As I write, the snowplow just rumbled past the house. We haven’t seen much snow this winter and as we enter the maple season so I am glad to see some. The warm weather of January had us a bit concerned and some buds on the soft maples look a little more full than we like at this point in the pre-season. The rock maples look pretty good, but we tap a lot of soft maples here at the farm, so the appearance of these trees has us a bit concerned. I hope the warmth did not start the spring process in the woods earlier than we were ready.
We finished all the repairs in the woods just before last week’s ice storm. The heavy ice was more than some trees could bear. Weakened by damage, struggling by location on ledges, poor soils or disease, some trees succumbed to the added pressure of ice and fell. One huge “bull” pine that is just on the side of farm driveway at the edge of the maple orchard, fell on some tubing and mainline. The big tree took a lot of chainsaw work to release the tubing and pipe, and we still need to fix the area. We have started taking a look deeper in the orchard to determine damage and make repairs ahead of tapping next week.
The snow doesn’t hamper our woods activities much, as we have built woods roads throughout the acreage to access even the furthest reaches of the maple tubing by snowmachine or four-wheeler. It takes a lot of tools sometimes to make repairs, and the thought of lugging the materials needed by hand and on foot is a chore this old gal doesn’t relish anymore.
We will be a bit later than usual this year in starting the actual tapping of the trees. Looking back, we have been starting around the sixth or seventh of the month, but we spent more time making improvements to the production end of the process than planned. We are adding some “umph” to the vacuum system that is housed at the sugarhouse itself. This vacuum works like a gigantic straw, helping to pull the sap from the farthest reaches of the tubing system to the storage tanks at the sugarhouse. We have had a minimally effective system, and are adding another vacuum pump and what is called a “dry line” to the system to help us gather the sap more efficiently and quickly.
The process is a lot more scientific and technical than it was in my Dad’s day and before, when buckets were hung from wooden or metal spouts and gathered once a day with oxen, horses or tractors pulling a gathering tank along through the woods paths in a heavily physical activity each and every day. Where my dad and those before him tapped a hundred or so trees and made tens of gallons of syrup in a season in a small sugar-shack with flat pans, we now tap thousands of trees with a much more sophisticated boiling system and make hundreds of gallons in a season.
I am not always convinced that bigger is better in a lot of our agricultural pursuits, but in the maple production, the advances in technology that we enjoy make it so much easier to produce that bigger is a no-brainer. It still takes several weeks each late winter to get ready, and the changes in weather patterns of late have us a bit concerned as we head into the season. The annual questions of “did we start too early or too late and will it be a good season” niggle at us just as they have for the past decades. We rely heavily for our annual income on maple production, so I am hoping and praying for a good season. As we do every year, we worry and fret about the weather and what can go wrong. It’s just a part of sugar production that we sugarmakers share.
If all goes well, we will be all tapped in by the end of next week and ready for the sap to flow. Here’s to a good season!
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. firstname.lastname@example.org.