DSCF2563I have been thinking a while about some of the local businesses around here and how they really deserve a little recognition for their services to the community. Some are not well known and often do not advertise. Their reputation goes before them through their satisfied customers, and frankly, that’s really the best kind of advertising.

Today I would like to talk about A & A Metal Shop. This small business is run out of  the owners shop at 464 Collins Hill Rd, Ulysses, Pa. The owners name is Aaron and his son Amon, hence the A & A in the name. I happened upon them through a friend of mine and through Mapletrader.com,  as I was looking to purchase a maple syrup evaporator. I had found one in New Hampshire and my friend told me to check out A & A before I made a long trip. So after looking him up, I found a few threads mentioning his business on Mapletrader.com and they were all praising his work.

I decided to take a road trip one day after work since it was only about 40 minutes away.

Typical  Amish house. Picture credit: amishtrail.com

Typical Amish house. Picture credit: amishtrail.com

As I crossed into Potter County and on to Collins Hill Road I was entering an Amish community where Aaron lives. The homes are large, white , well kept, simple, and efficiently serve a purpose as they are spacious to large families. Out in front of Aarons home is his red metal shop with a small sign hanging on to the mailbox with the words “A & A Metal shop”.

I entered through the door and stepped into his little office. I could look through a doorway into the main shop and see all the men diligently working with metal in some way or another. You would think of a metal shop as loud and industrial like, but this was quiet other than the occasional sound of metal on metal and conversation in Pennsylvania Dutch. The shop was warmed by a wood stove. No electric lights, though the windows all around gave ample light by which to to work.

Inside the shop.

Inside the shop.

Aaron eventually came over and inquired as to what I needed. He was dressed in simple work clothes, and a caring face, kind of like a real nice Grampa. We talked about the different kinds of evaporators he made and their pricing. I had settled on their smallest model, the Hobby Model, which is actually a bit larger than the large manufacturers version. I didn’t measure it but it looked to be almost a 2X4. I was really impressed with all the options that came standard: a pre-heater pan, 8′ chimney stack, fire brick for the arch, and fire cloth. That set up came in UNDER $1000. I had ordered a tin tester cup ($12) so my total order was $987. I may order a steam hood which would be around $140.

Hobby Evaporator

Hobby Evaporator

The construction of their stainless pans is done without welding. He uses all 304, 24ga, B2 finish stainless steel. They still use soldering which some people frown upon due to the old kind of soldering which uses lead solder but all joints are crimped and are lead free soldered. He also does not use the shiny anealed stainless steel as it is hard to solder.

I am very glad I stopped in to visit his shop. If you want to order from him, you’ll have to either write a letter or stop by as he does not use a telephone. Its actually quite refreshing to see a business run the old fashioned way with a smile and a handshake instead of an impersonal email or long distance phone call.

Large evaporator ready to be shippped.

Large evaporator ready to be shipped.

Sugar Shack mailbox

Sugar Shack mailbox

Large drop flue with pre-heater piping.

Large drop flue with pre-heater piping.

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Snowshoes

Hey Folks! Its that time of year again. The days are getting noticeably longer and the temperatures are a tad above freezing but still below freezing at night. That means the sap is starting to run up the sugar maple trees. Its time to put your taps in and drain a little out for your pancakes!

New tubing zip tied to high tensile wire

The snow here is still quite deep so I have taken to snowshoes to make the trek out to the sugarbush a little easier. I have been taking any spare time to go out and string up a new addition to my system. My friend is making available his high tensile wire. So this past weekend I ripped out all my existing tubing and taps and put up high tensile wire. Now I have a “backbone” to attach my new lines to. This will keep my tubing from sagging as it has in the past.  Sags in the lines do not allow for good sap flow. Its best to have as straight a line as possible always in an unlevel position to let the sap flow down instead of collecting in the sags. This has always been a problem for me.

The trick to no sags!

I am also adding about 30 more taps this year. I am very excited about these as they are nice big trees. Half of these will be collected by drop lines into buckets. In the past those bucket lines have produced so much that the buckets were always overflowing by the time I got back from work that afternoon. This year I am going to split the line right before it drops into the bucket so that I will have 2 buckets per one tap.

Hurry before the sun goes down!

I also have new tubing and taps which will cut down on the bacteria being introduced into the tree which would increase the speed of healing of the tap hole. As you can assume, the faster it heals, the shorter the time you have to collect sap from that hole. Sometimes you can freshen up the hole again by reaming it out if you still have good weather approaching but it is often considered not a good practice. I have done it in the past and it allows for more sap to flow for a few more days.

In the next few days I plan on hanging all my tubing and then hopefully tapping this coming weekend. I will post pics as I get them.

A beautiful day.


Jeff's Sugar Shack

This spring has not been the best of seasons for the maple syrup producers. The weather patterns, though delightful to enjoy, have been misery for sap collection. In mid February there was a run of days where the daytime temperature was around 40 and the nights were around 2o-30 degrees. This is perfect for a sap flow. However many figured it was a tad early to tap the trees. Keep reading


Sweet water

My son and I are getting excited to start the maple sugaring season again. I stopped in to my friends place the other day in Liberty, Pa. He has quite a large maple sugaring operation. He had mentioned to me that he had some supplies that he no longer needs and was either going to give them away or burn it all. It was apparently just taking up space and he had no use for them. So, of course, I came down to see what all he had. I was amazed as to the amount of equipment he had for his operation. He really had it down to an efficient system. He showed me all around his shack and explained how everything worked.

His sugar shack is quite impressive for the size of it. I will add pics of his shack to this post when I get them. Check back!

I was able to walk away with hundreds of feet of main line tubing, regular tubing and many many spiles. I am so appreciative!


Sugar Shack

Sugar Shack

Now that all the sap has been collected for the year, the next process is boiling it. Although, boiling starts before collection is finished. As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been taking my sap to a friends sugar shack to have them boil it. They already have quite an elaborate system, so I figured that was the best arrangement.
As you see in the photos there is a large evaporator that takes up most of the space in the sugar shack.

Friends in the sugar shack

Friends in the sugar shack

Under the evaporator is where the fire is burning. The large stainless steel section holds the sap coming in from the bulk tank. This is where the majority of the water is boiled off. Then it flows to the front pan by way of a valve. In the front pan the sap is then “finished” off. This is where it turns to syrup. By the use of a hydrometer and the good old “drip test”, my friends determine when the syrup is at the right consistency. From there, they pour it off into 5 gallon buckets where it sits for about 2 weeks to let any residue or sediment settle to the bottom. From there, it gets bottled and sold or given away.

Evaporator

Evaporator


Sap leaking from tap hole.

Sap leaking from tap hole.

Sap leaking from the tap hole.

Sap leaking from the tap hole.

“Tap-tap-tap-tunk”, that’s how it was described to me by my friend Jim about what sound to listen for when hammering the taps into the trees. I remember last year on a wet snowy day, I was helping him tap the trees in front of his house. This was my first experience in the sap collection work. He gave me a drill, hammer and a few taps and showed me where to place the hole, angled up into the tree so the sap runs out, and then how hard to hammer the taps in.

He said to listen for that change in sound when tapping the taps into the hole. If you hear the “Tunk” then stop, don’t hammer anymore! If you do then the hole will split ever so slightly and then the sap leaks out. Well, I did remember those words this year, but  I was so sure that the taps weren’t seated firmly enough. So I went and tapped a few more times, just to be sure. You can see for yourselves the result.

It reminds me of a good proverb that my son actually just memorized: “Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention, that you may gain understanding”


The Sugar Shack

The Sugar Shack

I have been delightfully pleased by the output of the 15 taps I have. Two or three of my 5 gallon buckets have been overflowing by mid day! I just wonder how much I have lost because it filled over. I also had one hose back out of the bucket, and again the same tree, this morning the bucket had blown away. Fortunately, that tree isnt a huge producer, but every little bit adds up! I just went to my friends house and dumped 25 gallons into his bulk tank.

As I stated before, I am just tapping and collecting. He has the time, equipment and experience to boil it down. So I get half the maple syrup that my sap produces as a trade off for not having to boil it. So anyway, I went to his sugar shack and no one was around. I was hoping he would be home, so I could have gotten his picture in here. Maybe when he starts boiling I will run over and get some pics of the process.

I posted a picture of a sugar shack that looked like his a few posts back. Today while dumping my buckets, I decided to snap a few pics of his shack for you to see. He has a stainless bulk tank that is really just an old  milk tank from a dairy farm. He has hoses from tapped trees all leading to this tank through one final hose. Then out the back he has another hose attached at the bottom with a shut off valve. This hose goes straight out the back as the hill slopes down the hose stay straight and meets the shacks roof where it enters the shack. Quite ingenuous if you ask me!

Bulk tank for sap storage

Bulk tank for sap storage

Hose entering shack through eves

Hose entering shack through eves

Then in the shack he has an evaporator. I believe his set up has evolved over the years getting more and more efficient with better equipment. As you can see there isn’t much room inside, and my flash doesn’t work, so its a bit dark.

Evaporator

Evaporator

The shack is built into the hill so that the back side provides a wood storage place to keep the wood under roof. If you are outside, you can see at around head level, there is a trap door to feed the wood insede the shack. This is a very efficient way to feed the stove under the evaporator! inside the shack. As you can see, it takes a lot of wood to make the amount of sap that they make. The more efficient your evaporation the less wood you need. My friends set up is quite efficient…he just makes a lot of syrup!

Wood

Wood

Dry wood and trapdoor

Dry wood and trapdoor