As he stokes the fire under the evaporator where sap collected from sugar maple trees is boiling away, Richard MacPhee said the sugar content in this year’s harvest is a bit lower than usual.
Normally the yield would be one litre of syrup produced from 40 litres of sap, but this year the ratio is more like 60-1.
Mr MacPhee puts it down to the trees drawing up a lot more water than in previous years.
Mr MacPhee and his business partner Max Newby have been producing maple syrup for the past 24 years on their properties in Woodville Mills.
This spring they have about 600 trees tapped and have been harvesting since mid-March.
Mr MacPhee said it isn’t a walk in the park checking the vast number of trees daily, but he doesn’t complain.
“It’s work, but it’s good work. You are outside, the weather is changing and the land is coming alive.”
He expects the sap collection to soon dry up, but he noted you never really know until May if the season is completely over.
As long as there is sap to fill the tank, which gravity feeds the evaporator, the men will be stoking the fire to produce the syrup.
There are three indicators as to when the sap has truly turned into syrup and ready to be bottled.
One is measuring the sugar density with a hyrotherm (a density of 66 is good), another is the temperature indicator on the side of the evaporator (syrup reaches its boiling point at 7 degrees Fahrenheit). The third indicator is not so scientific, but Mr MacPhee said checking often to see if the syrup is sheeting off a perforated spoon is a clear indicator it is ready to siphon from the evaporator.
The syrup is filtered several times before it is bottled to get rid of any sediment, which Mr MacPhee refers to as sugar sand, that may accumulate over time.
Once it is bottled, he says customers come from all over PEI. Orders are also shipped across North America and most recently to Australia.
There haven’t been too many visitors to the sugar shack this year due to public health regulations.
This is the second year for the restrictions and Mr MacPhee said he misses having the groups of students who typically come around on field trips.
Mr MacPhee also operates MacPhee’s Orchard and between running off batches of sap he is already pruning apple trees in anticipation of another harvest season.