Well, it looks like sugaring season may very well be here early this year and as usual, I have found myself behind the eight ball again. It’s been a nerve-wracking month since the holiday season waiting for the infamous Upstate NY winter to rear it’s ugly head, but it has yet to bite. The sense of panic has been rising for days now and its time to move.
Last year, we had a freak storm roll thru Ithaca the first week of February and in ten minutes, we got to see rain, sleet and snow. Thankfully, this was just a warning to us sugarmakers and by the time we had a real thaw on February 17th, we had enough time to get everything set and started tapping trees.
This year is a different animal all together. No real snow to speak of, or at least none that has managed to last more than a few days. Today and tomorrow (January 26-27) it’s predicted to be 40 and raining, the third major thaw in two weeks. As much as I would love to sit back and sit on my hands and wait it out, this trend is just too strong to ignore. So we start tapping. I’m not sure how this weird weather will affect the season, but I’m predicting lower sugar content in the sap, weaker flow and longer hours boiling for a lower syrup yield. Joy.
My plan is to stagger tapping in our 5 sugarbush sectors over the next 3-4 weeks to maximize the time we have viable taps and hopefully still have sap to boil in mid-April should the season last that long. Tap holes are said to heal up after eight weeks, so we have to time tapping just right if we want to have a good sugaring season. Tap too soon and miss the late runs, which can be quite heavy. Tap too late and we totally miss the early light amber sap.
Tapping is only one project that needs to be done in order to be ready for the season. Our sugarshack has still not been closed in from the elements and features some old billboards as temporary walls (we have a Mustang ad on one side and Captain Morgan’s on the other). This leads to a lot of cleaning up at the beginning of the season; cleaning out the evaporator of leaves and the cache of black walnuts a squirrel has been storing in the pans, cleaning up all the dishes and bird droppings in the kitchen from the barn swallows who are nesting there, and other more or less unsavory cleaning projects.
This is one of the inevitabilities of the sugarhouse, which is only used by humans for three months. Nature gets the rest of the year. I always get a sinking feeling when I start to make my pre-season punch list, but now that we have started to pick away at it, it’s not so overwhelming, and I can have faith that the sap will run one way or the other and instead of laying awake at night dreaming of tapping, I’ll be out there soon doing it for real.