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Mild winter leads to uncertain syrup season

MaryAnn Hayes of the Vermontville Maple Syrup Corporation checks sap buckets in Vermontville Tuesday.

 

Taylor Owens

Staff Writer

This year's maple syrup season is too close to call, given the mix of mild conditions and cold snaps.

“Everybody says 'I don't know.' They've never seen a year like this,” Vermontville Maple Syrup Corporation Festival President Steve Hayes said.

The corporation tapped maples in the village of Vermontville Saturday in anticipation of warm weather, though MaryAnn Hayes said many producers have yet to tap.

The Hayeses were surprised to find an inch of sap already in the bottom of some buckets by Tuesday evening, given the cold weather.

Tree sap runs when temperatures warm up, but once the trees start to bud in the spring, sap becomes bitter and unusable. The best time for sap collecting is when temperatures are above freezing during the day for sap to run, but below freezing at night to prevent budding.

“If there's no frost, they're going to start to bud as soon as it gets quite warm and stays warm,” Steve Hayes said. “Once the buds pop on the trees, we're done.”

MaryAnn Hayes said an ideal syrup season lasts four to six weeks.

 “We were all a little leery about going into the year without any frost in the ground,” Nashville Maple Syrup Association President Kalen Swift said. “Overall we've had a very light winter.”

But when the temperatures recently dropped into single digits, syrup producers breathed a sigh of relief that the season might hold out.

“I have a little better feeling right now,” Swift said. “Until we get to the end, we really don't know.”

“It just seemed like it took a long time for winter to get here,” MaryAnn Hayes said.

But with the recent cold spell, she said she is “hopeful, optimistic” for a good year.

Both producers say they hope to have their first sap boil in about a week.

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