What a Difference a Year Makes

By Richard DeVries

The Maple Syrup season can vary quite a bit. Some years we have tapped our trees in late February when warm weather was expected, but more commonly we tap our trees the first week of March. Sometimes the first saprun will follow shortly thereafter and sometimes we can patiently wait for a couple of weeks.

Frozen Sugarbush

Frozen Sugarbush

As a rule of thumb we tell people that the season lasts about six weeks, from early March into April. During this season we still need the right weather pattern, cold nights and warm days.

The Arboretum made 118 gallons of Maple Syrup in 1994, that was the best season. Unfortunately I could not witness this myself but I have heard the tales of every bucket that the Arboretum owned being full of sap from the Sugar Maples. Cold nights were followed by warm days for a long period of time. The trees kept giving sap and the cooker could hardly keep up.

Fortunately I wasn’t part of the worst season either. In 2005 the Arboretum produced 3 gallons of syrup. The early part of the season both days and nights were below freezing. Then it warmed up and it didn’t freeze again. No fluctuating temperatures, no sap and no syrup.

Cooking Season Data

Cooking Season Data

No matter how good or how bad the season, it can end in one of two ways.

When it warms up, bacteria can start growing in the taphole. This will reduce, and eventually completely stop the sap flow. Bacteria in the sap sounds bad but the sap will be cooked for a long time. The only effect the bacteria have on the syrup is turning it into a darker grade.

The other way the season ends is when the buds on the trees start to swell and the leaves are about to appear. ‘Buddy-sap’ changes flavor and cannot be used for cooking syrup.

This reminds me of last season. March was so warm that we noticed the first leaves on the trees at the Pancake Brunch. I was wearing shorts and the volunteers were eating ice-cream with Maple Syrup.

In comparison, the Pancake Brunch is this Saturday and the season still has to get started because it has been too cold. The Pancake Brunch looks like the start of a warm-up and hopefully we will get some sap soon.

Come visit us on Saturday, enjoy delicious pancakes and more at the brunch. Tour the Sugar Bush, Maple History Room and Sugar House.

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