The winter weather might have been a bummer for those who snowshoe, snowmobile or generally just like to play in the snow, but it turns out it was a good thing for area maple producers.
As this spring indicator gets cranked up for another season, the lack of snow and deeper level of frost in the ground help out when it comes time for maple producers like Mike Rathbun to tap more than 6,000 trees.
“Open years have historically been some of the best,” said Rathbun, who operates Rathbun’s Maple Sugar House in North Granville. “I’m hoping; let’s put it that way.”
The lack of snow simply makes getting out into the trees that much easier when there is yard after yard of vacuum line and bucket after bucket to hang and then empty.
At Rathbun’s the property visible from the sugarhouse is a mix of old-fashioned buckets and the newer vacuum system.
On the vacuum lines, Rathbun said, he’s trying out a new tap on some of the trees. The small plastic plug has a check valve in it. Shaking the small device produces a faint rattle of the ball in the valve. If they perform as advertised, they are supposed to increase the yield from every tree, he said.
“But, we’ll see,” he said.
The syrup-making season has already started for many area sugarhouses as daytime temperatures get above freezing, but the mercury dips below 32 degrees during the night. This temperature cycle is what sugar makers hope to see and its duration dictates how long the sap will flow and the season will last.
So that deeper-than-usual freeze, thanks to the lack of insulating snow, will help to keep the trees’ roots cooler at night and keep the trees producing.
“It looks like we’re going to have a pretty good run over the next four or five days,” Rathbun said. Rathbun said he tends to save sap until weekends when patrons of the restaurant come out to the sugarhouse to see how sap is boiled down to make maple syrup.
It was just after 8 a.m. Saturday when one of the trucks rolled up to the sap house on Hatch Hill Road. The opaque plastic tank on the back showed off more than 700 gallons of sap picked up from a location in Hebron. The sugarhouse gets sap from all over the area, including West Pawlet, Vt., and Dresden, he said.
Rathbun took a sample and used a hydrometer to check for sugar content – about 2 percent. “That’s kind of low for this spot,” he said.
Rathbun said the season might be just a tad early but added this type of spring often leads to very good years. “You never can tell until it’s over though,” he said.
Saturday morning was the final shakedown as Rathbun said he was gearing up to begin the truly busy season for the restaurant and sugarhouse.
“We might start boiling today,” Rathbun said.
The evaporator had been given a good once over and cleaned and the osmosis machine was ready to go. This osmosis machine helps to concentrate the sap by removing some of the water from the process, in turn saving fuel. That water is later used to clean up the works to get ready for the next day’s work.
But the equation remains more or less the same, Rathbun said. It takes about 40 gallons of sap from the maple tree to make one gallon of the gooey, delicious stuff that goes well in everything from coffee to splashed over ice cream or even over something unusual like … pancakes.