Farm News February 2012

Warm Weather Kicks Off A Strange Maple Sugaring Season

Here at the farm we haven't had any measurable snow since Thanksgiving. Temperatures have climbed into the 40's more times then we can count. In parts of Vermont it has been the warmest winter on record. We've already started our maple sugaring season, boiling our first sap on February 16th, 19 days earlier than last year.

"What effect will this warm weather have on maple sugaring?"

That's the question we've been hearing over and over the last few weeks. Well, the short answer is: Be ready early. We started tapping our maple trees on February 4th, about 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. With an extremely mild winter, there is little frost in the ground and no snow cover to moderate a potential warm spell. Another concern, is a lack of moisture in the ground from little precipitation since last November. Since maple sap is 98% water a good season also depends on the quantity of sap the trees are able to absorb up through their roots.

It Still Could Be A Good Sugaring Season

An early season could still be a good thing in some ways. First of all, travelling through the woods to repair lines and tap the trees has been easy without any snow. Also, the most important thing for a good maple sugaring season is the freeze and thaw cycle of the maple tree. This normally starts happening in the end of February or early March, but this year it has been much earlier. As long as temperatures are below freezing at night (below 28 degrees just to make sure the trees get a good freeze) and in the upper 30's to lower 40's the sap flow could be normal this year despite the warm winter.

 

A maple sugar woods with no snow pack.

One big concern is lack of snowpack to keep the trees cool in a severe warm spell that that goes beyond the 40's and into the 50's or 60's. Without snow around the trees a mid-season warm spell could spell the end of the sugaring season. Once the buds of the maple tree start to swell and grow in spring the sap becomes off-flavored or "buddy", signaling the end of the sugaring season.

Squirrels Love Maple Too!

It could be the semi-sweet liquid inside the sap lines or just something fun to chew on, but squirrels, mice, and porcupines often make chewing sap lines one of their favorite pasttimes.

A broken sap line.

A "chewed" sap line, which must be repaired to collect the sap.

 

Repairing a sap line with a special hand tool.

A handy specialized tool is used to splice and repair the sap line.

 

Re-attaching the sap line to the tree.

Replacing the sap line and spout into the tap hole of the tree.

As good as new!