Jeff Green | Apr 01, 2019
Clayton Conboy grew up helping his Mom and Dad, Joyce and Mel, make maple syrup each spring. It was a labour-intensive effort, tromping out to the bush, gathering sap from holding tanks around their farm property on Bell Line road, which is off the 509 north of Sharbot Lake, and hauling it to the evaporator to be boiled down into syrup.
Clayton is now 31, and works in Ottawa, but he looks forward to coming home during syrup season. The family syrup operation, which is called Oso Sweet, a play on the former name of the township where their farm is located, has developed significantly over the years.
All of the sap now flows from the bush into a central shed, thanks to a vacuum system. It goes through preliminary filtering, and is then pumped into a 2,800 gallon stainless steel tank that is housed in a new building. The sap then passes into a reverse osmosis machine, where, through the use of air pressure and microfiltration, the sugar content of the sap is tripled. The Conboys bring their sap to 7.5% sugar before sending off it to the wood fired evaporator where it is transformed to maple syrup, precisely 67% sugar. Even elements such as the barometric reading are taken into account. The finished syrup is filtered, graded as golden, amber, or dark and then bottled for sale.
“The best syrup is made from the freshest sap, and with all that we’ve done over the years, when the sap is running well, we can process it into syrup pretty quickly,” said Mel Conboy, in an interview at the farm last Friday, a cool early spring day when the trees “weren’t really hurting themselves to run that much” as Clayton Conboy put it.
The other advantage of the technology that the Conboys have put in place over the last ten years or so, is that instead of boiling well into the night when the sap is running hard, they can be finished and becleaned up by supper time.
“I’m 68,” said Mel, “I don’t need to work until midnight anymore.”
Putting in the reverse osmosis machine cut the boiling time for syrup significantly, saving on wood and lessening the environmental impact of syrup production. But it was not just a matter of buying a machine. It required the construction of a new heated building, which took time and money. When the Conboy’s were ready to make the purchase, they applied for, and received, an Eastern Ontario Development Program grant.
With the cost of the reverse osmosis machine, the building and hydro upgrades, we were very appreciative of the grant that we received from the Frontenac CFDC. It helped fund a project that we had long dreamed of, covering about 10% of the cost. That was a big help,” said Joyce Conboy.
The Conboys are planning still more upgrades, in a constant effort to create an efficient operation that produces consistent, high quality maple syrup.
They purchased a new finish filter machine this year, and in the long term would like to build on to the new building to house their evaporator and bring their entire production into one space. As well, as they increase their capacity to process sap into syrup, they are looking at expanding by tapping some more of their maple. They are already producing as much syrup out of 1,600 taps as they used to produce from 3,000, and by expanding they can start to make more syrup than ever before. But nothing is simple. Even with automation, syrup season is a busy time of year at the Conboy farm. Lined need to be checked, the sugar bush monitored, and the technology has to work in harmony, one malfunction and the entire system is challenged. And the wood for the evaporator doesn’t cut, split, and dry itself.
“We love this time of year. It’s like a breath of fresh air and the end result is uniquely Canadian,” said Joyce.
Oso sweet syrup is available at the farm gate at 2379 Bell Line Road, and in Ottawa through Clayton’s home store. Check their website Ososweetmaple.ca. They are participating in Maple Weekend on April 6 and 7 as well, one of two Frontenac County locations, which are both located on the Bell Line Road.