Maple Season is Getting Closer

by Peter 3/1/2019 12:28:00 PM

A lot of changes have happened since we made our last gallon of syrup in 2018.  The most significant change was the removal of our old 4'x12' evaporator and installation of a newer 3'x10' evaporator.  The smaller size still boils the same amount of sap per hour using a more efficient preheating system and more consistent heat source from a propane burner.  While we will miss listening to the crackling fire and and feeling the warmth when the evaporator doors were opened for refueling, we won't miss the amount of cutting, splitting and stacking of wood required to fuel the evaporator.  In addition to being physically easier, the propane evaporator is also safer because it can't throw sparks out the chimney that can start the forest on fire in early April when the leaf layer is starting to dry out.  The propane evaporator also has automatic shut off controls that turn off the burner if the sap level falls below a desired level.  Since the propane evaporator only requires an insulating blanket and not the firebrick that the wood evaporator did, there is less retained heat and a much lower likelihood that a pan can be burned.  

In addition to the new evaporator, we replaced about 60% of the tubing network this year and plan to finish the remaining 40% next year.  The biggest difference in the new network is all of the connections are much tighter due to improvements in tubing technology.  The fittings that connect the mainlines together are now all tight fitting stainless steel fittings instead of PVC and other plastic fittings.  The 5/16" branch lines that connect the tree to the mainline are all "welded" in place.  Previously they were connected by a fitting, but now they are essentially melted to the mainline which eliminates a source of leaks.  The goal of these improvements is to decrease areas where air can leak in, which lowers the vacuum pressure in the lines.  The higher the vacuum pressure we can maintain, the greater the sap flow we can get from the tree.  

Last Friday, February 22nd and Saturday the 23rd we put in about 800 taps.  The remaining 200 taps will go in very soon.  We don't anticipate sap flow for at least two weeks based upon our weather forecast, but we want all of the taps in so everything is ready to go as soon at the temperature rises above 32 degrees.  It seems like this is a very late start to the maple season, but as we reflect back in our records, this year will be close to what a normal starting date was when we started making maple syrup in 1994.  The first five or so years always started around March 15th.  In the past five years, we've boiled as early as February 15th. 

It will be interesting to see how the sap flows this year.  There is a lot of snow in the woods with more on the way today.  Typically the deeper the snowpack, the longer the season lasts because it takes longer for everything to warm up.  The more days we get with day time temperatures above freezing and night time temperatures below freezing, the more sap we will collect.  But it seems that whenever we try to make predictions about how good of a season we will have or how much sap we will get on a given day, we are often wrong!  All we can do is have the holes in the trees drilled, the tubing connected, the vacuum pump on and the tanks cleaned.  If the sap flows, we will boil it!

Fall Update

by Don 11/28/2018 6:37:00 AM

    Despite no entries during the post season, Team Somerskogen has not been idle. We are in the process of upgrading equipment, repairing damage from a forest fire  and venturing into new products.  Here are a few updates:

    Our 20 year old flue pan (the first pan that holds the sap) started leaking at the end of the season, despite our best efforts to stop the constant dripping sap.  The pan was a lead-free soldered pan, whereas new models are all tig-welded  stainless steel.  A decision was made to replace our woodburning workhorse of 20 years, and upgrade to a state of the art gas-fired evaporator.  Will we miss the charm and warmth of a wood fire? Yes! Will we miss the ongoing need to cut and split wood? No!

    Trading in our woodburner, we installed a 3x10 CDL Deluxe evaporator (see pictures).  This required significant changes to our sugarhouse with new roof jacks, feeder tanks repositioned and a propane tank place near the sugarhouse, between the maple trees.

    The second major change in the sugarbush occurred May 4, 2018.  While we were out of town, a tree fell on a power line at the southern end of our property and started a fire in the dry underbrush.  An alert neighbor notified the fire department and three hours later, five fire trucks extinguished the spreading blaze that charred two acres.  

    The hardy maple trees survived, but all the sap lines were melted and destroyed.  Weeks of removal and reinstallation of new sap lines occurred over the summer and fall. The misfortune of the fire resulted in an updated tubing system  as the maple industry has evolved since the time we first installed our vacuum tubing network.

    The other big development at Somerskogen Sugarbush has been our venture into barrel-aged maple syrup.  We partnered with our new friend, Tom Slattery of JJ's Wine, Spirits and Cigars in Sioux Falls, SD to age our maple syrup in a Kentucky bourbon barrel that had high-quality bourbon  (Buffalo Trace) aged in it for 8 years. As the maple syrup went into the barrel, the aroma was nothing short of amazing! With monthly tastings, we decided the Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup was ready to be bottled after 4 months. Our allotment rapidly sold out and never made it on the website. However, in the good news department, we recently obtained two more barrels from Tom Slattery (Four Roses and Knob Creek), filled them with maple syrup and look forward to more delicious Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup in 4-6 months. Stay tuned!

    So, as you can see, we've been busy in the off-season, getting ready for Spring 2019 and hopefully, a new record amount of maple syrup.

    Thank you to all of you who read our periodic blog, spread the word about our favorite hobby and buy our maple syrup. We appreciate it!

Leaks and Laments

by Don 4/25/2018 8:27:00 AM

The much predicted snowfall left 20" of heavy snow the weekend of April 14th. We anticipated the snow cover would extend our season, by keeping our sugarbush insulated from the warming sun. However, just one week later, we were watching the snow turn to rivulets in the woods, and the sap flow reduce significantly. 

We had a minor setback the weekend of the blizzard when I walked into the sugarhouse and found a small pond of sap that had leaked out the 4x7 drop flue pan!  The entire evaporator required disassembly and "a" leak was identified.  This was patched with a liquid epoxy that can withstand 2500º F after curing.  We were able to limp through the last week of the season, but have not totally solved the problem.

We finished the season with over 400 gallons of syrup, which is only the third time in our 25 years of syruping.  We are quite pleased with the amount of syrup we can provide to anyone desires a fine product. Now in the process of cleanup, this will take several days at the "retiree pace"!

Soon we will be able to sample and bottle the first vintage of our bourbon barrel aged maple syrup.  Check back to see when this is available.

Thanks for reading our posts this year, and if you have any questions, send an email to