Our roller coaster temperatures have made it difficult to determine just what season it is, but the maple trees have decided that it is spring.
Last week temperatures ranged from the single digits to around 50 in East Middlebury. Below-freezing nights and above-freezing days, like we usually see in March, are great conditions for getting the sap flowing in the sugar maples. Apparently the sugar maples in East Middlebury are either opportunistic or confused, because the sap started flowing last week, much earlier than usual. The first surge of sap created sapsicles like the one above on damaged branches where sap leaked out and froze. I went out and tasted the sapsickle, and sure enough, it had a faint taste of maple syrup! (Note: if you want to try a sapsickle, make certain it is on a maple tree and has formed from flowing sap, not dripping from a dirty rooftop above)
After a warm week, last weekend’s temperatures sure seemed cold! Of course, the cold was not unusual for mid February. Still, I think the total lack of snow makes the cold seem somehow harsher. Temperatures have risen back above freezing today, and the ‘good sugaring weather’ is expected to extend through the next week, perhaps along with some rain and wet snow at times.
I wondered if early running of sap might harm the maple trees, so I contacted the UVM Proctor Maple Center to ask if there were any possible negative impacts to the trees or the syrup harvest. I received a quick response from Timothy Perkins at the Maple Center - maple sap can flow any time the temperatures reach above freezing, and this phenomena is not harmful to the trees. I was glad to hear this good news, but also wondered if those in the sugar industry were in a scramble to prepare for the possible early season. I noticed some buckets on trees around town so apparently enough sap is running to be worth harvesting.
At the moment the long range forecast is for more of the same. At this point, I’ve given up on getting good snowfall this winter and I’m ready for spring. One way or another, next winter will bring something different.
Charlie Hohn is a recent graduate of the UVM Field Naturalist graduate program. He has been closely watching the weather ever since he was a child in southern California. Charlie will be posting occasional blog posts here about Addison County weather. He also maintains a blog about water at slowwatermovement.blogspot.com.