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Maple sap is flowing; sugarmaking starts early

HALLETT SARGENT TOOK this shot of sap flowing right after being tapped. She was helping out in the Middlebury sugarwoods on Sunday.
Photo by Hallett Sargent

ADDISON COUNTY — Despite a famous groundhog’s prediction earlier this month that the country was destined for six more weeks of winter weather, Vermont has experienced abnormally warm temperatures this February. 

The first half of this month has brought blue skies, temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and for some, the start of the sugaring season. 

Maple sugaring kicks off when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise into the 40s during the day, creating a freeze-thaw cycle that causes the maple sap to flow. Traditionally, that freeze-thaw cycle occurs in March and April, but with warmer winters in recent years they are happening earlier. 

Some local sugarmakers have begun tapping their trees for sap earlier in the winter to adjust to the advancing onset of freeze-thaw cycles. Dave Folino, owner of Hillsboro Sugarworks in Starksboro, said he started tapping on Jan. 9 this year and had already collected enough sap to start boiling this past weekend. 

“(The sap) is way earlier and way more for us. We just started collecting sap last Friday and we’ve got enough,” he said. “We’re way ahead. We’re probably three weeks ahead of normal.” 

Less snow on the ground has also sped up the sugaring season at Hillsboro. 

“The reason we got done tapping earlier is that we didn’t have to contend with waist-deep snow in snowshoes,” Folino said. “We were kind of thinking maybe this winter won’t be a real winter and it’s looking like it might not be.”

Hillsboro Sugarworks puts out around 16,000 taps and produces between 7,000 and 9,000 gallons of syrup each year. Typically, Folino starts boiling in early March, though he said this year Hillsboro had no choice but to start boiling the surfeit of sap collected. 

“We’ll have to start doing that earlier than usual,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re ready.”

TWIN MAPLE WORKS

 Twin Maple Sugarworks in Lincoln has also started tapping its sugarbush, though longtime sugarmaker Don Gale said that’s not unusual for this time of year. 

“I always start around Feb. 1,” he said. “I start about the same time every year unless it’s too cold.” 

Twin Maple has 5,200 taps and typically produces around 2,000 gallons of certified organic syrup each year. When the Independent spoke to Gale on Monday, Twin Maple hadn’t yet collected any sap. But his sugarbush is at a higher elevation than the many maple stands lower in the Champlain Valley that have started collecting sap.

Gale said it’s typical for sap to start running in early March, though at a high elevation, each season looks different.  

“Last year we had our first run on Feb. 23, and then we never had another run until March 7. We’re kind of high enough that it just depends on what the weather’s going to throw at us,” he said. “It fluctuates a little bit every year. Some years are longer than others.”

It’s still early in the season at Twin Maple, and Gale said in a few weeks he’ll have a better sense of how this sugaring season compares to previous ones. 

“Around March 1 is usually when we start collecting,” he said. “Right around March 1, that’s when we’ll know the difference.”

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