It’s been cold and there’s still a lot of snow on the ground.

With those two factors in mind, the big question this week is whether the sap is running well enough to make maple syrup as the state looks to Maine Maple Sunday this weekend.

Christine Shea, left, hands her husband, Dan, tea from their evaporator on Maine Maple Sunday, March 25, 2018, at Cobbs Hill Sugarhouse in Mount Vernon as Isaac Cooley, 3, samples maple ice cream with his mother, Amanda. Dan Shea said Tuesday, “It has been a really late spring and the sap is only starting to run now,” but he added that he and his family will be ready for this Sunday. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy

The answer? Mostly, but with fingers crossed.

Lyle Merrifield, of Gorham, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said Tuesday that depending on where you go this weekend, there will be varying quantities of fresh maple syrup.

“Statewide, I would say, central to southern Maine has finally let go a little bit and a fair amount of syrup has probably been made. Certainly we’re behind; we’re about three weeks behind what we normally are in this part of the state,” he said by phone Tuesday. “Some syrup has been made, and I’m sure more syrup will be made before Maple Sunday. The weather looks good for starting to make sap here over the next few days.

“But I believe northern Maine has done little to nothing so far.”

Merrifield said this winter has been unusually cold. In southern Maine, he said, there is a lot of ice packed under the snow, keeping the maple tree roots in a deep freeze.

“It’s going to take quite a bit to loosen that up and let those trees to get flowing,” he said. “It’s going to take a few decent days.”

Dan Shea, at Cobbs Hill Sugarhouse in Mount Vernon, said Tuesday that the sap had just started running, so he and his family will be ready for Sunday; but this year has been unusual.

“It is just starting,” Shea said Tuesday morning. “It has been a really late spring and the sap is only starting to run now. There’s been a lot of frustration among Maine maple producers because it’s been very slow.”

Shea said that in the woods there is still more than 2 feet of snow on the ground.

In Farmington, Mike Bolduc, at Twin Brooks Maples, said there is 3 or 4 feet of snow still on the ground from a succession of storms that froze and never had a chance to melt. He said sap in his 500 taps hasn’t started running well yet.

“Last year, I had made 40 gallons of syrup by now,” Bolduc said.

Shea, in Kennebec County, said part of the problem is that the base of each maple tree is still frozen, with ice around it.

“It’s only now that we’re starting to get enough melt to open up the very base of the trees,” he said. “So we’re really optimistic that it’s finally going to open up. There should be some good runs this week. I think tomorrow and Thursday could be the best runs of the season so far. We’re deep into it usually by Maine Maple Sunday. Everyone’s got their fingers crossed that April will be good.”

In Skowhegan, Jeremy Steeves, at Strawberry Hill Farms, where the first meeting about Maine Maple Sunday took place in 1983, said Maine Maple Sunday will go on as it has since his father, Jack, first got together with other producers to make it a statewide day of all things maple.

“It’s been awfully cold this spring, and winter isn’t letting up,” he said.

Steeves said ideal conditions for a good sap run call for the air temperature to be around 45 degrees during the day and down to about 25 degrees at night.

“I don’t think we’ve seen that since about Thanksgiving. We haven’t had any warm days,” he said. “Even if it runs a little bit, I make syrup, but I’m not making as much as I’d like to make right now.”

In February 1983, eight Maine maple syrup producers gathered in the Steeveses’ living room in Skowhegan to designate one day for maple syrup lovers to visit the state’s many sugar houses, smell the vapor of the evaporators and see how sap is transformed into sweet, golden syrup and maple candy.

The group decided that Maine Maple Sunday, to be celebrated this Sunday, would be the fourth Sunday in March, when sugarhouses all over the state are open to the public and offer free syrup samples and demonstrations on how maple syrup is made. Many farms offer games, activities, treats, sugar bush tours and more.

Skowhegan’s annual Maple Fest, to take place Friday through Sunday, celebrates Somerset County’s status as the nation’s top maple-producing county, with 1.73 million taps, said Kristina Cannon, executive director at Main Street Skowhegan.

It all gets underway with maple sap collecting at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Iver Lofving and John Ackley’s Chez Londorf, on Burrill Hill Road in Skowhegan, followed by maple-themed trivia at Bloomfield’s Tavern.

The annual Maple Fest continues Saturday with a maple breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m. at Tewksbury Hall behind the Congregational Church on Island Avenue, with homemade whole-grain pancakes, Somerset County maple syrup, free-range sausage, fresh fruit and local coffee, tea, cider and milk.

The cost is $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under.

Cannon said the pancake breakfast features locally sourced foods, including — of course — Somerset County maple syrup.

The weekend in Skowhegan also will include other returning favorites such as the maple leaf scavenger hunt, a chain saw carving demonstration and the Sap & Syrup Shuttle to local maple houses.

“We are proud to celebrate the tradition of maple syrup production in our region with a host of maple and agricultural-themed activities and events,” Cannon said. “Our status as the top maple-producing county in the U.S. further emphasizes Skowhegan as a local food and agriculture hub.”

The Skowhegan Rotary Club’s Beer, Wine, and Food Tasting is scheduled for Saturday night at the Skowhegan Armory, and local restaurants are preparing their best maple-themed dishes for the weekend.

An interesting twist on Maine Maple Sunday is scheduled at Luce’s Maple Syrup, on Maple Syrup Drive, off Pease Hill Road in Anson. Elaine Luce said in a phone message that a wedding ceremony will be performed Sunday in the sap house.

 

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

 


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