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Maple weekends returning after pause for pandemic

WAMC/Pat Bradley
Tubing is used to collect sap from maple trees

Warm days and cool nights signal spring. It also begins the sap run in trees. Maple producers have begun tapping and boiling to make maple syrup. For the next two weekends Vermont and New York producers will hold open houses to demonstrate their operations.

Maple season is short and intense. Sap is typically collected from sugar maple trees over six weeks in March and April, when days begin to warm and nights are still cold. When the trees begin to bud the sap stops flowing and maple season ends.

Sugarhouses in both New York and Vermont are restarting open houses this and next weekend after pausing such events due to the pandemic.

New York state Maple Producers’ Association Executive Director Helen Thomas says producers took an economic hit last year due to a disappointing crop and the inability to welcome consumers due to the pandemic.

“This is the major source of maple revenue for fully half of the maple farms that are part of our association. They make probably at least half of their revenue during maple weekend for the year.”

Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association spokesperson Corey Ayotte says nearly as many producers who participated pre-pandemic plan to open their sugarhouses to the public for two maple weekends this year.

“There’s some sugar houses out there that are a little hesitant to re-sign up just because of COVID. But I would say about three-quarters of our previous participants have signed up. There’s a big social aspect to it that a lot of people have missed the last two years. So, as much as it’s a money maker, it’s a great way to show off how maple is made.”

Ayotte says people are often surprised that maple producers don’t collect sap with buckets.

“Especially people who haven’t been to a sugarhouse in a while. They don’t realize that most people moved away from buckets to a tubing system which is very efficient. A lot of producers now use a vacuum system that helps extract sap out even more than gravity fed into a bucket. A lot use reverse osmosis that helps separate sugar content. People don’t realize how much work and how short of a season it really is.”

Thomas says having a bucket on a tree allows people to see that sap looks like water but the vacuum system is and sustainable for the forest and energy efficient.

“You get much more sap per tree than you would with a bucket system. The other piece of that is that we’re making a gourmet food so a closed vacuum system is a whole lot cleaner.”

Helen Thomas laughs when she thinks about the popular notion that all it takes is tapping a tree to get syrup.

“I think the biggest thing that people are always surprised at, if they haven’t seen it before, is that it isn’t syrup that comes out of the tree! That it really looks like water coming out of the tree. I think most people it’s a surprise to see what we start with.”

Producers must boil about 40 gallons of maple tree sap to make one gallon of syrup.

According to the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service, Vermont, the nation’s largest producer, made 1.54 million gallons of maple syrup in 2021, a 21% decrease from the previous year. New York produced 647 thousand gallons, a 20% drop from 2020.

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