Cold season makes sluggist start for maple producers

B y Jaime Thomas

Slowly, but not-so-surely, the sap is beginning to flow.

A long, cold winter has left maple evaporators dry and producers wondering if they’ll have any season at all.

As of Monday, most area maple producers had not yet started boiling and only some were running their lines.

“We’re all ready, the evaporator’s all set, just need the sap to start flowing,” said Mike Grottoli, who owns Grottoli’s Maple with his wife, Laurie. In typical maple-sugarer fashion, he said it’s hard to tell exactly what the season will bring.

“Everything is pretty well froze up. Until we get a little more warmth we won’t see much sap,” Pam Green of Green’s Sugar House in Poultney, Vt., said.

The flow of sap is typically triggered by the thawing and freezing process. Mild days and below freezing temperatures at night get the sap flowing but temperatures have been too cold for the sap to flow.

With such a late start, it’s possible the season is a short one.

“The later it starts, the less chance you’ll have for a good season,” said Matt Rathbun, of Rathbun’s Maple.

But, both Grottoli and Hartford producer Jeff Cornell said the significant snow cover might keep the woods cooler longer and help extend the season.

“Who knows? It could be a long spring. We may be able to make it into April,” Rathbun agreed.

Grottoli said he hadn’t tapped any of his 2,500 trees yet but was planning on doing so over the weekend. He said some sugar-farmers collected sap in bits and pieces, but he likes to wait until he can have a steadier flow. He also said having a vacuum system helps on days that are iffy.

Leading up to the season, the producers said a carpet of snow made preparations a little more challenging; Grottoli pointed out how much deeper it is in shaded woods.

“We’ve been on snowshoes in the woods, which is good exercise but it slows things down a bit,” Cornell said. Rathbun said he had to dig some lines out of the snow, but looking back on records discovered this year isn’t unique.

In 1993, he said there was a blizzard on March 13; conditions that year were similar to what they are now. Additionally, he said the last two years were unusually early maple seasons.

“This isn’t uncommon,” he said of this year’s late start.

Pam Green, who has been sugaring with her husband Richard for 40 years, said the last couple of seasons are the ones that have been atypical.

“Every year is different. Traditionally we didn’t start sugaring in February,” she said.

Grottoli, who has been tapping for about three decades, also said this sort of season happens from time to time, but he usually taps by Presidents Day weekend.

“I know an old wives tale: I’ve seen two bad seasons in a row, but I’ve never seen two good seasons in a row,” he said. “It’s Mother Nature, but she’ll open up soon.”

All of the producers said their lines and sugar houses are ready and waiting; all that’s missing is a couple of below-freezing nights and days warm enough to thaw.

“If it warmed up to 50 (degrees), it’ll run like heck. We can make hundreds of gallons in a single good day,” Rathbun said.

“It’s definitely coming, there’s no question of that. You just hope it doesn’t warm up too fast, but like any agricultural endeavor, you’re at the mercy of the weather,” Green said.

 

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