It's warm, but maple sugaring season may be OK
This year's mild winter in New Hampshire has the potential to cut short maple syrup production, but sugar makers say you never can tell what a sugaring season will bring.
'It's a funny year because the way the weather has been trending, what happens in March will tell what happens in the season,' said Robyn Pearl, publicist for the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.
Pearl has been hearing from many of the association's 420 members.
'The season right now seems to be coming along sooner rather than later,' Pearl said.
The sugaring season usually runs from late February to early April, but sugar makers in the southern part of the state have already begun to tap their trees.
The lack of snow cover could be a problem, Pearl said.
'It doesn't allow the trees to stay as cold as it needs to be at night; without the snow cover it doesn't keep the ground cold,' Pearl said.
The fluctuation between cold nights - about 20 degrees - and warm days - in the high 30s to low 40s - makes the sap flow, said Jim Fadden Jr., who is the sixth generation of his family to sugar at Fadden's Sugar House in North Woodstock.
'No matter what anybody tells you, groundhogs or otherwise, what matters in sugaring is the weather during the season, which is warm days and cold nights,' Fadden said.
In North Woodstock, there is a good foot-and-a-half of snow in the woods and it is too cold to start tapping, Fadden said.
He usually starts the last week of February, but has been walking his woods this week checking on his maples.
'I'm anxious to get started, just like anybody else,' Fadden said.
After 45 years of sugar-making, Fadden said he takes a long view.
'It's an agricultural operation. Some years you have a banner year. Some years it's not so good. Ultimately Mother Nature's in charge.'
Fadden said based on his great-grandfather's records from the 1930s, 'We're still starting and finishing about the same time of year they did, within a week or so.'
Hank Peterson of Peterson Sugarhouse of Londonderry said he has tapped a few of his maples so far to test the sugar content of the sap and has found it is down 1 percent. The lower sugar content means a longer boiling time and more sap to make the same amount of syrup. There will also be less light amber sap this year, Peterson predicted.
'The trees went into dormancy and they haven't really converted the carbohydrates and starches into sugar yet,' Peterson said. 'They're in the process of doing that. We need the cold weather and frost and snow to do that. They really haven't had a long time to convert that over into sugar.'
There have been too many winter days in the 50-degree range, he said.
'I think sugar makers are in the minority because we want the cold weather and two feet of snow,' Peterson said. 'It's going to depend on what the weather does between now and the first of March.'
Ben's Sugar Shack
Ben Fisk, who owns and runs Ben's Sugar Shack in Temple, said he started tapping last week and has already made 40 gallons of syrup.
He said he plans to tap up to 11,000 times this year and hopes for a yield of 5,000 gallons. Last year he made 3,000 gallons of syrup from 9,300 taps, he said.
'It could be the longest sugaring season ever,' he said. 'As long as the nights are cold and the days are warm, sap is going to flow through the trees ... It's New England - you never know what kind of weather pattern we're going to get next week.'
Hancock sugar maker
Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products in Hancock started tapping his trees last week and said he isn't concerned by the mild weather.
The 75-year-old Eva has been tapping trees since he was old enough to follow his father around in the woods, he said.
'My answer to people when they ask me about the season is, 'Ask me in April,'' he said. 'I don't have an accurate long-range weather forecast and that's what's going to control it.'