ST. ALBANS — With the end of April fast approaching, maple sugar makers are counting the days left in a season that has been slow to get started.
Persistent cold weather in March is to blame.
Producers are hoping the warmer weather projected for the end of this week will get the sap flowing in time for the annual maple open house this weekend, when maple sugar makers open the doors of their sugar houses to visitors.
“We’re not even sugaring yet,” said Cecile Branon of Branon Family Maple Orchards in Fairfield on Monday. “The sap’s not even running.”
When temperatures climbed into the 40s on Saturday some small areas showed signs of activity, said Branon, but overall maple trees in the area aren’t running yet.
The sap that is running has a low sugar content, explained Tim Perkins, director of the UVM Proctor Maple Research Center. That means more gallons of sap are needed to create a gallon syrup.
Sap begins flowing in the spring, when warm days cause gases in the sap to expand, creating a positive pressure that will force it out of holes drilled into the trees. Brian Stowe, also of the UVM Proctor Center, explained that when the temperature drops at night, the gases contract creating a negative pressure that draws water into the trees. Normally, these cycles involve freezing nights and thaws during the day.
Temperatures are expected to rise toward the end of the week and be accompanied by rain. The rain will be helpful, according to Branon. “We need that moisture in the ground,” she said.
In recent years, the maple season had begun to start earlier, with sap often flowing in February. This year and last were more like the seasons past. “This is an old time sugaring,” said Branon.
Traditionally, Vermonters hung their buckets the week of Town Meeting Day, the first Tuesday of March. But sugarbushes were smaller then. “Nobody had sugar bushes the size of what we have now,” said Branon.
Last year, Vermont ended up with three-quarters of a maple crop because of persistently cold weather.
“Let’s just hope that the crop isn’t down,” said Branon.
With milk prices down, farmers will need the income from their maple operations, she suggested, adding that it has been a long time since farmers have had to endure a drop in both milk and maple at the same time.
If the warm weather comes as predicted, Branon is confident sugar makers will be boiling in time for weekend visitors.
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To find a participating sugarhouse visit the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association Web site (www.vermontmaple.org).