Early syrup season start halted by warm temperatures

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WELD — Maple syrup producer Diane Demers of Brambleberry Farm on Route 142 looked out her living room window on Tuesday morning, dismayed to see rain instead of snow falling.

Snow, she said, means lower temperatures, which would start sap flowing again like it has since the middle of February.

“I’m hoping the weather will behave itself,” Demers said.

“It hasn’t cooled off at all,” said neighbor Stan Wilcox, a volunteer who helps Demers and her husband, Joe, with syrup production.

“Supposedly, you need nights below freezing, daytime temperatures above 40 degrees, and no wind,” Diane Demers said.

Her husband uses a tractor and a large barrel to collect and carry sap that isn’t gravity fed from about 500 tree taps to their sugar shack.

Although the Demerses sell their syrup, they won’t be joining the state’s many syrup farmers who participate in the annual spring rite of Maine Maple Sunday on March 28. That’s when syrup producers open their sugar shacks to educate the public while offering samplings and selling syrup.

“We’re not set up for it, and there’s a quarter-mile of mud to wade through to where we’re boiling sap,” Demers said.

Due to mild temperatures this winter, syrup producers in extreme southern Maine started collecting sap in mid-February and most had finished by the second week in March, according to the Maine Maple Producers Association Web site.

Central Maine producers are about two weeks behind this.

At Brambleberry Farm, which is on a lower slope of Pope Mountain, sap started flowing in mid-February in some places, but the Demerses weren’t yet set up to collect it.

Normally, they start tapping trees the first week in March.

With the early start and lack of snow on the ground, they used a step ladder to reach tapping spots. That changed to snowshoes in late February when one storm dropped two feet of compact snow, Wilcox said.

As of Tuesday, they had bottled 33 gallons of maple syrup, which was a bit low, Demers said. They usually average 50 to 60 gallons a season.

Boiling sap started on March 7, and was repeated twice each on March 10 and 12, and once on the 13th.

“It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of finished syrup, which tells you right there why you don’t do it in the house, because it will peel your wallpaper and stink up your house,” Demers said.

They have been making syrup for 20 years, 15 of it at the Weld farm where they use a stainless steel syrup evaporator.

They tap red and sugar maple trees on 6 acres every spring during the four- to six-week season.

Rather than collecting sap from pails, they run plastic gravity-fed tubing from tapped trees into a larger plastic pipe, which transports sap downhill to a converted stainless steel milk tank. From there it is piped into the sugar shack evaporator next door.

The Demerses have switched from burning wood to burning oil in the evaporator.

“You could do it in a kettle over an open fire in the woods, and it would cost you the match, the kettle and the time,” Demers said. “Otherwise, it will cost you thousands of dollars. The equipment — you need stainless steel for food — is wicked expensive, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for life.”

Although they’ve tweaked their system over the years and have switched from pails to tubing, they’re not in it for the money.

“We like to keep the old traditions alive,” Demers said. “We started with a can on an open fire and we’ve graduated a bit since then, but it’s still a hobby.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

Click here to view a map of Maine Maple Sunday participating syrup farmers.

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