Maple Sugaring Improvements 2019

steam away

The Maple Sugaring Improvement Plan

The original plan for 2019 had been to go to 1,000 taps from 500 by adding the Steam Away AND reverse osmosis (RO) to the sap concentration and evaporation scheme. RO can raise the sugar concentration in the sap very significantly, but for starters my plan was to raise the concentration from nominally 2% to 8%. It doesn’t sound like much, since syrup is 66% sugar, but if you give it some thought you will see that it is in fact a lot. For example, to double the concentration from 2% to 4% we would have to remove half the water in the sap, and to get from 4% to 8% half of the remaining water would have to again be removed, leaving just one quarter of the water originally present in the sap. In other words 75% of the water in the sap has to be removed to get from 2% to 8% sugar concentration in the sap; that’s a huge reduction in the amount of wood-fired evaporation required. You can read all about the plan in our post 2019 Maple Syrup Season Planning. I discussed our reasoning for not employing the now industry-standard RO in the post I just mentioned.

The Value of Plans and Planning

As Eisenhower is oft quoted, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” I don’t know that I’d go that far; excluding battle I’ve found plans to be quite useful, but plans must undergo almost constant change and refinement to retain their value. Why? Well as another modern day philosopher, Mike Tyson, has said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Now that’s a true statement, and the “discovery” about RO’s effect on syrup color was such a “punch in the mouth.” That left us with the Steam Away, which is a solid evaporation efficiency improvement, enough to get us from 500 to 750 taps and perhaps a bit further, using nothing more than steam heat that was wasted in prior years.

Other Maple Sugaring Improvements 2019

In the 2019 post I wrote:

“What didn’t go well” included: 1) syrup filtering (problem solved), 2) sap systems freezing (interim corrective actions taken), 3) run-off water managment at Sugar House, 4) noise from the air compressor used in the filtering process, 5) scale build-up in the syrup pan, 6) equipment cleaning, 7) propane “plumbing,” and 8) firewood (lack of sufficient quantities on-hand, insufficiently seasoned, and rotted wood). To those problems identified in my “Year in Review” post, I would add, 9) the offloading of sap from barrels (in or behind the Polaris Ranger 400), to totes at the Sugar House.

2019 Maple Syrup Season Planning

We have taken on a number of those improvements, some with an “interim solution,” and some at the last minute, or later! We did nothing about some of those problems, Number 4 and Number 6; it’s not that we won’t clean the equipment of course, but it won’t get any easier this year. Problem 1 was due to a manufacturing defect and was recitified in-season last year. An interim and less-than-fully effective solution to Number 3, sandbags, was put in place. Problem 5 will be addressed with in-season cleaning of the syrup pan as required to manage the scale build-up. That leaves problems 2, 7, 8, and 9; freezing sap systems, propane plumbing, firewood and offloading sap from the Transport Barrels. Let’s take those on one at a time.

Freezing and Sap Systems, Problems 2 and 9

steam away

This was a headache in 2018, and if anything it would have gotten worse for 2019 simply because sap flows to the Evaporator needed to go up at least 50% as a result of the Steam Away’s contribution to efficiency and hence evaporation rates.

Unfortunately I didn’t recognize that until Rick from Sugar Bush Supplies showed up to address the Steam Away-to-Flue Pan Float Box plumbing. Better late than never. Rick pointed out that my 3/4″ PEX might be too small to feed sap by gravity from the Sap Head Tank on the roof to the Evaporator below in the Sugar House; he recommended 1″ lines. He also recommended bringing the Sap Head Tank (aka feed tank) into the Sugar House. Both of these solutions would have the added benefit of eliminating freezing problems in the outside sap lines.

Sap Head Tank

Though unplanned for 2019, this is a welcome improvement, eliminating both existing freezing issues and potential future insufficient sap flow problems.

Refined Sap Transfer System

The primary purpose of this equipment is to move sap from the 30 gallon Transport barrels to the 787 gal Sap Storage Tank, and from the Sap Storage Tank to the Sap Head Tank.

The same two 5.5 gpm 12VDC potable water pumps we used last year are included in the system. Pump suction lines are not attached in this photo. The discharge line to the Sap Head Tank will be attached at upper left. As a back-up the manifold can be configured to pump sap from the Sap Transport Barrels to the Sap Storage Tank; the discharge line to Storage is shown at upper right. On the floor below the manifold is the new Honda 40 gpm water pump that is the new primary method of moving sap from Transport Barrels to Storage.

All of the equipment shown comes into the Sugar House to prevent freezing when we are not in a sap run or evaporating.

Propane Plumbing, Problem 7

maple sugaring

Last year we used a simple hose from the outdoor 120 gallon propane tank, under the garage door, to duplex quick-disconnect fittings in the Sugar House. With the addition of the French doors at the front of the Sugar House, and removal of the garage door, hose routing under the door was no longer an option.

Propane is used for heating syrup prior to filtration and bottling, for heating sap to clean the filtration system, and to start fires in the Arch. In a relatively simple fix, Patrick and Brent from our propane supplier, Tapper Propane, assembled and tested the necessary manifold, piping, valves and regulators to build an effective, and safe, propane system. There is 2-valve isolation between each consuming device and the manifold.

Firewood, Problem 8


And finally, finally, we seem to have solved the firewood issue. Getting seasoned firewood, on-time, and in the quantities necessary has been a tough nut to crack for whatever reason. This year we have found two solid suppliers and took our latest delivery two days ago, yet to be stacked, and maybe not to be stacked!

The Maple Sugaring Season Begins!

After what might prove to have been a false start, and very unpredictable weather, we cannot wait any longer. Between the Sap Storage Tank, the Sap Head Tank and the Evaporator itself (including the Steam Away), we are starting with almost a 1,000 gallons of sap. Marissa and Jessica have done great work in preparation for the season, and in collecting almost every last drop of that sap. Running flat out and with no further collection, what we have on-hand will allow the Evaporator to run for 12 to 14 hours. That’s my best estimate at this point, having never run with the Steam Away before. And, tomorrow will be a big flow day, as might be the day after. Wish us luck!

All the best, with warm regards,

p.s. Support us by buying our Primal Woods Pure Maple Syrup from the Shop! Free shipping on orders over $30!