By Derek Liebig
Spring can’t arrive soon enough for the area’s maple producers.
Unlike the past two seasons, when sap began trickling into sugar houses by late February, the persistence of cold weather has delayed the start of this year’s sugaring season.
“I just finished tapping today (Monday) and gathered some sap tonight, but it’s been real slow. Even the sap that was running today ran slow,” said Vernon Scribner, a local producer who puts out about 4,000 taps each year.
Sap doesn’t flow until temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. In recent years that has occurred by now, but those days have been few and far between this year.
“Once it gets around that point, around 25 at night and no more than 45 during the day, the sap will start to flow. The freezing, thaw cycle is what really pushes the sap out of the tree,” Pam Green of Green’s Sugar House in Poultney, Vt., said.
“Everything is pretty well froze up. Until we get a little more warmth we won’t see much sap.”
Although both Scribner and Green said there’s still time for the season to turn around, the poor start has affected some producers’ outlook for this year’s sugar crop.
“It’s going to be a very light season,” Scribner said. “There’s still time. In 2002 or 2003 the sap didn’t flow until March 18. But it’s rare you start that late and have a good season.”
“The later it starts, the less chance you’ll have for a good season,” said Matt Rathbun, of Rathbun’s Maple, which straddles the Whitehall-Granville town line.
“We’re all ready, the evaporator’s all set, just need the sap to start flowing,” said Mike Grottoli, who owns Grottoli’s Maple in Middle Granville with his wife, Laurie.
A slow start doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a bad year, as long as temperatures in March aren’t above average, causing the season to pass quickly.
“Every year is different,” Green said. “Traditionally we didn’t start sugaring in February.”
This year’s snowfall has also made preparations for the season more challenging. Many producers have been forced to throw on snowshoes in order to access their lines.
“(It’s) good exercise, but it slows things done,” Hartford producer Jeff Cornell said.
Rathbun said he had to dig our several lines, but looking back on records discovered this year isn’t unique.
In 1993, he said there was a blizzard on March 13; conditions that year were similar to what they are now.
Scribner said the biggest problem with the snow is the fact that it’s covering up the base of trees and keeping the ground frozen solid.
“The trees are froze and the ground is frozen. It would help to get some of the snow away from the base of the trees,” he said.
It appears unlikely, however, the snow will disappear soon. As of Tuesday, forecasts were predicting 8 to 18 inches of snow to fall on the Whitehall area by the end of Thursday, although at this point Scribner said it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
He said the success of this season will ultimately hinge on what the temperatures do during the next couple of weeks.
“What we really need is two or three good days of 50 degrees and then for it to get back to 40 degrees during the day and below freezing at night,” Scribner said.
“If it warmed up to 50 (degrees), it’ll run like heck. We can make hundreds of gallons in a single good day,” Rathbun said.
“It’s definitely coming, there’s no question of that. You just hope it doesn’t warm up too fast, but like any agricultural endeavor, you’re at the mercy of the weather,” Green said.