While many rejoice about the warm, nearly snow-free winter, the state’s maple producers are left wondering how long their season will last. Only halfway into February, many maple trees in the southern part of New Hampshire were already tapped out, said Peter Thompson, past president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.
“Some have already made maple syrup,” he said. “Some will probably be making toward the end of next week.”
The ideal maple sugaring climate is 40-degree days and 20-degrees night, said Thompson, who does his sugaring at Mt. Cube Farm in Orford, but a concern shared by many producers as the season kicks off is: where is the snow? The snow, Thompson said, serves as insulation to keep the roots of the maple trees cold, which allows for more days of boiling.
“Without any snow — if we have four or five really warm, hot days as we do once in a while — then the buds will start coming out,” Thompson said. “Once the buds start, then it’s on the downhill side after that.” There is no equipment or machinery that can insulate the roots as well as a blanket of snow, he said. “We can have the most technological equipment possible in the world but we can’t do anything with the product we will ultimately boil,” he said.
Maple producers in the northern part of the state typically tap their trees at the end of February, while those in the south often start at the beginning of the month, Thompson said. Thompson, who has been making maple syrup for 60 years, typically boils his syrup from the first week of March through the third week of April.
Thompson said usually around April 20, maple producers have an idea as to how their season went.
“That’s when the … little frogs start peeping at night,” he said. “When the peepers start peeping, the season is over.”
Thompson taps 9,000 trees annually on his mountainside. His lower trees will deliver sap first, because they have been exposed to the warmest temperatures.
“With 40-degree weather and the wind coming out of the west, you’re going to get some good runs of sap … what we’re afraid of is that maybe things will start off really good now and next week we’ll have a two-feet snowstorm,” he said, adding that in the last 20 years he has not seen the ground bare for most of a winter.
“Down in Concord the ground is, for all intents and purposes, brown,” he said. “That’s not a good omen, I think.”
Dean Wilbur, owner of Mapletree Farm in Concord, said he expects his season to start early and be short but has no prediction of how much maple he will be able to produce this season.
“Mother Nature controls that,” Wilbur said.
Marc Moran, of Hopewell Farm in Newbury, planned to tap his trees on Feb. 15. Moran was able to salvage the wood from an old sugarhouse on the farm that collapsed before he bought the property three years ago. Scrawled on the wood in pencil are the tree- tapping dates and production amounts dating back to 1903. This year will mark the earliest that trees have ever been tapped at his farm, he said. The next earliest tree tapping date on record is Feb. 20, in 1955.
“It’s a great resource,” Moran said of the handwritten records. “It not only gives us an indication of what was produced, but [we] can find out the climates through USGS [U.S. Geological Survey], so we can tell what made a good year and what made a bad year back then.”
“I’m not writing this year off yet,” he said. “I think everything is going to be OK.”