April 23: The Crop Is In

"Alright. That's 2013 right there," said Jake at 5:15 p.m. as he dumped the final pail of syrup into the filter tub. Phew. I know you readers must be as relieved as I am. April 23. Day 23. Come September when I mention to a visitor that we made this year's crop of syrup in twenty-three days it will sound, even to me, like nothing. "But," I'll add after a jerk of memory, "we were sure glad it didn't go a day longer."

Woods cleanup begins tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.

Season stats later this week....


April 22: Late, late season

WEATHER: Freezing nights Saturday (just barely), Sunday (solid) and tonight (predicted but not imminent, since the temp is still in the 40's). HOW'S IT RUNNING? Keystone and Morningside ran well today. We will continue to collect sap until it turns milky.

BOILING STATUS: When we boil tomorrow, we'll break the old record for the latest boil: April 20, 2011. It feels odd to be still writing about freezing nights and sap runs. My eyes wander to the rhubarb and daylily shoots.

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH. An aspect of poetry is stringing words together in ways that startle, or amuse, or please the ear. The extreme skiing and snowboarding crowds play with language in fresh ways, although they wouldn't dream of calling it poetry. But I would. Today, at a ski film website, I found an extensive list of ski tricks, and have borrowed from it to shape a little poem.  Graders of maple syrup, take note.

UpRail Safety to Tranny

Switch lip nollie nose press, Up stall dub switchup switch out, UpRail 270 safety to tranny, Half cab tail press 360 out.

Cork 7 screamin' nose grab, Switch dub cork 16 mute, 4-Kink dancing with the stars, Dub cork 10 mute - poke.

Switch lip nollie nose press, 270 firecracker 180 out, UpRail 270 safety to tranny, Butter 450 on pretzel 270 out.


Which one is Butter on Pretzel?


April 19: Hot

Girl Power  

WEATHER: 70 degrees today. By far the warmest day of the year. BUT, a hard freeze is predicted for Saturday night, so we'll hold out to see if the sap runs on Sunday. Only the cold taps on Herbie and parts of Morningside are still running. During this time of limbo, the Blog Takes a Holiday: gone skiing. Check back on Monday.




April 15: Marathon

GROPPEL, VINEGAR AND BANJO. These three are what I recall from a marathon boil, 2:00 a.m. Sunday til 3:00 a.m. this morning. Jake says groppel is the proper word for the ball-bearing snow of the past few days. Groppel also describes the heaping granules of sugar sand in the syrup troughs. Regular shots of vinegar stoked us, and the banjo strumming of Pete Seeger and William Elliott Whitmore smoothed the air in between filter press crises. But any wispy thoughts of the best run of the year - yes, that's what it was - dissipated by 9:00 a.m. this morning when a torrent of ice like you read about belched out of the main lines. Simultaneously, we couldn't run the vacuum pump without first mucking out the slime in the apparatus. If anything indicates the end of the season it is mucky pumps, tanks and lines.

RUNNING OUT OF DRUMS in which to store syrup is another indicator of late season. I got sent on a road trip to Hardwick to pick up some more. Leaving the premises during a sap run jars me, although I appreciate escaping the tortured drone of the pump. To stay alert I chewed gum and tuned into Vermont Public Radio talk shows. I could feel the grimness of the news working on me from the inside but felt too tired to turn it off. Someone recently said that even good talk radio, such as Fresh Air, is essentially entertainment. When I recalled this comment I came to my senses and turned off the radio for the trip home.

I stopped to pick up groceries in town. The cashier mentioned a bombing at the Boston Marathon. More grimness. I hadn't known that the Boston Marathon was today, but I recalled that Maple Trout Lilli's daughter, a college student in Boston, had stopped by the sugarhouse a few weeks ago and mentioned that she was training for it.

She is safe, and so are her family and the group of neighbors who trekked to Boston to cheer for her. In a nutshell, she crossed the finish line shortly before the bombing. Since she had her cell on her, she was able to rendezvous with her group. Knowing only that something terrible had happened, they fled by running four miles to Cambridge.






April 13: Pause. Replay.

WEATHER: Snow and sleet for two nights and a day. This morning the temp crept above freezing but only as far as 40 degrees, not the high 40's forecasted. Ball bearings of ice rattled in the air like glass shards. Walking up the driveway through them was like climbing a sand dune. This weather script, a 30-40 hour freeze-up after several warm nights, is pitch perfect for extending the season. HOW'S IT RUNNING? Choose your adverb: swimmingly, phenomenally, copiously, amply, abundantly, generously, very well indeed. Or you could say it's running good, real good. You could also say it rivals The Gift Run. In other words, the tanks are close to overflowing; twice as much sap is coming in per hour as the RO can handle. It will run all night.

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO? The crew offered to start boiling now and boil all night, but Chief of Operations plans to let the RO do the night work. When the concentrate tank fills up, he can circulate the concentrate back through the RO. We'll get boiling by 7:00 am and see if we can't break the Nebraska Knoll 454 record of April 5th. It may be tough, since this batch of sap is considerably weaker. It's sugar content is only 1.3%.


BALL VALVE MANIA, A Primer in Five Parts: Day One,  contributed by Chief of Operations: Plumbers frequently use valves of many different types to control the flow of liquid in pipes. Sugar makers are to great extent plumbers, and these valves are an indispensable part of their operation. They tend to sprout like mushrooms in modern sugarhouses, and their sheer numbers can be overwhelming. A quick look at our operation revealed 6 in the canning room, 9 in the evaporator room, 18 in the RO room, 28 in the sap sheds, and 85 in the woods. This doesn't count the 10,000 check valve taps in our trees, or the ones I probably missed.


"....our baby," write our two new friends from UVM who visited on Easter





April 10:Quick Update

Boiling continues as we slowly slide down the backside of the season. The nights are not freezing but neither are the days heating up. The thermometer has settled in at 39 degrees, give or take. In town, crocuses must be blooming, but up on the hill the snow persists and the buds aren't popping yet. The brook is speaking up though - and the birds. Two sides of Falls Brook. You can see which one gets the sun.

The blowdown on K10. Once cut away, the main lines rebounded.

Sap Surge


It is Easter Sunday and the sun is rising, revealing a clear blue sky. It has been a cold night, but the higher elevations of Nebraska Knoll Sugarbush, especially the south facing slopes of Keystone, are already beginning to thaw under a strong, late March sun. The trees here are getting restless as the solar heat riles the sap in their veins. The lower slopes and Valley bottom however, are still under the grips of colder temperatures.

There are eight main lines entering the sap shed, arriving in four pairs of wet and dry lines, each coming from different sections of the bush. The wet lines transport the sap downhill from the trees, and the dry lines transport the vacuum to the trees. This morning the lower wet lines were still solidly frozen when the sap began running higher up. As pressure built from this blockage, the sap was pushed into the dry lines, which began running “wet”.

Chief of operations was monitoring this situation at the release tank where the lines end in the shed. I stood like a soldier preparing for battle, as I knew by the large volume of sap pouring out of the dry lines, that when the ice blockage melted out, an overpowering sap surge would follow. The wet lines soon began to trickle, and within minutes were running at full capacity. Outside, the torrent of sap was pummeling the lines where they curve at a right angle into the shed, making them vibrate. We call this phenomenon line thrash.

The two-horsepower pump, which pumps the sap from the release tank into the holding tanks, was quickly overwhelmed, and the vacuum was shut off. This pump, which is triggered by a float in the release tank and usually runs in cycles, was now running non-stop. It was pumping the sap into one of the twin 1200-gallon storage tanks in the shed, which are connected by a 1 ½” drain, and normally fill simultaneously. The tank was filling so quickly, that the sap level didn’t have time to equalize with its twin, and was soon about to overflow. There are two large 3200-gallon tanks in the upper sap shed, which are the backup when the lower tanks are full. I was averse to filling them at this moment since they were in bad need of cleaning (I had intended to clean them while the lower tanks were filling). Help arrived just in time to clean them before much sap was lost.

I quickly discovered the situation was still out of control, as pumping the sap uphill slowed the pump down just enough to prevent it from keeping up with the incoming deluge, overflowing the release tank. My solution at this point was to direct the sap into the lower tank, which by then had equalized enough with its twin to allow a little more in. Just before it overflowed, I changed over to the upper tank until the release tank was about to overflow, and then back to the lower. This cat and mouse game went on for the better part of an hour before the chaos stabilized. Amazingly, I lost very little precious sap in the process.

A sugarmaker would never admit there is such a thing as too strong a sap run, but experiences like this test that opinion.


   Three inch inlet to release tank overwhelmed by incoming sap.

Lew Coty     March 31, 2013

April 1

  CHANGE IN THE WEATHER: From balmy yesterday to "sharply colder" tonight.

WEATHER FORECASTS: We feel cross with our local weatherman for bursting our bubble. We were enjoying the back-in-the-day March weather until he wrote in the local paper that the chilly, snowy trend was due to climate change, that the jet stream has wandered off course because of extensive ice melt in the Arctic. Does that make this terrific sugaring weather wrong?

Then he said on the radio, in an authoritative tone, that only twenty percent of sugar season was left. A man in Craftsbury heard that, and said, "Jeepers, I'm just getting my first run." We heard it and said, "I don't believe it," but were rattled nonetheless. This guy's the guru; we catch him at 7:15 am daily on WDEV. But what does the twenty percent refer to, percent of freezing nights or percent of syrup yield?  I take his twenty percent to mean three or four more freezing nights. In fact, we can make lots of syrup with just one freezing night, as we did yesterday and today, especially at this point in the season.

TMI. I'll trust the trees.

CHANGE IN THE SAP: Less sweet, more foamy, back to heavy sugar sand (niter). This year's syrup doesn't sheet off the scoop. And today's foam reminded me of an I Love Lucy episode in which she and Ethel bake bread, and when they open the oven door to take out the bread, the loaves come and come, til they're four feet long, pinning Lucy and Ethel against the table. I watched as the foam in the float box rose and rose.

SYRUP STATUS: 2,345 gallons


The green, green chair of home