What a long, strange "winter" it's been here in New England. While I don't particularly mind the snow-free commutes and record-breaking, 71-degree March days, I do wonder what the mild weather means for the upcoming growing season. Will the lack of snow negatively affect soil moisture? Will the warming trend continue through the spring and summer? WILL I EVER SKI AGAIN?!
With that said, I have noticed that one winter farm product has been affected by the weather: maple syrup. Last week, The Boston Globe reported that the mild winter temperatures have disrupted the tree cycles, meaning syrup is flowing less freely and less sweetly this year.
Tapping the first flow of sap is critical because it usually contains the highest sugar content, and produces the sweetest syrup. When temperatures stop falling below freezing at night, sap stops flowing and the sugaring season ends. Since the warmer-than-usual winter temperatures have made the syrup season difficult to predict, producers have been forced to tap earlier in order to capture the most sugary sap before it disappears. Typical for New England, the sap content in maple trees is about 4%, but this year it has dropped to 1%, meaning it would take more than double the amount of sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup!
Like many New England producers, who saw record syrup production last year, my dad in Connecticut missed the season entirely. Sadly, the old wooden spiles he uses have not been put to good use this year. This winter, my family in Michigan, who have been making maple syrup for more than 40 years on the same farm and from the same trees that my great-grandfather tapped, tapped the earliest they ever have in over 40 years! For my cousin Paul and the rest of the clan, syrup making at the Henne Sugar Shack is all about family and tradition and is a staple of on-farm income during the winter months. Around the same time each winter, 400 trees are tapped, sap buckets are filled, and syrup is made. This year's syrup grade is different than in year's past, and the production level decreased.
It looks like this winter warming trend may have serious consequences for the future of maple syrup production. Have you noticed changes in syrup grade or availability in your neck of the woods? Did you tap, or not, this season? Here's to a long, cold winter next year!