Tips on Using Vacuum and Maintaining Tap Hole Sanitation

Looks like Ohio Maple Producers may be headed into another sugaring season with unusual weather patterns. As of February 5th, 2013, there has already been a significant amount of new syrup made in NE Ohio. The real challenge is setting up your production system so that it can deal with the changes in the weather. You may say that there is nothing we can do about the weather; we have to accept what comes. That is right, however, you can change the way you produce syrup to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way.  If you take a look at what happened in Ohio over the past several seasons you will notice some definite trends. Yield per tap dropped from .286 gallons of syrup per tap in 2008 to .169 in 2010. Last year, we once again lead the nation in Yield per tap (.244).  One of the main reasons for this was that favorable weather patterns enabled producers on vacuum tubing systems to collect a greater volume of sap on more days over the course of the entire season.  The end result was a huge average yield per tap. How you manage your system during the season is key.

Taphole sanitation has become the buzz word of the industry. Taphole sanitation is all about keeping your drop lines and spouts free of bacterial contamination. The piece of technological equipment that may have started it all is the Check Valve Adapter Spout. The warm weather in Ohio over the last several years has proven to be a good test for the new spout that is designed to prevent a back flow of bacterial-laden sap back into the tree. It works well in warmer climates like Ohio.

Solutions for taphole sanitation are based on research done at Proctor Lab in Vermont and the work done at Cornell University. What it comes down to is that you need to be replacing your spouts every year. Plain and simple. You should be replacing your drops every other year. And if you shut off your vacuum for extended periods of time during the season when it is not frozen, then you should consider using the Check Valve. The newest model goes directly on the line without the stubby adapter and looks very promising. If you run your vacuum continuously then one of the new polycarbonate spouts may be the answer. Check your drops frequently looking for bacterial buildup. Also this is a prime area where squirrel damage occurs so watch for leaks.  At the end of the season, make sure you get all of the sap out of the drops. The best way to do this is to clean under vacuum if you can. This removes the maximum amount of liquid out of the lines.

One question that comes up a lot is whether you should shut down your vacuum pump during extended periods of warm weather or let it run? Many producers are finding out that when you run the vacuum pump continuously, you will continue to collect sap even when the temperatures remain above freezing for several days. In most cases, the sap you collect will produce enough syrup to offset the cost of running the pump. In fact it is better to keep the pumps on and keep something moving through the lines. This cuts down on bacterial growth in the lines and the moving sap will keep the lines cooler. But it takes a good vacuum pump to run under warm conditions. The average vane pump (dairy pump) struggles in this environment. They are not designed to produce high vacuum over long periods of time. They are designed to work comfortably at 16 inches of vacuum. This is the vacuum that you use to milk cows. The best pump choice for extended high vacuum use is a liquid ring pump. They are cooled by water or oil and they hold up well under long periods of continuous use.

The last several years should have convinced everyone that tubing on vacuum pays. The Financial Analysis Guide released in Winter 2012 by The Ohio State University shows that the cost of production can be improved by installing and running a vacuum tubing system. It is clear that technology is and will continue to drive profitably and production in the maple industry regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

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