The 2020 maple sugaring season was one for the record books, just not in the way we wanted.
The sugaring season started with Bud having the Flu the week of February 10th. We started tapping trees on February 16th. We finally started keeping our sap on the 24th, after letting our tubing rinse out for a couple of days. Our first boil was on the 25th and we made a beautiful Golden syrup. We boiled for the next couple of days making Golden and Amber organic maple syrup. The night of the 27th came with temperatures in the teens and daytime highs in the 20's and low 30's — no sap. It warmed up again on March 2nd to give us a short boil and it looked like we had a great season underway. We boiled every day through March 6th. On March 7th, the sap just didn't want to run.
On March 8th, we started a never-ending sap run. It seemed like the sap just kept coming — even without the normal freeze-thaw cycles. The problem was: the sugar content in our sap dropped to under 1%. At this point, Tina came down with the Flu — not good. I was without my only helper! That means, I had me, myself, and I to do everything. I would start by gathering as much sap as I could hold at the sugarhouse — which is about 6,400 gallons.
Then I would start the RO machine, just to get more room in the sap holding tank. Then I would jump back in The General to pick up another 2000 gallons of sap. My round trip would take me about 55 minutes, just enough time for my RO machine to process enough sap that I could fit another load of sap into the holding tank and enough to get the evaporator fired. I would then move into the evaporator room and get the evaporator and filter press assembled and ready to go. I would fire the evaporator and start the night's boil. As the syrup was boiling, I would be cleaning barrels and running the fresh Pennsylvania maple syrup through the filter press. As the barrels of syrup are filled, I stir the barrel with a wine stirring wand, then pull two samples for grading. The barrels are then closed, weighed, and recorded in the books.
Once I ran out of sap to boil, the cleaning process started. I would first drain both of the front pans, hose them out, and place them on the pan washer. The next step was to tear down and clean the filter press. Some nights I would empty the entire evaporator and run water from the RO machine, which was the water that was removed from the sap, back into the evaporator to clean it. That water works wonders for cleaning!
The season stayed like that for the next few days. By the 17th and 18th of March, other than being exhausted, the season seemed to be right on track to be an exceptional one even though we were concerned about the weather and very low sugar content. The extended forecast called for a nasty cold snap coming for the weekend on the 21st of March. I decided that this would be a great time to clean everything and hope that the season would last at least another week.
Well, we got the freeze and got everything cleaned, but, when the sap started flowing again late that Sunday afternoon, it looked like watered-down milk. I made the call to end the season and not dirty up everything again to just make off-flavored natural maple syrup that we have no market for. So, our 2020 season officially ended with our last boil on the 20th. This season ended up being the second shortest season we've had since I started keeping good records in 2004.