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March 04. 2013 10:39PM

Maple sugar makers point to snow, temps


Maple tapping at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem last season, New Hampshire sugarmakers are predicting this year's maple season will likely be even better than last due to the prolonged winter weather. (COURTESY)

Maple syrup makers say conditions are ripe for a great season.

"We never know until the season is over, but so far the signs are good," said Lucien Blais, who owns Bisson's Sugar House in Berlin with his wife, Muriel Blais.

"We've had a good amount of snow, but not too much," he said. "Usually by the end of March is the peak of our season."

A good season will last four to six week and relies on temperatures in the 20s at night and the 40s during the day. Last year's sugar season seemed to start off well, but ended in only two weeks when temperatures soared to the 80s in March.

"Last year by the end of March, the season was pretty much over," said Blais, who has 2,800 taps.

New Hampshire Maple Syrup Producers Association Promotions Director Brad Presby is optimistic about this year.

"We've had good snow coverage for much of the winter, which results in a later start of maple flow and a longer duration of the yield," he said Monday in a written statement. "Last year, most maple producers were down by about 50 percent. This year, we hope to not only get back up to 100 percent, but surpass that; and in fact, many sugar shacks have expanded their operations this season."

So far up north, the sap isn't running yet said Blais and Stephen Tilton of Tilton's Sugar

House in Groveton.

"We're hoping it's going to be a good season. Snowing up here right now, matter of fact," Tilton said. "It could be a very good year with the weather we're getting, but it's hard to say right now."

Dave Fuller of Fuller's Sugar House in Lancaster taps more than 9,500 trees, boils more than 160,000 gallons of maple sap to produce more than 4,000 gallons of maple syrup a season. He is predicting the sap is going to start running up north by the end of the week, Tilton said.

In southern New Hampshire, the sap is already flowing.

Dave Richards of Grant Family Pond View Maples in Weare said since he started tapping on Feb. 21, he has already produced half of what the 112-year-old family business did during last year's season.

"It's looking good right now down here; we've got plenty of snow. I'd really like to see some colder temperatures at night," he said.

Tilton is hoping to increase his taps from 1,150 to 4,000, he said.

"We started back in 2000 just outside in the back yard with fifty pails - me and my father - and over the years it just gets more and more and more," Tilton said.

Like most small operations, Tilton works during the day and boils sap in his sugar house to make the syrup at night. The purchase of a reverse osmosis machine a few years ago has reduced boiling time about 75 percent, so he can get some sleep during the sugaring season.

"Technology has completely revolutionized the maple industry; the changes in the last 25 years are just incredible," Blais said.

His 92-year-old, third-generation family business uses a reverse osmosis machine as well as vacuum taps that keep the sap flowing through freezes and thaws, and can help a sugar operation survive a bad season like last year.

"Vacuum has done for maple syruping what manmade snow did for skiing," Blais said.

This year's 18th annual New Hampshire Maple Weekend is March 23 and 24.

mpierce@unionleader.com


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