By MAUREEN PICHÉ
Maple syrup producers in the greater Canton-Potsdam area are cautiously optimistic that this season will be better than the last, thanks in part to all of the snow we’ve received this winter.
While most are reluctant to speculate given the unpredictability of weather conditions, some producers have already connected their lines in their sugar bushes in the hopes of warmer weather in the next couple weeks.
They’ve also observed the sap starts flowing a little earlier every year.
Hugh Newton, of Hugh’s Sugar Shack, Hannawa Falls, has been out preparing his 800-tap sugar bush since mid-February. He thinks it might be a good year.
“With all the snow piling up around the trees, there will be a lot of moisture in the ground this spring,” he said. “The more moisture, the more there is for the trees to take in.”
He already saw the beginnings of a light flow two weeks ago when the temperatures rose above freezing during the day.
He explained the optimum conditions require temperatures to drop to the teens or 20s at night, but rise to the mid to high 30s and low 40s during the day. This needs to happen for several days in a row to really get the sap flowing. Once the temps stay above freezing at night, sap flow stops.
“It’s looking like it might be early this year, but I don’t know, Mother Nature will take her course,” he said.
Last year wasn’t a great year. In fact, Newton said he hasn’t had a good production season in three or four years. “It’s been warming up over the years,” he said. “It used to start in the beginning of March, now it’s the middle of February. I hear boiling in Syracuse is in full swing already.”
Still, he managed to produce 200 gallons of syrup last year. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup, he noted.
Don Finen, of Fine-n-Dandy, Norwood, was caught off-guard by last year’s early sap flow, so he wasted no time getting the first 734 taps in this year.
“Last year, I missed the boat. We had a nice sap run at the end of February last year, but I wasn’t ready,” he said, noting the delay resulted in only 65 gallons of syrup, less than half of what he usually produces.
“It used to be, I could wait until the beginning of March, or even the middle of March,” he said. “But it’s starting earlier, and that’s why I finally got on the train to tap earlier.”
He, too, is optimistic about this season, and agrees with Newton that the 8 to 10 inches of snow still on the ground in his woods is a good thing.
“During the day, the sun warms things up, and when the sun sets, the snow helps with the cooling effect,” creating the right conditions for sap flow, he said.
Finen also noted there doesn’t appear to be a lot of frost on the ground to hinder water absorption.
According to the USDA, warmer seasonal temperatures result in reduced sap flow, a shorter tapping season, and a lower grade product.
The agency reports the 2010 maple sugar season began unusually early because of higher-than-normal temperatures in the area.
The season’s length was also shorter, at 23 days on average, down from 28 days in 2009 and 30 days in 2008 when production was up.
And because of lower sugar levels in the sap, it took more gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, they reported, driving up the price per gallon to $40 or more.
The public will have the opportunity to see first-hand how maple products are produced, from tree to table, along with the chance to taste and purchase maple products during two Maple Weekends March 19-20 and March 26-27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
In St. Lawrence County, participating maple producers include Fine-n-Dandy, Donald Finen, 2620 County Rt. 35, Norwood; Rutley Maple Farms, Charles Rutley, 8765 Route 11, Potsdam; Sweeter Creations Sugar House, Michael & Debra Kenny, 348 Pearson Road, Madrid; The Orebed Sugar Shack, Jeff & Lori Jenness and family, 503 Ore Bed Road, De Kalb Junction; Woody's Maple, James Woodrow, 418 Underwood Road, Hermon.
For dates and times they will be open, visit www.mapleweekend.com.