With Environment Canada forecasting temperatures in the double digits for this weekend, maple syrup producers are champing at the bit to get boiling.
On Wednesday, Fred Martin of West Montrose Maple Products was busy tapping the last trees, setting up tanks and checking the evaporator.
“It’s getting down to the wire now,” he said. “This weekend’s looking pretty promising.”
Martin already had some sap running the last few days of February. That brief spell of warm weather coincided with the annual tree-tapping ceremony for the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. Unlike the past few years, when the ceremony took place in biting cold, this year’s tapping produced a steady flow of sap.
Most producers don’t bother tapping for warm spells in January and February, said Todd Leuty, agroforestry technician with the Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs.
Taps have a lifespan of only five or six weeks, after which the tap hole dries out. Producers try to time their tapping to get the best flows.
“The biggest fear is if they go too early, they miss out on some of the best flows at the end of March and even early April,” Leuty said. “The first sap tends to be lower in sugar than the good stuff later on, so you get into an economic question there, is it really worth it to process sap that’s fairly low in sugar?”
Leuty said many of the producers he’s talked to were waiting out the cold spell earlier this week to do their tapping. The danger in tapping when it’s too cold is that the wood around the tap can split, ruining the flow out of the spout.
There are just over 3,000 producers in Ontario, producing 1.1 million litres of syrup annually.
Producers are hoping for a good season this year, to make up for a few years of reduced yields. Last year, winter hung around until almost April, and then it suddenly warmed up to almost summer-like temperatures.
“When we’ve had bad years, it just warms up and it stays warm and it doesn’t give the freeze-thaw, freeze-thaw that you need to get the sap flowing.”
The temperatures forecasted for this weekend are a little higher than desirable – 5 degrees during the day and -5 at night is the ideal – but the trees are better able to handle higher temperatures early in the season, Martin said. The frost in the ground and snow cover in the bush also helps slow the onset of spring.
“It’s just so weather dependent,” he said. “It’s been late starting the last few years, and Mother Nature has a way of shutting down the trees by Apr. 10.”