Spring Thaws and Maple Syrup

Fall foliage in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

When most people think of maple trees in the Northeast, the image above comes to mind: a beautiful array of striking colors at their peak in September and October. But for some people, maple trees conjure up another image- the muddy, springtime season of maple sugaring. Maple sugaring season begins in the early spring, just as the trees are beginning to wake up from a long, cold winter.

Maple trees with taps and collection buckets.

How does tapping maple trees work?

Maple sap starts to run when the air temperatures rise above freezing during the day and fall below freezing at night. Generally in the Northeast, this begins to occur with regularity by late February or early March. The process is really quite simple. Maple taps such as the one shown to the right are available at many online retailers. The tap is inserted into a maple tree (trunk diameter minimum 12 to 18 inches in diameter for best results), and a collection bucket is hung on the hook which comes with the tap. Individuals can tap one or two trees, but large-scale production outlets can have tens of thousands of taps! (https://vermontmaple.org/how-maple-syrup-is-made)

How does maple sap become maple syrup?

Maple sap, once harvested, is filtered to remove large pieces of debris such as tree bark and twigs. The maple sap itself contains a large quantity of water, and thus the sap must be boiled to turn it into maple syrup. The general rule of thumb is that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. Raising the syrup temperature to at least 185 degrees Fahrenheit also ensures that the syrup is safe to consume. Syrup is then bottled and graded based upon the darkness of its color and strength of flavor.

Maple syrup, ready to eat! (https://cbmaplefarm.com/shop/category/vermont-maple-syrup/)

Is it time to harvest maple sap yet?

The frigid weather that impacted the northeast U.S. at the end of January 2019 gave way to well above normal temperatures to start of the month of February. The graph below shows the temperature range, indicated by the blue bar, for each day of the month in Albany, New York. Any time the blue bar crosses the horizontal dashed line (32 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature was both above and below freezing on that date. One can see that in early February, there were several days when near-record temperatures were reached in Albany (shown where the blue bar nearly touches the top of the red shading).

Observed temperature range, normal range, and records for February 2019 in Albany, New York (courtesy: NOAA/National Weather Service).

In Indian Creek in the Adirondack Mountains, as well as Bennington, located in southwest Vermont, similar temperature trends were observed. The New England NBC affiliate NECN reported that maple syrup producers were happily taking advantage of the early thaw to get a jump on production.

Observed temperature range, normal range, and records for February 2019 in Indian Lake, New York (courtesy: NOAA/National Weather Service).

Observed temperature range, normal range, and records for February 2019 in Bennington, Vermont (courtesy: NOAA/National Weather Service).

The season for maple syrup production is short, lasting only 4 to 6 weeks. Once the buds appear on the trees, the season comes to an end. Fortunately for us, the maple goodness can be bottled and preserved to be enjoyed all year long!

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