Tapping for gold

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Staff Writer



Thirty years ago, Walter Holt found some maple saplings near his home, dug them up and transplanted them in his front yard in Lyndeborough.

Sometime within the next few weeks, Holt will, for the second year, tap those trees and draw from them the sap he will use to make maple syrup.

If, of course, Mother Nature cooperates.

There has been, in recent weeks, a bit of doom and gloom regarding the maple season because, at least until this point, we haven’t had the kind of early February that would be considered cooperative.

But Karen Bennett, extension forester for the UNH Cooperative Extension Service, believes it is still too early to despair. We really won’t know what kind of maple syrup season we’re going to have until the maple syrup season actually starts and the traditional date, if there really is such a thing, is what we used to know as Washington’s Birthday.

“The success of the season depends on the weather during the season,” Bennett said during a telephone interview last week, rather than upon the weather leading up to the season. “Of course, it is weather-dependent, exactly when it starts. A few sugar makers have already tapped their trees, but not many.”

Holt has noticed that, too, but he has not begun and won’t quite yet.

“There have been some warm days and I suppose I could have done it,” he said, referring to tapping the couple of dozen trees on his land and that of his neighbor, “but I’ll probably wait until the last week of February.”

What he doesn’t want to do is start tapping for sap, then have to stop because the weather went against him, and that can happen.

“Some people started early (this year because the weather was good) and had a good run,” said Holt, “then it stopped.”

Chris Pfeil of The Maple Guys in North Lyndeborough would agree.

“A lot of sap has run, but I hope it gets colder,” he said over the weekend. “It’s scary and doesn’t look good. I try not to think about it, all we can do is hope. We got a late start (with the tapping) this year.”

Bennett would, in essence, second that point of view.

“It really is weather-dependent, exactly when trees are tapped,” she said. “The sap flows when we have cold nights followed by above-freezing days. Bright, sunny days encourage sap flow.”

But there is something else that, this year, could have an effect: The lack of snow. During the day, snow reflects the sun and warms the trees. Then, there is a greater cooling effect at night, and that’s good for sap.

“Because there’s no snow,” Bennett said, at least not yet, “it’s very possible we won’t have those drastic differentials between night and day. Having said that, if we get some big snow storms, right about now ...”

Still, as much of a say as Mother Nature has, tapping also has something to do with what Bennett referred to as “the sugarbush.” For those unfamiliar with the term, she was referring to any stand of maple trees that make up a “sugar orchard.”

“The bulk of our maple syrup is made from trees in the woods, stands of trees that have been managed or nurtured for sugar,” she said, rather than those roadside trees connected by rubber tubes to each other and a large sap tub.

But as February wanes, neither Bennett nor Holt is terribly concerned – yet – about this year’s maple sugar season and won’t be unless the weather later this month and in early March simply refuses to cooperate.

“It’s a Mother Nature thing,” Holt said. “She’s in charge.”

Other producers of syrup seem to agree.

“It’s probably going to be all right because of the cold nights, but it could be a problem because there’s no snow,” said Wayne Colsia of Paradise Farm on Center Road in Lyndeborough.

He and his wife Adrienne have been collecting sap for five years for other producers, but do not make the syrup themselves, although they sell some under their name.

Not everyone is optimistic.

“My gut feeling is it’s not going to be much of a season,” said Leo Trudeau of north Lyneborough. “It hasn’t been much of a winter. The sap is already running, but I was raised by those old timers who let the sap run awhile before you tap. I don’t use any of that fancy vacuum stuff, I’m more respectful of the trees. The maples are already affected by the climate warming. It’s all up to Mother Nature and I’ll be happy with whatever I get.”

Michael Cleveland can be contacted at 673-3100, Ext. 301, or at

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