pump strainer on the bottom prevents any foreign material from entering the pump head.   A check valve on top of the strainer prevents the 90 gallons of sap that fills the pump-up line from flowing back into the tank when the pump stops.

The pump is controlled by a float switch

The main control panel in the pump house allows for smooth automatic operation.  The thermostat, shown in the upper left, senses the outside temperature.   When it warms up in the morning, power goes to a magnetic starter coil that allows the pump to operate.  The magnetic starter provides protection for the pump so it can never operate if sap were to freeze in the pump-up line.  At night when the temperature drops, the magnetic coil shuts off, but power is supplied to the heater and a solenoid valve that opens to allow the pump-up line to drain back to the sap tank.

The main control panel

When temperatures drop below freezing, we need to drain the sap from the pump- up line so it will not be clogged with ice when sap begins to flow the next morning.  The solenoid valve shown here will open automatically when freezing begins to let the line drain.  This high-tech automated system will allow Pete and Beth to spend most of their time in the sugar house making syrup and not out collecting sap!

Solenoid valve opens automatically when below freezing to drain the line

Well.. that is all for today, but we are getting closer to completing the puzzle.   Make sure to come back for our next post!

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We figured that you would want to know the process that ensures our gourmet maple syrup is the best-tasting and highest quality maple syrup available today.  We have done a lot of homework here at Sweet Brook Farm and in collaboration with the Red Bucket Sugar Shack, we have come up with a one-of-a-kind sugaring system.

In our research on maple sap collection, tubing systems have always used wires to support the lines through the sugar bush to prevent tube sagging.  Any sap left sitting in a sagging tube is a breeding ground for bacteria growth, so it is important to have taught sap lines so the sap can fully drain out.  Over his 40 years of sugaring, Jeff Mason of the Red Bucket Sugar Shack has developed a few easily fabricated methods to run tubes through the sugar bush without using wires.  The wireless tubing system is more economical to install and easier to repair should a tree fall down in a wind storm and take the lines down.  This is the methodology we have chosen to adopt in our maple production system.

Lateral lines are tied to the main lines using hollow nylon rope

This loop in the line is called a Drop

Starting with the tree, the lateral lines are hung through the sugar bush.  These are the blue 5/16” lines that are connected to the tree and flow into the main lines.  The loops are called drops.  These keep the system closed when the sap is not flowing.  When the taps are set into the tree every season, one end of the drop is hooked into the tap.

The lateral lines are tied to the main lines using woven, hollow nylon rope which keeps the lateral line taught while removing tension from the connection to the main line.  One end of the rope is tied to the main line, while the lateral line is threaded through the hollow rope.  Using the Chinese finger trap concept, the lateral line is pulled taught and held in place under tension.  The lateral lines can be easily loosened for repair or repositioning.

We connect the lateral line to the main line with a "stab-in" or "saddle"

Connecting the lateral lines to the main line is accomplished using a stab-in, or saddle.  A gasket in the saddle helps maintain a vacuum-tight seal.

Main lines are supported by 5/16" lateral tubing

The main lines are simply supported by loops of 5/16” lateral tubing and a nail.  Should a tree fall across the lines, the nail is pulled out of the tree, and falls down with it.  Repairs are made simply by cutting away the fallen tree and hammering the loop back into the supporting tree.

Lines with more tension are supported by logging straps

Where lines are under more tension and more strength is needed to support them, logging strap is used in a similar fashion as the lateral tubing loops.

Sometimes a main line has to bend around a tree which causes pinching of the main line.  A piece of PVC pipe cut vertically in half provides support for the bending line and reduces constriction in the line.

PVC pipe is used to prevent crimping when bending around a tree

The main lines are tied to trees and pulled taught using nylon rope threaded to specially fabricated washers.  In the summer time, the main lines relax in the heat, allowing the rope to relax, allowing the tree to grow without restriction.  This is better for the trees’ health.

Mainlines are tied to trees with rope to allow minimum growth restriction in the warmer months

This photo illustrates how the main sap and vacuum lines are supported using a series of the rope pulls as described above.  It’s important to have the tension pulling in both directions of the bend.

Proper bending of the main sap and vacuum lines

In several low-lying areas in the sugar bush, star ladders are used to get the sap up to a higher main line.  The vacuum in the system causes the gases in the sap to form bubbles that carry the sap up to the higher line where it can then drain out by gravity.

Star ladders are used in low-lying areas

Star ladders are used to get sap up to a higher main line

In other low-lying areas of the sugar bush, there are no higher lines for the sap to flow.  Vacuum can pull the liquid uphill from tub ladders through dedicated wet lines to the vacuum booster tanks.  Vacuum releasers dump the sap into the tubs, and a special foot valve in the bottom of the tub allow the wet line to pull a continuous column of sap as much as 20 feet up hill.

Tub ladders help pull the sap uphill

Main lines that carry the sap from the sugar bush terminate into vacuum booster tanks which allow sap to drain underground to the main releaser in the pump house while increasing vacuum to the main lines.  The protective frame around the tank prevents damage to the sensitive apparatus from falling limbs.

Main lines terminate into vacuum booster tanks

The main lines are color coded for easy identification and isolation of vacuum leaks.  Booster tanks can be disconnected after the season and stored inside to prevent damage from summer heat and sun.

Lines are color coded for easy identification

After flowing underground through 5,000 feet of trench below our meadows, the sap arrives at the pump house.  From there it is sent 1,400 feet directly to our sugar house for processing.

Sap travels underground to the pump house

Lines from the pump house run under our driveway up to the sugar house.

All of the lines run under our driveway

All sap is sent with minimum hold-up time to our sugar house for immediate processing.

The sap ends its journey at our sugar house

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Welcome to our blog for Sweet Brook Farm located in Williamstown, MA.  We are going to share all of our progress  with our maple syrup production, vegetable growing, and raising of alpacas.   For us, this is more than just a farm…it is a labor of love.

We are currently working hard on getting our state-of-the-art maple syrup production system running, and we are going to share it with you right here on our blog.  We should have the first batch of our gourmet maple syrup available in mid February or early March, depending on the weather.  Aside from maple sugaring, we also grow the freshest vegetables you have ever tasted so if you are in the area, be sure to stop by and say hello.  When you are here, don’t forget that we also raise prize-winning alpacas, one of the most unique animals on the planet.

We want to extend a special thanks to all of our friends who supported us this past summer at the Williamstown Farmer’s Market.  We truly appreciate it and hope to see you again next summer.

Well…there is much to do, so check back soon for our next post.

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