Maple season is here

Maple Weekend participating maple farmer Bill Wood, who co-owns and manages Woods Maple Products in Burke with his father Hamilton, removes a tap from a large sugar maple in their 100-acre sugarbush and encourages a young Maple Weekend visitor to feel how sap is drawn from the tree under vacuum. Woods Maple Farm harvests sap from about 5,000 taps.
(Photo provided — Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County)

Maple Weekend participating maple farmer Bill Wood, who co-owns and manages Woods Maple Products in Burke with his father Hamilton, removes a tap from a large sugar maple in their 100-acre sugarbush and encourages a young Maple Weekend visitor to feel how sap is drawn from the tree under vacuum. Woods Maple Farm harvests sap from about 5,000 taps. (Photo provided — Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County)

While unseasonably warm weather brought a sudden and early end to several winter recreational activities, for many of the region’s maple syrup producers, the warm weather brought an early and rewarding start to the 2017 maple-sugaring season. The overall mild winter weather prompted a number of the region’s sugarmakers to tap trees in January and February. Several have been making superior-quality maple syrup for well over a month now.

Of those who waited, many found themselves rushing to get their trees tapped, their tubing up and their evaporators ready in time to take advantage of some exceptional late-February/early-March sugaring weather.

According to Cornell University’s New York State Maple Specialist Steve Childs, this was the case across New York state. Producers who tapped early have, in many instances, already made “significant” amounts of maple syrup. Those who waited found themselves “hustling” to catch up.

In 2016, New York’s maple farmers produced more than 700,000 gallons of maple syrup; shattering 2015’s state record by more than 100,000 gallons. Both record-breaking years are attributed to extended seasons of warmer-than-normal temperatures.

Is the same thing going to happen again in 2017? No one knows for sure. As Steve Childs likes to say, “All we can tell you is how the season was.”

The vast majority of sugarmakers I’ve known have long regarded March 1, or thereabouts, to be the start of the sap-collection season.

These are the weeks generally associated with sap flow. It’s the time when sugarmakers across the North Country, having tapped thousands of trees, harvest their reward, collecting the sap that brings the region’s sugar maples out of the dormancy of winter and boiling it down, with pride and care, to just the right consistency for pure maple syrup, delicious maple candy, scrumptious maple cream and delightful maple sugar.

Maple syrup production has a long tradition in northern New York, where the sweet smell of boiling maple sap has signaled the arrival of spring for many generations. You can see the steam wafting from sugarhouses operating at full production. It’s the first agricultural crop of the year, a time-honored practice, and for many hard-working North Country farming families, an increasingly important part of their livelihood.

If you’ve ever wondered how sap is collected and made into pure maple syrup, or if you think that syrup making is still about hanging metal buckets on sugar maple trees, you may be surprised to learn just how high-tech and multifaceted the process has become. Networks of tubing, which allow sap to be collected in the most efficient and hygienic way possible, have replaced metal buckets. Airtight vacuum systems are used to improve sap flow, while effectively reducing the likelihood of bacteria growth. And the collected sap can be pumped through reverse osmosis machines that filter out up to three-fourths of the water before boiling even begins, saving fuel and time without taking anything away from the finished product.

Well-established commercial maple producers employ these advanced technologies, which make tapping and harvesting less labor-intensive and more cost-efficient, to turn out hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of gallons of quality maple syrup of exceptional flavor. It’s because of their efforts, we can all enjoy the finest-quality maple syrup, cream, sugar and candy — all products that North Country producers take great pride in creating. And even though each maple sugar-producing family’s situation is unique, as are their values and their business strategies, they are united by a shared commitment to quality, self-sufficiency, sustainable forestry, and environmental stewardship.

If you’d like to see how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup, here’s your chance. During the weekends of March 18-19 and March 25-26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., member producers of the northeastern New York chapter of the New York State Maple Producers Association are joining maple tree-farming families across New York state in opening their sugarhouses to the public.

It’s a great opportunity for your family to visit one or more of the area’s family-run maple sugaring operations to see first-hand, from tree to table, how delicious, local maple syrup and other pure maple confections are made, and to sample and take home some of the best tasting, pure maple products in the world. Weather permitting, you’ll be able to watch the sap to syrup process unfold right before your eyes.

A list of participating NYSMPA member-sugarmakers near you can be found online at nysmaple.com/nys-maple-weekend.

Some participating producers, like Friend’s Maple Products, on the Spencer Road in Burke, and Parker Family Maple Farm, on the Slosson Road in West Chazy, are offering free wagon rides to and through their sugarbushes. Friend’s is also offering maple cheesecake and a chance to win a free gift basket.

Parker’s is offering pancake breakfasts and light lunch fare. Pancake breakfasts will also be available at Moon Valley Maple at Titus Mountain Ski Center, on the Johnson Road in Malone and Bechard’s Sugar House, on Sanger Lane in West Chazy. Check the NYSMPA website for dates, times and cost. Complimentary maple coffee and tea are available at Bechard’s as well. Brandy Brook Maple Farm, on Brandy Brook Road in Ellenburg Center, offers maple-based wines from their newly-open winery. And, at Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest Sugar Maple Research and Extension Field Station on Bear Cub Road in Lake Placid, visitors can learn about ongoing research projects, including birch and walnut syrup production.

Please feel welcome to come on out to one or more NYSMPA participating-member family-run maple farms near you during Maple Weekend so you and your family can taste the tradition.

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