Sugarhouse/sugarbush tours during Maple Weekends

The sugarhouse at Cedar Brook Farm Maple Confections on the Lime Kiln Road in Malone is one of many New York State Maple Producers Association family maple farms participating in Maple Weekends, March 23-24 and March 30-31. Cedar Brook produces a wide variety of value-added maple products including maple sugar, maple candies, maple cream, flavor-infused maple syrups, maple hard candy, and maple popcorn. (Photo provided)

Spring is almost here. At least, according to the calendar. And, although I realize that winter isn’t nearly ready to completely relinquish its hold on the earth, the days are getting longer and the frigid arctic conditions that have put the resolve of even some of the most winter-loving people I know to the test, may finally be behind us.

Many of us refer to the transition from winter into spring, as mud season. I prefer to think of it as maple syrup season. Every year, with the coming of spring, North Country homeowners tap and set buckets on yard and roadside trees, farmers and landowners tap trees in their pastures and forests, and large-production sugaring operations use state-of-the-art technologies and equipment to produce hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of gallons of quality maple syrup of exceptional flavor.

It’s all about the weather

Sugaring is a weather-related industry. And, as anyone who produces an agricultural (or horticultural) crop knows, the weather is beyond our control.

A few maple syrup producers still have sap lines buried under deep snow and ice and, unfortunately, haven’t finished tapping. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be long now until the first sap run of the season. Hopefully, several weeks of good sap collecting weather will follow.

Sugarbush trees line the property at Brandy Brook Maple Farm and Olde Tyme Winery on Brandy Brook Road in Ellenburg Center. (Photo provided)

Optimum production occurs when nighttime temperatures fall into the mid-20s and daytime temperatures range in the low 40s; preferably with sunny skies. More freeze-thaw days translates to more sap runs, which in turn translates to more syrup being produced. And, because snow cover generates radiational cooling at night, the accumulated heavy snowpack could prove advantageous, should daytime temperatures range a bit warmer than producers would like to see.

Maple syrup production in northern New York

The sweet smell of boiling maple sap has signaled the arrival of spring here for many generations. Sugaring is a time-honored practice, a popular hobby, and the first agricultural crop of the year. For many hard-working North Country farming families, it’s also an increasingly important part of their livelihood.

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 is often pumped through reverse osmosis machines, which filter out up to 3/4 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. Because of their efforts, we can all enjoy the finest-quality maple syrup, cream, sugar, and candy; all products that they 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.

Maple Weekends

If you’d like to see how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup, I have good news for you. During the weekends of March 23-24, and March 30-31 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 cooperating maple tree-farming families across New York State in opening their sugarhouses to the public. It’s an excellent 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.

Maple Weekend is an annual event championed by NYSMPA and supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program. The Maple Weekend initiative began in the mid-1990s, when NYSMPA producer-members across the state, in the first coordinated effort of this type, opened their doors for the first time. The event was called Maple Sunday.

The objective for this year’s Maple Weekend event is the same as it was then; to provide an opportunity for interested persons to see how maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

Please feel welcome to visit one or more of our NYSMPA family sugarhouses. A list of participating NYSMPA member sugarmakers can be found by visiting the NYSMPA website. www.nysmaple.com.