Maple Season Is Running Late, But Experts Expect Good Year

04/02/11 9:34AM By Susan Keese
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AP/Toby Talbot
Peter Purinton prepares to install a tap in Huntington.
(Host) Despite the late-season snowstorm, the sap is running again in maple trees around the state.

A recent cold snap shut down many sugaring operations for about ten days, causing some Vermont maple syrup producers to worry about this year's crop.

But as VPR's Susan Keese reports, maple experts say the 2011 season could be a very good one.

(Keese) In her sugarhouse in Manchester, Wendy Dutton floats a glass tube in a sample of nearly ready syrup from her evaporator. A red line halfway down shows the level where the tube should float if the syrup is dense enough to put in containers.

If it's too thick it'll crystallize. If it's too watery, it could go sour. But this batch is ready.

(Dutton) "So I take this pail here and pour it into the filter press." (pouring sound)

(Keese) The Duttons have three farm stands in southern Vermont and run about 4,000 taps. Dutton says she's pleased with the season so far. She's already made more syrup than last year, when the weather warmed up too fast.  Dutton says there have been cold stretches.

(Dutton) "But days like today it's perfect. It was below 20 last night and up in the 40s today. So we've had some good weather for it so far."

(Keese) Not too many miles north, in Rupert, Ed Lewis and his sons are having a different kind of year.

(Lewis) "It hasn't been very good for us, so far. But our woods are a little colder. You know 3 or 4 degrees would make a big difference."

(Keese) Roger Palmer of Randolph Center chairs the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. He says even the good days have been too short to get a decent run before night falls and it freezes again.

(Palmer) "Some people have done pretty good but most people say they've only got about a third of a crop. And they all said their sap didn't start running until about 2:30 in the afternoon instead of like 11 in the morning."

(Keese) Up in Derby Line, Roy Davis is experiencing the same thing. Davis, who is 87, sugars with his son and grandsons. He says he thinks the problem is made worse since his family switched from buckets to tap lines.

Like most big maple producers these days, Davis's family uses a vacuum extractor that helps pull the sap from the trees and through the tubing.

(Davis) "Like today. It took all forenoon for the lines to get thawed out. Sap will keep running as it turns colder. And it'll be freezing in the lines as it runs."

(Keese) Maple specialist Tim Wilmot works out of the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill. He says improvements in technology only help sugar makers make more syrup using less energy.

And while last year's quick warm-up made for a bad sugaring season, he's not worried that the recent cold is a serious problem.

(Wilmot) "I think it's a good season. I mean we normally get a break somewhere in March or April. It's usually a week or so at least where it's too cold to sugar. And what we really don't want is for it to get too warm too fast. Last year that was exactly what happened."

(Keese) Wilmot says he's heard most people in northern Vermont made about a half to a third of their crop before the cold hit. Some people in the south have done much better.

And with a little luck he says, the season could last several weeks.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese in Manchester

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