By MATT LINDSEY
Some maple producers in St. Lawrence County got an earlier start to the maple season this year while battling Mother Nature for ideal tapping weather.
Recent freezing temps overnight and highs in the 30s and 40s should extend the season for producers.
Producers are also expect darker syrup this year, which is okay, as the flavor is slowly becoming more popular than light varieties.
Maple producer Donald Finen of Fine-n-Dandy in Norwood says recent freeze ups have put the breaks on making syrup, but he was hopeful last week’s warm-up would allow him to get “a couple good runs” before freezing temps returned.
“It has to warm up and then freeze up to encourage the trees to flow,” Finen said.
Finen began tapping trees Feb. 25 this year, which is 12 days sooner than last year’s start date of March 9.
Jeff Jenness, who taps trees in DeKalb Junction, says he is off to a “slow” start this year.
“We haven’t had a run of good weather,” Jenness said.
In Canton, Hurlbut Maple Products started tapping trees in January.
“We’ve made about half of what we normally do for the entire year,” owner Andy Hurlbut said. “So it’s quite a bit more than usual for this early in the year.”
Mother Nature Slows Production
“Each season is different – it might be climate change or just Mother Nature,” Finen said.
Optimal weather for sap production involves below-freezing temperatures overnight and daytime temps in the 40s.
Last year he was able to collect over 300 gallons and has about 50 gallons so far this year. “There is a long way to go yet,” Finen said.
About 3,800 trees are tapped at Hurlbut’s farm on roughly 100 acres. The trees produce about 2,200 gallons each year and have produced about 1,100 gallons so far this year.
Hurlbut said he and his family generally tap trees from March 1 through the end of April, but the warmer weather allowed him to get an early state.
“It was a mild winter with real favorable weather in February,” Hurlburt said.
Hurlbut has been in the sap business for 22 years, having started with a few trees in his yard for personal use, before becoming a commercial operation in 1995.
“The weather has been uncooperative – we had the wind the other day and the trees shut right down,” Jenness said.
He runs about 2,000 taps and has been at it for over 25 years.
“Strange weather,” Jenness said. Noting that even when temps warmed up last week the sun did not show enough for trees to run.
Jenness was hopeful to make more syrup March 16 and 17 if the weather forecast ends up being accurate.
Darker Syrup Expected
The lack of rain this summer will lead to darker syrup this year, Jenness said.
“The trees don't get to make sugar in May, June and July because they are searching for water,” he said. “There are more minerals in the syrup this year, which we filter most of them out.”
Jenness says his customers are beginning to prefer the medium to dark syrup over the light.
All maple producers agreed that darker syrup is more flavorful, with a stronger maple taste.
So far this year Jenness has collected about 200 gallons of syrup at The Orebed Sugar Shack. He usually collects about 500 to 700 gallons each year.
“It’s farming,” he said, noting that weather has a drastic impact on each season.
Finen has tapped the same lines for over 30 years, having started as a family project with his children. “Then dad got the fever,” he said.
He mans about 1,000 taps himself spending countless hours in the woods and boiling in the sugarhouse. A tubing system brings the sap the sugarhouse where it is then boiled and made into syrup.
Most of the work takes place prior to spring when setting up the tubes and making repairs. “There is a lot of labor,” Finen said.”
“You don't want to count the time too close to your profit compared to the hours you put in,” Finen said jokingly.
So far the quality of syrup “has been nice,” Finen said. “How sweet the sap is depends how long it is cooked. The longer it cooks the more robust the flavor.”
Darker syrup tends to have a stronger maple flavor while light syrup has a smaller amount of flavor. Finen says most people opt for medium, and that is what he produces most of.
“It’s a matter of taste buds – tradition or what people grew up on,” he said.
Maple Weekend will be held March 18 and 19 and March 25 and 26 at several locations in St. Lawrence County. Syrups will be sold and samples will be offered at most locations.
Maple Weekend, a tradition for over 20 years, allows the public to visit maple farms to learn about the sugarmaking processes and traditions. Attendees also can try pure maple syrup samples in a variety of forms.
In 2017 there are 168 locations across the state for the official Maple Weekend. Tours and product samples are offered at most sites free of charge. Pancake breakfasts are offered at some locations with costs associated.
Participating maple producers include: Spilman’s Sugar Shack, 2485 CR 11, Gouverneur, 315-276-6904; Fine-n-Dandy, 2620 CR 35, Norwood, 315-528-4700; Southville Maples, 56 West Stockhold Southville Rd., Potsdam, 315-268-1818; Sweeter Creations Sugar House, 3345 State Highway 345, Waddington, 315-322-5535; The Orebed Sugar Shack, 503 Orebed Rd., DeKalb Junction, 315-528-2450; Woody’s Maple, 418 Underwood Rd., Hermon, 315-347-2395; Finen Maple Products, 529 Austin Ridge Rd., Norwood, 240-405-2231; Trout Lake Maple, 672 Chub Lake Rd., Gouverneur, 315-562-8288.
More info: http://www.nysmaple.com/nys-maple-weekend/.
Where to Buy
Finen sells syrups at his sugarhouse, located at 2620 CR 35 in Norwood, at a roadside stand on SH 37 in Ogdensburg and at three local convenience stores.
Maple syrup from Hurlbut can be purchased in Canton and TAUNY and Nature’s Storehouse. It is also sold at local vendor shows and people can stop at the farm, 3003 CR 21 in Canton, to purchase it as well.
“People can stop out and see how we make it if they call ahead and see if we are boiling,” Hurlbut said. To contact him call 315-854-5381.
Jenness sells syrup from his sugar shack at 503 Orebed Rd. in DeKalb Junction.
“Someone is usually around or nearby,” he said.
To contact Jenness call 315-854-2450.