As the mercury crested 50 degrees last week, most people in the area were thinking spring, but just a handful were doing something about it.
Matt Rathbun and a crew of four men were checking lines, tapping trees and running new lines, getting ready to collect ample maple sap when it begins to flow.
“Trying to get things ready,” Rathbun said as he stomped down a hillside near the Granville town line in Hartford.
Rathbun’s Maple Sugar House brings in sap from Hebron, Dresden and West Pawlet, Vt., as well as Granville and Hartford.
Bernie and Chris Roberts could be heard working farther up the hill using a small gas- powered drill to make the holes for the taps.
The Roberts had been tapping for several hours, making their way through the woods without the benefit of snowshoes.
Asked how difficult moving around had been, Bernie Roberts said: “Horrible; it was really deep, up to your knees,” he said.
In the town of Hartford, Granville and other locations around the immediate area, Rathbun said he would end up with 7,000 taps out for the approaching season.
“Only 6,000 more to go,” Rathbun said as he finished hammering a tap into a tree. On the vacuum lines, Rathbun said, he’s sticking with a new tap on some of the trees. The small plastic plug has a check valve in it. Shaking the small device produces a faint rattle of the ball in the valve. They performed as advertised, to increase the yield from every tree, and so they have made a return to the woods, he said.
Although the warm temperatures had the lines running with sap, the forecast for cold temperatures with single-digit overnight lows had Rathbun figuring the group had time to get the remainder of the taps out before the flow gets serious.
“If I thought it was going to start we’d go all day until dark,” he said.
On a good day, one of the 700-gallon stainless steel tanks at the foot of the steep side hill can fill up completely, he said.
After an “open year” didn’t turn out so well following a promising start, Rathbun said, he’s cautiously optimistic about what this year could produce. Often times the heavy blanket of snow can act as insulation and maintain the maple sugaring season by helping to keep the ground cool.
The syrup-making season has yet to start for any area sugarhouses as daytime temperatures fail to get above freezing and the mercury dips well below 32 degrees during the night.
This temperature cycle is what sugar makers hope to see and the duration of the cycle dictates how long the sap will flow and the season will last.
After the cold winter there is no clear indication what the spring and thus the sugaring season might be like for 2011.