The Seasons of Maple at Mapletree Farm
Spring is always a busy time at Mapletree Farm. Sap has been rising in the trees since February. All of the trees are now tapped and the boiling season is well underway, even before the first day of spring. We hope for warm sunny days between 38 and 45 degrees and no wind, and we hope for freezing nights with temperatures between 22 and 28 degrees. With those ideal weather conditions, we know that maximum sap flow will occur and we will be very busy boiling. Sap must be processed immediately to make the best syrup, so we process it daily.
On days when weather conditions are less favorable for good sap flows, we are busy checking tap lines and tanks, cleaning the evaporator, repairing equipment, packaging syrup, making maple products (cream, candy, coated nuts, granulated sugar), or just resting for the next sap run.
Spring is also the time when we cut the supply of wood to fuel the evaporator for the next season. At the end of the sugaring season, the taps are pulled and all of the lines in the woods must cleaned. The roadside tanks are brought back to the sugarhouse to be washed. Once cleaned, and repaired if necessary, the equipment is stored for next season. The evaporator is cleaned, taken apart, and stored. The sugarhouse is cleaned and set up for off-season packaging of maple syrup. Undoubtedly, this is the busiest season of all!
Summer is when our trees are hard at work. Chlorophyll, the green pigment in the leaves, absorbs energy from the sun while the roots absorb water and minerals from the soil. This process produces a sugar, which the tree converts to starch and then stores. This starch is the maple tree's food and energy reserve and is the basis for the sweet sap that we make into maple syrup the next season.
We are also busy packaging and selling syrup as well as the other maple products we produce. The firewood that was cut down in the spring is cut to length, split, and stacked in the sugarhouse woodshed. During the summer the planted maple orchard is mowed to control the underbrush.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year as the days grow cooler and shorter and our trees begin to slow down their chlorophyll production. When chlorophyll production ceases and the green fades, the sugar remaining in the leaves helps create the chemical reaction of color change. A sugar maple's leaf at the height of autumn may be yellow, red, orange, or a combination of all three. Our planted orchard will be brilliant with a blaze of color. We pay particular attention to the leaves on the maple trees we tap. The color of the leaf, timing of leaf drop, and size of the leaves are all indicators of tree health. An early leaf drop indicates tree stress and we will not tap that tree until its health improves.
This is the time of year that we typically work to clean up fallen or dead trees in the orchard and along the tap lines. "Indian Summer," as autumn or fall is often called, is a great time to be in the woods. The weather is warm but not hot, there are fewer bugs, visibility is good, and wildlife watching can be spectacular.
Winter is when our maple trees are dormant. They will remain that way until sometime in February. The starch stored in the tree is waiting to be converted into sugar, which sweetens the sap that we know will flow a few short weeks from now. Demands of the December holiday season keep us busy packaging syrup and making maple candy, maple cream, maple coated nuts, and granulated sugar. Our customers order maple products to be shipped to their relatives and friends all over the world. After the holidays, we start counting the days until the next sugaring season begins. We check our container and supply inventory, plan on any expansion or changes, prepare the sugarhouse, and dream about new equipment.
In January we attend Maple Schools which are always fun, providing a learning experience and a chance to network with fellow sugarmakers. By mid-February the weather is giving hints of tapping time, which varies from year to year. We monitor the weather closely and watch the squirrels. Yes, you can tell that sap is getting ready to flow when squirrels nip small branches on a warm February day and drink sap.
Starting in February we check the 35,000 feet or over six miles of tubing for damage and position the roadside tanks to prepare for the time when we’ll drill the tap holes and insert the spouts. Our neighbors are almost as excited as we are because they know when sugaring starts, winter is nearly over, and spring and warmer weather are just around the corner. We usually tap during the first week in March although we did tap and make syrup on February 27th of 2002.
Sugaring season ties winter into spring for us here at Mapletree Farm. It is a Wilber Family tradition that has continued at our farm on Oak Hill Road in East Concord, NH since 1975.
Remember, enjoying maple syrup is always in season and it's great for gifts, too!