The Process: Pre-Season, Production and Post-Season
The process spans throughout the entire year, not just during season as it includes all the prep work prior to season, production during season and post season cleanup.
Spliting and Stacking Wood – We go through approximately 10 cord of wood during the 4 week maple season, boiling on average 4 days per week. To keep costs down, we source this wood ourselves – whether by cutting trees for friends and neighbors or taking wood from people who are trying to get rid of it. We started out splitting wood by hand, but Kathy had a very hard time with this. In 2008 we broke down and bought a used wood splitter which has made our lives so much easier! We try to take several weekends during late fall to split and stack wood so we’re ready before the snow flies.
Cleaning…Cleaning…and MORE Cleaning – Every inch of the sugar house gets a deep cleaning from the rafters to the floor multiple times a year. We also need to clean all of our equipment and utensils after season is over and cover it for storage. We boil all of our taps before tapping trees, and clean all of our pipes, hoses, pumps and sap tanks.
Equipment Repair – Inevitably, things get broken or warn out and need either repair or replacement. Paul is part farmer, part McGyver…he can figure out ways that you would never imagine to fix things that are broken!
Tool Calibration – To determine when syrup is done, we have several tools that need to be calibrated annually to ensure accuracy.
Hanging and Dismantling Lines – Our trees are located on public and private homeowner property, not on our own property. Therefore we need to take down our lines at the end of every season and hang them at the beginning of every season. This is quite time consuming and labor intensive.
Truck Repair – We have a 1 ton pickup truck where we have our collection tank that holds 450 gallons of sap. We need this for sap collection as we have 7 collection tanks all around North Andover. The truck is very old and is only used during maple season, and each year there are a litany of repairs that must be done to keep it in running condition.
Social Media Updates – This is one area that gets the most neglected but has the most value during season. We need to keep our website updated – which typically is something we only do during February through April. We need to keep our Facebook page updated, and we need to post on Twitter when we can. These are fantastic mechanisms for interacting with those who follow us and who are interested in learning more about maple sugaring.
Scheduling – We work full time jobs, so scheduling our weekend tours, week day tours for North Andover schools, some evening tours for various groups, and just our daily non-farming activities can sometimes be a challenge.
Marketing: Interviews & Media Responses – We generally have 3-5 media outlet inquiries each season, ranging from TV stations, magazines, radio stations and local newspapers. These can be a lot of fun, and are a fantastic opportunity for us to get exposure for TLMF!
Production – When we are giving tours we have our evaporator running and we pull syrup off the pan just before it is done. When we don’t have a sugar house full of visitors, we go through the finishing, filtering and bottling process. We produce approximately 115 gallons a year, all bottled in glass maple leaf bottles. The finshing process needs to be very precise, and takes quite a bit of time. We also make confections like maple candy, maple cream and maple sugar. Each of these processes takes approximately 4-7 hours per batch. We do all these things on separately from nights and weekends when we are boiling.
Packaging – All of our products have custom labeling whch we produce on our own. We create and print labels for 4 different grades of syrup, two sizes of candy, threse sizes of cream and three sizes of sugar. Each of these labels needs to be printed and cut. The syrup labels need to be folded, hole punched and inserted with a gold tie before putting on a bottle. We prepare these in advnace so that when we are producing product we have everything we need on hand for packaging purposes.
Sap Collection – During season we need to collect sap from our tanks every single day. Sap only has a shelf life of a couple of days, and therefore it will spoil if left in our tanks in the field too long. We have 7 collection tanks around North Andover, and collecting from each of them every night takes between 2-3 hours a night, depending on how much sap is in each tank.
Sap Storage – after we collect sap each night, we bring it back to the sugar house and filter it twice through UV sterilizers and store it in tanks behind the sugar house until we are ready to boil. This filtering and storage process takes about an hour for each 450 gallon batch.
Boiling – During season we boil every Saturday & Sunday all day, and selected nights during the week after work. We also boil a few days when we do field trips for the North Andover school children. We need to boil every couple of days because the sap will go bad if we don’t process it. We pump the sap from our holding tanks behind the sugar house through 2 rounds of UV sterilization into a holding tank in the attic. From there the sap is gravity fed into the evaporator for boiling, controlled by a float on the evaporator pan. During boiling, we add wood to the arch every 10 minutes to keep the process running as efficiently. We can process approximately 40 gallons of sap per hour.