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Posts Tagged ‘sugaring’

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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OK.. so when we left off, the sap at Sweet Brook Farm which is used to make our gourmet maple syrup has just finished its long journey from the trees, under the ground, and into the sugar house.  Remember that one of the key factors of the grade of the syrup is minimizing its exposure to sunlight and the warm temperatures.  That is why our state-of the-art sap collection system ensure that our maple syrup is the best tasting around.  In the maple syrup world less sunlight  equals better taste!

Now that we’ve seen how the sap is collected, let’s take a look at where it goes and what happens to it.  In this first photo, you see the black main sap lines dumping into the 1,700-gallon, cone-bottom sap collection tank.  The white PVC pipes are for the vacuum lines and vacuum pump exhaust

1,700 gallon sap collection tank

This is the vacuum pump system used to create vacuum in the sap lines which better facilitates sap flow and helps with those low-lying areas that need to “boost” the sap up hill.  The large black tub of water is used to cool the pump.

The vacuum pump system and cooling tub

After the sap starts to collect in the main collection tank, it gets pumped to the reverse-osmosis (RO) unit.  Here, the sap gets pushed through the membrane columns, pushing through some of the water in the sap and holding back sugar-concentrated sap.  The sugar content in raw maple sap is about 2%.  The RO unit will bring the sugar content of the sap up to about 10%, removing about 80% of the water, which in turn saves about 80% of the fuel otherwise needed to evaporate sap to syrup.

Reverse osmosis system

From the RO unit, the concentrated sap, or concentrate, is pumped to the concentrate tank where it will dump into the evaporator.  We built a special platform to hold this 150-gallon tank above the evaporator, so it can feed by gravity.  Once this tank fills up, the oil-fired arch is turned on, and evaporation begins!

The concentrate tank - Let the evaporation begin!

Our evaporator is designed to boil off 160 gallons of water per hour, making approximately 20 gallons of syrup per hour if fed 10% concentrate.  The steam hood over the evaporator pans preheats the concentrate before it enters the pan, further saving fuel.  An automatic take-off valve controls the flow of syrup into a 100-gallon finishing pan where a final adjustment can be made before it is finished and packaged.  The final syrup is 66% sugar.

Sap goes into the evaporator, and maple syrup comes out

The evaporator pans collect niter, or maple sand, that must be cleaned routinely to prevent damage to the pans and off-tasting syrup.  We have installed rope pulls to lift the steam hood off the rear evaporator pan.

Heavy-duty rails and additional rope pulls are used to lift and remove the rear pan and to slide it out the door of the sugar house for periodic cleaning.

Evaporator pans are set up with rope pulls for periodic cleaning to ensure consistent taste

A gear pump forces the finished syrup through this filter press to remove foreign debris and niter.  From here, the syrup is packaged in 5-gallon containers or transferred to our bottling unit for packaging.

This is the point at which we grade the syrup using USDA standards of Grade A Light Amber, Medium Amber, Dark Amber, or Grade B Commercial.

Once the syrup travels through the filter press, it is time to give it a USDA Grade

Each day, the tanks and RO membrane are rinsed out using a garden hose and fresh water.

Daily cleaning keeps us busy and your syrup tasting great

Our new mezzanine will store the finished syrup, some in the 5-gallon blue containers shown in this photo.  This is also where we will store our bottling supplies and other seasonal farm equipment.

Our brand new mezzanine where we store the finished product until it is shipped out or bottled

Stay tuned for our next post where we talk about the pump house, which at the time of writing this post, is not quite finished.  We are hoping for some warmer temperatures so we can finish the work that needs to be done in there.

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Here is my second post of what I hope to be many about what goes into the making of our Gourmet Maple Syrup here at Sweet Brook Farm.  I figured I would give you a little background so you could see where we were, where we are, and where we are going.

Back in March 2009, Pete and I paid a visit to The Red Bucket Sugar Shack, owned by Jeff and LeAnn Mason in Worthington, MA.  They run a weekend brunch during sugaring season, so we decided to see what they knew.  Jeff is a distributor for all the major sugaring equipment manufacturers and has over 40 years experience sugaring.  We had him out to see our place a few times to help us plan out how we could begin producing maple syrup.  He toured our 106 acres, looked at our trees, and started pondering a plan.  He would help us install the sap lines through the trees using his innovative techniques that he’s developed over his lifetime of sugaring.

Lots of trees and brush had to be removed to make our Maple Strategy a reality

Our property has several sugar bushes, or groupings of maple trees, scattered around the property.  Because we do not have roads to get to the bases of these areas, we wanted to limit our encounter with the notorious mud season and get the sap to a central pumping station.  Our strategy was to run tubing out of each of the sugar bushes to a series of vacuum releaser tanks that would then force all the sap to the pump house.  From the pump house, the sap will get pumped up to the sugar house.

One of the problems we ran into was the fact that we have pasture land that we use for cutting hay and, in the future, would like to put beef cattle in.  To get the sap from the different areas to a pump house would require running tubes across this pasture.  So we decided to bury the main sap lines and vacuum lines.

In August, while Jeff Mason was installing lines in the sugar bushes, we hired Scott & Lee Morrison Excavating to help us clear brush and dig trenches for the buried main lines.  We also had our friend, Larry Luczynski, owner of Timberline Builders in Chatham, MA come to help Pete with laying the lines.

The trenches were 12 feet deep in some places

Naturally, the lines had to be put in so that they were always flowing downhill, and in some places, this meant trenches that were over 12 feet deep because of the terrain.

Our underground mainline strategy has yielded some additional benefits.  Because sap contains sugar, it is a breeding ground for naturally present bacteria, and sap should always be processed, refrigerated, or treated with U/V light as soon as possible after it is collected.  Any bacteria in the sap gets boiled and killed during syrup production, so it is safe for consumption.  But that is also why there are different grades of syrup. Darker syrup is usually made from sap collected later in the season; warmer daytime temperatures and/or sap sitting in collection tanks induce bacteria growth.  However, we believe that because our sap is immediately getting pumped from the trees through underground lines, and directly to the sugar house, we minimize bacteria growth.  We predict that, if our maple production goes well, we will have a higher volume of lighter, purer syrup.

Stay tuned for more about the pump house, our facility installation, and the sugar bush tubing system!

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