What is an RO Machine?

 

Picture of the machine coming soon!

A reverse osmosis (RO) machine is a filter.  It was originally created to purify water.  Maple sugarmakers got a hold of them, and used them to discard the pure water and keep the contaminated water (full of sugar, minerals, etc.) in order to further process it into maple syrup!

A sugar molecule (C6 H12 O6) is much larger than a water (H2O) molecule.  Maple sap out of the tree usually ranges between 1 and 3 percent sugar. A reverse osmosis machine can increase the sugar content to over 20 percent.  In order to get to Pure Vermont Maple Syrup (66.9% sugar) the remaining excess water is removed the traditional way – through boiling the sap until enough water has evaporated for the syrup to be the correct density.

Though there have been some poorly run tests to see if ROs have a detrimental impact on flavor and none of them have been conclusive (shocker) – it is believed by many that the combination of high concentration RO use and using fuel other than wood leads to maple syrup with less flavor.

Think about it – Instead of cooking something for 100 minutes as the recipe calls for, you cook it for only 12.5 minutes…. How would it taste?  That’s what is happening with 2.5% sap when it hits the evaporator vs. 20% “sap” when it hits the evaporator.  If you are like my friend Orin – the Thirty Second Guy (check out his other videos!), maybe 30 seconds is okay for cooking some things, but for me I like flavor in my syrup.

At Green Wind Farm, we do have an RO and we run it at 7%.  This way we don’t need to cut, stack, split, stack, dry, move into woodshed and burn 70 cords of wood a year to make our syrup, we only use about 25 cords or so!  Seriously though, let us know if you find syrup that can compare to ours on a regular basis.  We always want to figure out how we can do things better.

New in our operation this year is an oil dripper, so we can minimize the amount of defoamer we use to keep the boiling sap in the back pans from flooding over.  We have used local organic sunflower oil in the past, but will likely use an organic safflower this year as we are suspicious the sunflower was imparting a slight flavor to the syrup.

 

 

 

2013 Sugaring Season

The 2013 Season was a long drawn out season. Though there were reports of bumper crops from most maple producers this season, ours was merely solid. Some of this is likely due to our slightly cooler sugarbush location. Primarily our woods face west and north. There were a number of marginal days this season where the sun was out, but the temperature just barely got above freezing… some locations and aspects got good runs on these days, while we got next to nothing!

All in all though it was a good season. It was our second year with the Reverse Osmosis (RO) so our methods were quite dialed in. We still ran our sugar content with the machine up to only 7% Starting boiling in the afternoon and finishing between 9pm and midnight was nice compared to boiling from even 8am until 2 am the following day as we had to do in the past. The general feeling in the sugarhouse was certainly a bit more commercial as the RO would be running for much of the time we were boiling. That’s how it goes I suppose to reduce our wood consumption by a factor of three!

Often Julie and I would gather the buckets in the morning (with frequent help from Vidar and sometimes others) and Steve would start boiling around 3 pm. The horses had a fine season – no health issues. Of course Sam remained lazy and hardly pulled his own weight, while Dot was fabulous and survived another season with her teammate. I’m not sure how long she’ll stay sane if she keeps getting paired up with lazy Sam. Soon it might be a good idea to find another match for her. We would typically finish gathering in time for Julie to milk the cows and I was able to join Steve and can a lot of syrup as it came off the rig. This is great because it means there is no need to store the syrup in barrels then re-heat it. Lots of labor savings for me, natural resource savings on propane, and a lower carbon dioxide footprint too!

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Heading out to tap buckets
Heading out to tap buckets
Horse...Horses @$$ - Jasper in the wagon, ready to tap!
Horse…Horses @$$ – Jasper in the wagon, ready to tap!

One strange thing about this season was that we made almost no dark maple syrup. Our total Grade B for 2013 was around 40 gallons, whereas in 2012 we made about 550 gallons! I know how some of you enjoy that grade B, so I’ve been able to line up syrup from other producers to make sure that you can still find, Pure Vermont Single Source Maple Syrup in mason jars on the shelf of your local grocer. You may notice I’m labeling this syrup as “Pumpkin Village” in order to maintain full transparency. If you are interested in knowing even more about when your syrup was made or canned, see the regularly updated post Syrup Traceability 2013

One nice thing about the season was we were ready for it to start early – which it did – then it froze back up and we were able to have a building raising! A number of friends and neighbors came by and with the help of the bucket tractor we stood the entire building in one day! It’s the new building for Pumpkin Village Foods that my father has been working so hard on the frame in all his free time, now that he’s retired! Ha. Look for a post, and photo gallery on this soon!

Pumpkin House - nestled into Green Wind Farm!
Pumpkin House – nestled into Green Wind Farm!

EAT MORE SYRUP

David: Bo Muller-Moore (one guy making t-shirts above his garage)

Goliath: Chick-fil-A (sold $3.5 BILLION worth of product in 2010)

The Beef: Chick-fil-A claims that a t-shirt maker using the slogan “Eat More Kale” is infringing upon their chicken selling restaurant chain. There are many reasons such shirts, bumperstickers, etc. pose no threat to the Chick-fil-A business.

Read the Burlington Free Press story

My friend Jeff Weinstein set up a petition for Bo here They are only a couple thousand signatures away from the goal of 25,000.

Incidentally, Jeff is also the producer of Two Guys in VT soup. His soup is excellent, with a wonderful dedication to sourcing local ingredients. You can find it at The Greene Grape and The Garden.