WEATHER: The heat of the thaw hit on Wednesday and Thursday, 3/10-3/11. Wednesday’s high was 48 in the shade, Thursday’s was 56. Nights were mild; the wind blew from the south, turning around to the north on Friday 3/12 as temps dropped to below freezing by evening.
HOW’S IT RUNNING? The sap run eventually picked up late Wednesday and kept at it until the freeze-up. Chief of Operations dubbed it a Pilgrim Run, as in “pilgrim’s progress,” namely, slow, steady, persistent, and improving incrementally. Or to put it another way,
“How’s it running?”
“The same as it has been.”
The wind was wrong (south) and the temps too high during the night for good sugaring.
SAP SWEETNESS: 1.3% sugar content on 3/10 (discouragingly low)
1.7% ” ” by late 3/12 (still low but more typical of early-season sap)
BOILING STATUS: Days 2,3,4: We boiled on Thursday, Friday, and again on Saturday to finish up Friday’s sap. Due to the weak sap our syrup yield was low but the flavor is tops.
NITER NOTES: The natural precipitate in sap called niter changes in quantity and quality as the season progresses. On Thursday we detected little niter – typical early season. On Friday we scooped niter chips out of the front pan, like heaps of chocolate Necco wafers. How could the niter change so much overnight? The niter chips indicate mid-season. Was it the hot nights?
Chief of Operations writes:
[By late Friday the temperature has been locked into the upper 40’s and 50’s for the last two days, putting it on the too-warm-for- sugaring side, and the walkway to the sap shed is now a series of postholes. I’m shoveling the wet snow down to the ground when Alison (a lawyer friend living just down the road) calls from the sugarhouse alerting me that the sugaring pan has just burned. As I approach the syrup pan I can see the inside of the finish trough is solidly covered with charred syrup.
This isn’t something that can be cleaned up with a sponge or even an aggressive steel wool scrub. To make matters worse the firebox has recently been filled with wood. Unlike with an oil burner there is no way to switch off the heat from the glowing coals. There’s still a lot of sap concentrate that needs to be boiled, and a good run of sap in the tanks backing it up. As is so often the case with sugaring, if production problems aren’t solved immediately sap will soon be spilling over full tanks.
I plug off the finish trough from the rest of the pan while Alison sprinkles water on the fire and Larry starts draining the blackened glop from the pan. I hand Alison the hose nozzle, telling her to keep spraying a thin layer of water on the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t warp from the heat below. With bullish energy I begin grinding the sooty glaze from the stainless steel. Alison follows, not more than a foot or two away from this noisy aggressive cleaning tool, spraying water and vacuuming up the mess with the adept hands of a brain surgeon, and the unrattled coolness of a trial lawyer.
As we finish the job I settle back for a second, appraising the scene and wondering how this lady lawyer ever got into this situation and why the chief of operations hadn’t furnished her with ear muffs and eye goggles (Oops!). Thanks to a focused crew, within an hour the burnt mess is over the bank, the fire’s freshened up, and we’re back making premium syrup like nothing has ever gone wrong.
[Editor’s Note: And nothing did go wrong for a spell until the filter press balked. We once again shut down the boil. Much commotion ensued. Later in the night a hose in the RO room burst while C of Ops was power-napping. Oddly, no one volunteered to write about these episodes.]