Winter Brine and Maple Pre-Season

We're well into Winter brine making now (on the last day of January 2018). So far, we've collected 2500+ gallons of seawater from various locations on the Cape. Certainly, the tried and true locations: In Chatham: Mill Pond and Scatteree, which we only sell in Chatham; In Falmouth: Nobska Point, Quissett Harbor, Waquoit Bay, and Megansett Harbor, which we only sell in Falmouth, Mashpee and Bourne. But, also some new sites in Mashpee and Barnstable: Popponessett Bay and Cotuit, both historic and current oyster grounds.

We started collecting winter seawater in mid-December this winter season owing to some early cold snaps and have continued collection in January. Making ice is the key to brine making, as we remove the relatively fresh ice, which leaves behind a progressively saltier seawater solution. As the seawater becomes saltier, its freezing point drops, so, to make ice, the ambient water temperature needs to be progressively lower as brining progresses.  Point being, I search the forecast for arctic air intrusions and polar vortex invasions getting my buckets of seawater massed. Generally, the colder the better, with important caveats --but that's another discussion for a future blog.

So, with February arriving in a few hours, "maple fever" is setting in now. I've spent a good portion of January in the "sugar bush," as us maplers call our maple forests, getting prepared, maintaining and upgrading tubing and mainlines. October and November days in Germantown, NY were devoted mostly to getting "sugarwood" (firewood for boiling maple sap) cut and piled down by the sugar shack. We burn about 1 cord of wood for every 10 gallons of syrup produced. The firewood is mostly deadfall, a mix of hard and softwoods: oak, hickory, elm, maple, pine and cedar. Also, we did some refurbishing on the "arch," the masonry/earthen stove over which the maple sap is boiled. Our arch's dimensions are about 3 ft wide by 8 1/2 ft long. 

The big question, of course, is when to tap? Depends on the weather. Traditionally, here in Columbia County, NY, I don't like to start tapping before mid-February at earliest, but also not much later than March 1st at latest. Once you tap, you pretty much have committed to a six-week season, as the taps (the holes drilled in the trees) will tend to "dry-up" or heal up in about that timeframe. Right now, about 9pm on January 31st, I'm looking at a forecast that indicates cold weather through the next 10 days, so no tapping plans as of yet, and I hope not to see any "thaw" weather in the up-coming forecasts before mid-February. These days, March is the "maple month" in Columbia County, NY, but with climate change and the vagarities of climate and weather, who knows? In the end, its an "informed," but still an intuitive decision.