More than a week into February now.
On the Salt Front: we had one great cold snap and big "ice night" on the morning of the Feb 3rd, temperatures bottomed at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning. Result was removal of about 400 gallons of ice (or about 200 gallons of water equivalent). In short, the brine got a fair bit saltier overnight. In contrast, last night (Feb 9th) was a modest "ice night" -- low temp at 7am this morning was 15 degrees -- resulting in about 100 gallons of ice removed or about 50 gallons of water. As of today we have now collected 2800 gallons of seawater, and have reduced that to about 750 gallons of brine. I'm hoping to bring that down to about 500 gallons by the end of the ice-making season sometime in March.
Brine Physics Lesson: to make brine (water with a high concentration of salt) in the winter months, we depend on cold temps to freeze the seawater. Average Cape Cod seawater freezes at about 28 degrees F. What happens is that as salt water freezes --the ice crystals that form are fresh (just H2O) -- and the dissolved salt ions in the sea water are released back into the surrounding unfrozen water, making it progressively saltier. Remove the relatively fresh ice and you now have a richer brine or a more concentrated salt solution, which now requires ever colder temperatures as the brine becomes more concentrated. In actuality, the ice does retain some salt in the intersticial spaces between the ice (H2O) crystals and so some salt is lost in the process of ice removal. By the end of the winter brining, I typically lose about 30% of the initial salt this way, but also reduce the initial volume of seawater by more than 80%, so its well worth the effort.
Maple Weather? Looking at the 10 day forecast - it looks like we've got some weak daytime thaws coming up in the coming week. Its almost mid-February and so should I get out the drills and start tapping trees? I'm not sure yet --don't want to start too early, but then again, don't want to miss some early sap runs. I'll be on my way to the sugar bush at Germantown, NY on Sunday (Feb 11th), just to start getting things ready - firewood cut, split and stacked in the sugarhouse; tubing repaired and readied in the northwest section, smoke stack set up, sap tanks readied and plumbed, sap buckets cleaned and the list goes on -- but the drills, batteries and drill bits are already set -- the essential tapping tools are staring at me, eager to get to the business of sugaring.