Dear Reader,

Winter finally arrived: the cold and snow buttoned up the trees, silenced the pump in the sap shed, and hastened the crew back to hearth and home. It’s time to reach into the long-neglected mailbag and pull out your questions, comments, and photos. I’ll try to get to as many of your inquiries as I can manage.

But first, here is an excerpt from the most recent Vermont Maple Bulletin:

“The significant stretch of warm weather came to an end with a prolonged period of cold recently.  January was the warmest on record for Vermont and the month that just ended (February) included lots of operations getting going.  According to the National Weather Service, mean January temperatures in Vermont were 8-12 degrees (F) above average. Many have commented that it’s the earliest ever boiling for their operation.  Some places had yet to see significant sap flow however which illustrates how hard it is to summarize the production trends in a crop such as maple.  Producers have reported everything from zero syrup produced so far to as much as a third of the anticipated crop. This edition of the Bulletin includes responses from 2/23-2/28.”

Now to the Mailbag.

Gudrun Irlie of Iowa asks: What does the early start of sap runs do to the trees? Will the trees yield a full crop in March and April with the early runs just being a bonus?

First, let’s define early. For Nebraska Knoll, boiling on February 16th, 17th, and 21st is early. For other sugarmakers early means December or January since they have put in most of their taps by Christmas. Some operations boiled in the thaw weather of early January 2023!

These early runs don’t affect the trees in terms of overall sap yield. The trees are simply responding to the warm weather. A tree does not hold a season’s worth of sap in it; the pump action triggered by the freeze/thaw cycle draws up new sap from the earth. Early sap is often considerably less sweet than March’s or April’s sap.

Climate change, rather than the weather this February, does do something to the trees. Sugar maples need cold winters and moderate summers to thrive, red maples less so. Over time the red maples will replace the coveted sugar maples.

As to whether or not we will make a full crop of syrup on top of the February yield, the sugarmaker’s mantra applies:
“I’ll tell you in May.”

Braggen Wright of Wisconsin asks: How much of an average crop did you produce in February?

About 10-15%. (We do hope to make an average or above-average crop.)

Lore Rents of Lamoille County sent in this photo and comment:

“Main line al dente. Not sure what critter took an interest in this main line. But, appropriately, it was located on K9. ”
(Chief of Operations says Bear.) [LL photo]

Rents adds, “The prolific punctures will be a good test of the new plastic sheet paint patches.”

The Blog Editor asks: What are “the new plastic sheet paint patches?”

Apparently Chief of Operations is trying a new method of patching main line. He bought disposable white cutting boards used by chefs and cut them into patch pieces. They are thin and pliable and wrap nicely over the damaged main line. He tapes a patch in place and seals it with bituthene.

Woods crew member Ingrid Jay had asked weeks ago after tapping this tree:

“Are these bear scratches?”

Veteran tapper Scatchard (Scratchard?) responds: “Those scratches sure do look like bear claw marks, but I don’t know of much reason they would claw into a maple, especially lower down like that. They will scratch off the bark and bite some softwood trees to leave scent marking for other bears. I took a picture of a tree on Long Snowshoe Trail at Edson Hill, where they did this.”  See below.

[RS photo]

Scatchard continues, speaking of the white-tailed deer, “I remembered Sue Morse saying that deer would dig for fern shoots in the winter, but I didn’t find any supporting evidence with a Quik online search. I think you’re right, with the most likely food source being beechnuts.” [LC photo]

Willa Nillee of Tennessee writes: “How does snow DO this?”

Chief of Operations: “No one seems to know.”

Let’s see…here’s another…

Wanda Noe of New Hampshire asks: “Is Maple Trout Lilli returning this year with new maple recipes from her test kitchen?”


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