Cold weather slows sap flow, turnout

MEET ME — at the Sugar Shack, baby! The steam was from boiling water since daytime temperatures during late February and March have been too cold to produce enough sap to make maple syrup. (De Busk Photo)

MEET ME — at the Sugar Shack, baby! The steam was from boiling water since daytime temperatures during late February and March have been too cold to produce enough sap to make maple syrup. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — There are few things as delightful for the sweet tooth as warm maple syrup seeping into a stack of pancakes, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

The maple syrup was warm at local sugar houses; but the outside temperatures were nothing shy of chilly. Cold was the word of the day.

Still, that did not keep groups of people and families from partaking in the annual Maine Maple Sunday.

“It was certainly cold,” said Bill Symonds, owner of Sweet William’s.

“It was the coldest Maple Sunday we’ve had,” he said.

In fact, it was so cold that his younger sister and daughter who helped with face painting had to stop. That’s because the paint brushes started to freeze along with the paint.

On Sunday, between 600 and 700 people showed up at the Sweet William’s located off Spiller Hill in Casco, Symonds said. That is down by about 50% compared to Maple Sunday in years past when the temperatures are above freezing and the sun is out, he said.

Also, those consistently cold days during February and March made it impossible to get sap from the trees. The sap runs when daytime temperatures are 40 degrees and nighttime temperatures fall to freezing.

“Lots of years, we will make syrup the last week of February,” Symonds said, adding that March only had a few days that tapped trees yielded sap.

According to the Maine Maple Producers Association (MMPA) website, the first maple sap run of the season occurred on March 4; and the days between March 9 and 11 had temperatures warm enough for farmers to collect sap.

SERVED UP COLD — Katherine Cosgrove, 22, originally from Casco, and Cody Moen, 20, of Casco, helped to serve ice cream topped with maple syrup to the people who visited Sweet William’s during Maine Maple Sunday. (De Busk Photo)

SERVED UP COLD — Katherine Cosgrove, 22, originally from Casco, and Cody Moen, 20, of Casco, helped to serve ice cream topped with maple syrup to the people who visited Sweet William’s during Maine Maple Sunday. (De Busk Photo)

Symonds said that is a few weeks behind schedule. A tap has a six- to eight-week lifespan before the tree heals itself and the holes drilled for tapping begin to close, he said.

Like many other sugar-makers in the region, Symonds was forced to boil water in the sugar shack so he could still provide people with informational tours of the process.

“We would love to be making syrup,” he said.

“With anything agricultural, you are at the whim of the weather,” he said.

“This week coming, it looks like it’s going to be a syrup week. I know that we have the better part of the season yet to come,” Symonds said.

He figures he needs 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. When tapping soft maples, that ratio changes. Instead, it requires 80 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup.

“You can make great syrup off of soft maples,” he said.

“All the sugar-makers work hard and put out a good product,” Symonds said.

At Pietree Orchard, the winds were even more punishing since the farm is located on a hill in a mountainous area of Sweden. Still, frigid temperatures did not stop people from getting a taste of Maple Sunday at that scenic location.

“The day was a smash. We had way more people than we thought we would,” said Alexandra Tomaso, public relations and events coordinator.

“People were grateful for the maple syrup tastings we offered on ice cream and fresh apples,” she said, adding that apples from last fall’s harvest had been stored for the March event.

“People were surprised how well maple syrup and apples go together,” Tomaso said.

The most frequently asked question was about grading the maple syrup, she said.

DEEP-FRIED DOUGH — dipped in maple syrup is among the favorite treats offered at Maine Maple Sunday events. (De Busk Photo)

DEEP-FRIED DOUGH — dipped in maple syrup is among the favorite treats offered at Maine Maple Sunday events. (De Busk Photo)

Since the sugar bush, the area where maples are tapped, was not accessible to the public, tours of the apple orchard were offered.

“We had one dozen takers who were brave enough to stand up to the 4-degree wind chill. We had a significant wind chill going on Sunday,” Tomaso said.

“We really gave them an overview at Pietree,” she said.

People learned how the apple trees were doing and how winter pruning was done, she said. They were schooled about different densities of plantings on the vast acreage.

According to Orchardist Scott Miller, a dozen hardy souls stomped across the ice-covered, wind-hardened snow to view the hardy apple trees.

He suspected cabin fever was the culprit behind so many visitors coming to the Sweden-based farm during this agricultural event.

“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got it. We are all ready for nice weather,” he said.

For maple syrup enthusiasts and those seeking an education in the syrup-making process, a small boiler set up near Pietree’s farmstand.

“People could actually see syrup being made. That was a nice treat. People enjoy it. It was a nice day,” Miller said.

The week after Maple Sunday provided some warmer temperatures that should kick-start the flow of sap.

“Tomorrow should be a good run,” Miller said on Tuesday.

“We are looking forward to a good week, this week and hopefully next week, too,” he said.

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