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NH Maple Syrup

Posted 2/5/2016 11:32am by The Webb Family.

About one week ago on January 28th, Tyler and I sat around the dinner table and debated over whether or not to start tapping our maple trees. The seven day forecast was showing not a single daytime temperature below freezing, which would have been normal if it were March. Unfortunately it was still January. It would be the earliest the Webb family would ever start tapping, and we discussed the pros and cons. After much debate, Tyler concluded that we stand a pretty good chance of missing a really great sap run if we don't act NOW. 

What is the downside of tapping this early? Some may argue that you run the risk of missing later runs during the 'regular' season. The reason? - once you drill a hole into the tree and insert the tap, you have created a wound. Compare this to a cut on your arm. Human blood begins to clot in order to prevent your arm from bleeding. The trees act in a similar way. Sap carries nutrients up to the crown of the tree, and when the tree is punctured, the sap eventually will begin to clot around that hole. When you are looking to pull that sap out of the tree, this isn't good. However, much research has been done and new technology has been developed. The introduction of new drop lines (connects the tap to the tubing) every 3-4 years and taps/spouts every year has helped keep things clean. We use spouts that contain a 'check valve' which lets sap run out of the tree but prevents any bacteria from entering the hole. This technology both protects the tree and enhances the collection of sap, hopefully avoiding any pre-mature healing and prolonging the maple season.

 

We are a small operation compared to many in VT/NH. We put in about 1,300 taps, while the large operations measure in the tens of thousands. Those maple operations were tapping already, but they need to start early at that kind of volume. It usually takes us about 3-5 days to tap our trees, fix damaged lines, and assure our vacuum lines are running correctly (for more info on this, you can read last year's blog - Preparing for Sugaring Season). So on Friday morning, January 29th, Ty went into the woods to begin the 2016 season. 

 

Over the course of three days, we installed 1,200 taps throughout our 12 acre sugarbush. By Sunday afternoon at 2pm, when we installed the last 200 taps, the sap was pouring out as we drilled the holes. It was also nearing 45 degrees, and it was only January 31st.

  

Tyler then spent the rest of the afternoon checking vacuum lines and tightening up the intricate system of tubing. We went to bed that night wondering if all this work would pay off or if it would be a big bust. 

By Monday afternoon, we had 750 gallons of sap at 1.9% sugar (an average measurement would be 2-2.5%) in the tank. For the first time ever, Harding Hill Farm boiled sap on February 1st. We sweetened our pans and made one and half gallons of fresh maple syrup. The quality was perfect, yielding a clear, light Grade A Amber Rich. Prior to 2016, the earliest boil on record was on February 18, 2012. 

 

By Tuesday, with sun and 40 degree temps, the sap was pouring into our tank at a rate of 80 gallons per hour. In the afternoon, it was probably closer to 100-125 gallons per hour. We boiled over 1,200 gallons of sap on Tuesday night, bringing our count to 23 gallons of syrup for the week.

 

On Wednesday, it rained. The raw, damp temperatures just above freezing caused the sap run to stop in its tracks… but Mother Nature was about to throw another curve ball at us. During the night, Wednesday into Thursday, temperatures rose to nearly 50 degrees. When Ty went out to check the tanks at 6:30am on Thursday morning, they had been overflowing for at least a couple hours. Around noon on Thursday, we began boiling around 1,400 gallons of sap. When we left the sugarhouse around 6:30 pm, we had managed to make just under 50 gallons of maple syrup this week. It wasn’t a bust!

This morning we woke up to 28 degrees and snowing...We are wondering if Mother Nature is drunk or just very confused.

 

However, we have a few hundred gallons of sap left from last night, so we will boil again with friends this evening. As we watch the forecast closely, we may get a bit more sap over the weekend, with a possibility of making syrup on Sunday. After that, things should slow down and freeze up… and then we wait. What will the rest of the season bring? How will our trees respond? We wait and hope for the best.

Posted 4/1/2015 6:32pm by The Webb Family.

The New Hampshire Maple Weekend is a great spring tradition in our family. We love sharing what we love with so many people. It brings the locals out of hibernation to enjoy the sweet smell of steam from the evaporator, but it also brings out tourists visiting for the weekend. Some people may have never seen the process behind maple syrup... and we love to share why the pure stuff is so much better. We usually even see a few people still in their ski boots straight off the slopes of Mount Sunapee... and we did see that again this year! We truly appreciate the hundreds of people that stop in to see us each spring. 

This year, we offered our usual tours and fresh syrup samples. We also had Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream's Maple Cream ice cream on hand to serve with hot syrup on top. Kelly baked some maple cookies and offered numerous maple and grass fed beef recipes too. 

 

We had a whole crew helping out during maple weekend, including most of the Webb Family (Van, Robin, Tyler, Kelly, Sam, and Sawyer), Clark, Heather, and Jeremy. A huge thank you goes our to our friends and family who helped either by keeping the sap boiling, advertising our open house, or simply supporting what we do. 

photo credit - Donna Therrien

The weekend started off with temperatures in the 20s on Saturday with a couple inches of snow accumulating, and it ended with beautiful sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 30s on Sunday. We never get two good days in a row during maple weekend, that's for sure! While the sap did not run much over the weekend, we were able to save enough from Friday to do a slow boil all weekend. 

 

Once again thank you to all our supporters and customers! We cannot continue to do what we do without you. As we enter April, the maple season in some ways has just started this year. The weather this week has moderated into a great above freezing day/below freezing night cycle, and we are making a lot of syrup! We will be open again Easter weekend, April 4-5 from 10am till 4pm. Hope to see you there!


photo credit - Max Webb

Posted 3/22/2015 7:01pm by The Webb Family.

This morning was cold... and we had to let some things thaw slightly before getting started in the sugar house. We don't always have the time and the means to take our customers out to see our 12 acres of sugarbush. So we took the opportunity. 

A family travelled from North Carolina specifically to see the process behind maple syrup. Their relatives from Saratoga, NY joined them on a very cold and windy Sunday morning to tour our sugarbush. 

 

We walked the loop while Tyler explained our setup with tubing and vacuum lines. We also looked at the different age groups of maples we have and the challenges to sustaining a sugarbush into the future. We discussed invasive plants, the deer population, and other issues that may impact the regeneration of sugar maples.  

After a walk in the woods, they helped us get started for an afternoon boil in the sugarhouse. We put them to work firing the evaporator, setting up the press to filter fresh syrup, and of course doing some tasting (or should I say quality control) of the product. 

Thank you to Wolfgang, Christine, and the Barker's for a fun visit!

Posted 3/20/2015 7:10am by The Webb Family.

Things have changed quite a bit over the years in the Maple Syrup making business. The introduction of permanent tubing, vacuum lines, and reverse osmosis has allowed production to be a lot more efficient.

Our sugar house is old, circa at least the 1920s. We love its historic charm. We have updated it over the years with a new roof, new flooring, new stainless equipment, and reverse osmosis, but the shell remains the same. It actually is being supported by cables!

Check out this comparison... a forty year difference.

 

Those of you that stopped by the sugar house on our first open weekend may have noticed another change... two labels on our syrup containers. Maple Syrup Producers in the US and Canada pushed for a more uniform grading system, and they also wanted more of a flavor description that is easy for customers to understand. 

The state of NH approved the new grading system and the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets, and Foods was busy developing the specific rules in 2014. We now have until January 1, 2016 to implement the new system on our labels. We decided to start this year by labeling with both the old and new systems. We will stick to that until we run out of the old labels. 

Fortunately, the NH Dept of Ag also developed a great poster to describe the new system versus the old system. We hope to have a copy of it in the sugar house by maple weekend.