Snow slows the sugaring season

ADDISON COUNTY — Once the 2019 sugaring season is finished, Vermont will likely remain the nation’s leading maple syrup producer, but this year’s title won’t have come as easily as it did last year.
Persistent cold temperatures have delayed the initial sap run this year.
Some sugarmakers in Addison County have made up for time, but others are growing a tad anxious.
“It’s been too cold, with too much snow,” said Don Gale of Twin Maple Sugarworks in Lincoln, which taps roughly 5,200 trees. “There’s 30 inches of snow in the sugarbush right now.”
FRESH MADE PURE Vermont maple syrup was ready for purchase at Gateway Farm in Bristol this past weekend, as it was at sugarhouses around the region.
Independent photo/Steve James
By this time last year, Twin Maple’s taps had already produced a significant one-day sap run — 9,200 gallons, on Feb. 28. But this year Gale has had no such luck.
“The biggest day we’ve had was about 3,000 gallons,” he said. “We’re far behind.”
Gale has also seen an uptick in critter activity.
“I’ve never had so much damage from squirrels as I’ve had this year,” he said. “Squirrels are everywhere.”
The season has also gotten off to a slow start in Starksboro.
“The way winter seems to be clinging it feels more like the 1970s or some previous era,” said Dave Folino of Hillsboro Sugarworks this week. “But we’re about on target for this date, or maybe a hair short.”
In fact, this could turn out to be a very good year for Hillsboro, Folino said.
“Maybe not a record year, but a good year for supply.”
THIS YEAR DURING the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend there was still enough snow on the group for horse-drawn sleigh rides at Gateway Farm in Bristol. The rides were very popular with the kids.
Independent photo/Steve James
Folino, who’s been sugaring at Hillsboro for 41 years, also noted that some maple-producing regions to the north, including southeastern Quebec and northern Maine, are “basically snow-locked” right now.
“That will make sugaring difficult, physically, of course. It’s tough when you’re up to your armpits in snow.”
These conditions could affect the overall global supply and lead to steady pricing, he said.
At the Gateway Farm in Bristol, sugaring is “going great,” said Abby Roleau, but she and her husband, Trent, suffered a late start, as well.
“We had thousands of gallons made by end of February last year,” Abby Roleau said. But this year they didn’t have their first boil until the middle of March. Now it’s “happening all at once,” she said.
Gateway Farm, which is in its second year, manages 12,500 maple taps and 900 birch taps. Their hills, too, are alive with critter destruction.
“We have noticed more damage to our tubing system in the woods done by porcupines,” Roleau said. “We had a 10-foot section of our 1.5 inch mainline that was completely chewed apart and holding on by just a small half-inch section. Plus the squirrel damage seemed more plentiful.”
ABBY AND TRENT Roleau, like many sugarmakers, got a late start at Gateway Farm this year but they said the maple season is “going great!”
Independent photo/Steve James
In a way, this past Saturday and Sunday’s official Vermont Maple Open House Weekend presented the season so far in microcosm.
Friday’s snow showers dumped more heavy wet white stuff than expected, making a mess of roads and depressing Saturday’s open-house turnout. But once the weather turned nicer and the roads were plowed, the public came out in full force to enjoy sugar on snow and maple creemees and to see the boiling process up close and personal.
“We had a good crowd on Sunday,” said Gale. “Not so much on Saturday.”
Even so, the Lincoln sugarhouse saw more total visitors this year than last, he said.
“We were boiling the whole time. We were selling syrup right off the arch.”
In Bristol, the Gateway Farm open house “went fantastic,” Roleau said.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that they’d brought in a couple of ringers.
Vermont ice cream legends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s showed up to serve scoops of their finest vanilla.
LOOK WHO SHOWED up at Gateway Farm on Saturday to scoop up some Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream during Vermont Maple Open House Weekend — Ben Cohen, left, and Jerry Greenfield. Open house visitors were delighted.
Independent photo/Megan James
The Roleaus thought it would be fun to serve ice cream with warm maple and wanted to know where they could get Ben & Jerry’s in a bulk-size container, Roleau explained.
Who do we contact about that? they asked Cohen, whom the couple had gotten to know over the past year.
“Me,” Cohen said, and then he offered to come and do the scooping, himself.
“Saturday, when Ben showed up, it was such an amazing surprise to have Jerry, too!” Roleau said. “We are so thankful they took the time to contribute to our event.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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