Donald Monica learned about tapping maple trees from his grandfather, but over the weekend, he had to ignore one of the old traditions.
“Right now, it’s so cold the trees are not running,” he said late last week. “There are
3 feet of snow on the ground, and the snow has to melt away from the base of the trees before they start running. That’s what my grandfather always told me.”
Still, Monica and his two sons headed out into the woods at Maple Valley Farm on 84 Harris Road in Corinth to start drilling holes into trees and prepare for what can sometimes be a very quick maple season.
“We are two weeks late right now,” he said. “It will be a small run at first because it takes several warm days to get it running.”
At Wild Hill Maple in Salem, Brian Ducharme was able to take advantage of a couple of warm days before the
latest cold snap and has made about 60 gallons of maple syrup so far.
“It was beautiful. It was a nice medium grade,” said Ducharme, who runs about 4,000 taps. “The sugar content was low, so it took a lot of sap to get the syrup.”
Ducharme said his sense is once the cold weather breaks, this could be a short season.
“Nature usually balances out,” he said. “We have had two phenomenal seasons in a row, especially last year, which was the best anyone ever had, so it could balance out.
“It could warm up fast, and that would be the end of it,” he added. “That said, it could stay cold and we could have some perfect days for making sap.”
There are more than a dozen local maple farms, all of them coming off two of the best seasons in recent memory.
This year, they are all still at the starting line.
“It’s basically been frozen up,” said Randy Galusha, who has about 3,000 taps out at Toad Hill Maple Farm in Thurman. “We’re pretty much spending all our time getting ready for the sap run to start. We had a couple of days of minor runs, but we’re waiting for the weather to break.
“This is a fickle business. You have to get above freezing for a couple of days, and you want to be in the 40s, at best, but there have been days when it’s just above freezing and it’s running like gangbusters.”
David Campbell, who has 11,000 taps out at Mapleland Farms in Salem, got one day of boiling in and made about 75 gallons. Like Ducharme, he got good syrup but found the sugar content to be low.
“I guess the trees still have (the sugar) stored in their roots and have not brought it up yet,” Campbell said. “We just need the warm weather. We are all tapped and ready to go.”
It feels odd to be waiting a week into March after the early runs of the last two seasons, Campbell said.
“But this isn’t the first time. There are other years we have not started at this point,” he said.
Thurman starts it
Traditionally, the farms in Thurman get a jump on everyone else, starting with Thurman Maple Days March 15 and 16 and running for three weekends.
Each weekend offers tours of four maple operations — Adirondack Gold, Valley Road, Hidden Hollow and Toad Hill maple farms — which all offer demonstrations.
Thurman goes beyond maples with Martin’s Lumber & Certified Tree Farm, featuring handsome maple slabs and Lucyann’s craft specialties. The festival also includes Peru Llama Farm with llama kisses, kids’ games and author-signed books. Nettle Meadow Farm offers cheese-tasting and, weather permitting, hourly tours. Activities at all sites run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Valley Road Maple Farm opens an hour early each day, serving pancakes and Oscar’s sausages from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday, the Thurman Maple Sugar Party will begin at
4 p.m. at town hall. Hod Ovitt and the Warren County Ramblers will entertain while guests enjoy a buffet topped off with a dessert of old- fashioned jack wax. Tickets, available at the door, are $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6 to 11 and free for those 5 and younger. The event has been raising money to support the American Cancer Society for 54 years.
New York Maple Weekends start a two-week run March 22 and include farms throughout Washington, Saratoga and Warren counties. Some of those farms, including Rathbun’s Maple Sugar House, are already open and serving pancakes and other maple-related products.
Despite being worried about the potential for a short season, Ducharme of Salem also sees a bright side.
“People made a lot of syrup over the last two years, especially the people in Canada,” he said. “There’s a lot of supply on the market, and that drives the price down. So even if we don’t have a good season, we can look at it from the positive.”