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Maple syrup producers weigh in on the season so far

  • Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products collects sap from his trees in Hancock<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products collects sap from his trees in Hancock<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products checks the sap level at one of the vacuum release sap collectors on his land in Hancock.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products collects sap from his trees in Hancock<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products collects sap from his trees in Hancock<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products collects sap from his trees in Hancock<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)
  • Maple sugaring at Fieldstone Farm in Rindge on March 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Carole Allen)

The maple syrup business goes up or down from year to year, depending on the weather. Last year, most local producers had their worst harvest in recent memory. But two years ago, they had a great season. And so far, this year looks very promising.

“It’s looking like we’re off to a good start,” said Karen Keurulainen of Morning Star Maple in Dublin. “We started making syrup on Feb. 9 and the sugar content is high. The weather’s staying on the cool side and the snow on the ground helps keep the nights cooler. You want it to be in the 20s at night, and high 30s to low 40s during the day.”

Ben Fisk of Ben’s Sugar Shack in Temple didn’t even wait until February.

“We started Jan. 30, the earliest ever,” Fisk said. “We had a couple of warm days and the sap started running. We’ve stuck to it ever since. We’ve made 1,300 gallons so far.”

Fisk said that’s already half of what he produced all last year, when the season ended in mid-March due to warm weather. This year he expects to go until mid-April.

“The sugar content was really low in the beginning,” Fisk said. “It’s raised up the last couple of weeks. The snow on the ground keeps it cold and the sap runs sweeter.”

Chris Pfeil of the Maple Guy’s Sugar Shack in Lyndeborough said his harvest has also been better than last year.

“As long as it doesn’t get too warm too fast, we’ll be good,” he said. “We hope it keeps getting cold at night. It would be helpful to have a sub-zero freeze to extend the season.”

Mark Coll, who runs Coll’s Farm in Jaffrey, said that like many syrup producers, he wasn’t ready for the first run of sap.

“It happened earlier than I expected, right after Valentine’s Day. The majority of people weren’t prepared” said Coll.

His trees are tapped now, but the season is starting a bit slowly.

“This coming weekend looks great and we plan to boil,” Coll said. “We have insulated tanks indoors and plenty of parking. So we tend to save sap and we try to boil on weekends.”

Bill Eva of Longview Forest Products in Hancock also said the season has been slow so far. On Thursday, he said he was expecting a good run of sap on the upcoming weekend, but he couldn’t predict beyond that.

“It’s totally dependent on the weather,” Eva said. “Last year got off to a good start, but then a week of warm weather killed the season.”

While the length of the season is important, the sugar level in the sap is also a key factor.

“Sugar content is based on the weather of the year before,” Eva said. “If we had a good growing season, sugar content runs high. Sap is mostly water. If it’s too cold, it freezes and doesn’t run. If it’s too warm, bacteria gets active. Instead of being light, the syrup does down to Grade A dark amber or even Grade B.”

Sugar content hasn’t been high this year, according to Eva, who said all he’s made so far has been light syrup.

He said many of his customers prefer the light Grade A syrup and not as many like the dark amber. But some prefer the even darker Grade B syrup, commonly known as cooking syrup.

“A lot of people use Grade B for table syrup,” Eva said. “I get the same price for all of them. It takes the same amount of work to make it.”

Dana Ryll of Fieldstone Farm in Rindge agreed that syrup grades aren’t necessarily the best guide for customers. He described his business as a relatively small operation, with about 1,000 taps. So far, he’s made 53 gallons, all Grade A light. As the season progresses, he expects to have a variety of darker syrups.

“We have samples for people, but it all tastes great,” Ryll said. “It’s all a matter of personal taste.”

A highlight of the sugaring season for many producers will be Maple Weekend on March 23 and 24, when visitors can sample a range of maple products.

“If the sap isn’t running, we can’t run the evaporator, but we’ll have lots of pancakes with fresh maple syrup, lots of free samples,” said Keurulainen.

“We’ll be boiling,” Fisk said. “We boil every weekend in March and the first two weekends in April. We offer tours of the sugar house and give out free samples. We’ll have hayrides and show how to tap trees.”

“We’ll have a model where people can make their own syrup,” Pfeil said. “We’ll have a band playing, do some demonstrations. And we’ll have lots of good conversation.”

Ryll plans to offer samples of syrup, of course, but he’s also planning to have hot dogs, doughnuts and coffee and a favorite treat: maple cream.

“It’s made from maple syrup. You cook it, cool it, then run it through a churn,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

A complete list of sugar houses that will be celebrating Maple Weekend may be found online at www.nhmapleproducers.com/mapleweekend/weekend.html.

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