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Maple Sugaring 2012 update

As I write this, it’s a sunny day, but only 28 degrees out here in Charlemont. Because of that, we’ll see no sap run today. However, the weather in February has been absolutely perfect for sugaring, with daytime temps in the low 40s and nighttime ones in the low 20s, and we made about 30% of a normal crop in that month alone. Whether such extremes are due to global climate change or just natural variation is a question, but it is pretty clear, that ideal conditions for sugaring have tended to occur earlier and earlier over the past 100 years.
When Norma and I first moved to Charlemont in 1975, a local old timer in his 80’s who had sugared his entire life told us that his family used to start tapping around April 1 and made most of their syrup in the month of April. Since 1975, almost no one around here has waited past March 1 to sugar because of the earlier approach of spring. Since then, there have been more than a few years when we have tapped in February (or even January), and this is one of them. While last year, our first boiling day was March 6, this year it was Feb. 18, almost three weeks earlier.
In addition to challenges from the weather, sugarmakers have a lot of other issues to deal with as well. In our case, since we are all on pipeline, a constant challenge is gnawing on the tubing or fittings by red or other squirrels or chipmunks. Some producers have lost thousands of dollars of in damage from these critters. We have also experienced chewing of the large mainlines by bears (BIG teeth marks) and coyotes (smaller teeth marks), although neither of those do anywhere near as much damage as the smaller critters. Bears and coyotes seem to just bite the tubing to see if it’s food, but squirrels will chew it to pieces. I have no idea whether they are actually eating the tubing, or collecting it to make nesting materials. Another possibility is that they chew in order to get at the sweet sap inside, or because humans handling the tubing leave salt (a rare, but highly sought after commodity in the wild) on the outside.
Admittedly, those folks sugaring with sap buckets as opposed to pipeline aren’t susceptible to chewing (although occasionally they will find some small creature that ventured too close to the bucket lip and fell in. Such “accidents” never end well as you can imagine. Another, much more major challenge of using the old galvanized sap buckets has to due with the possibility of lead (from the solder) leaching into the sap and becoming concentrated by the boiling process. For back yard sugarmakers who want to produce their own syrup, I’d advise you to invest in new aluminum or stainless steel buckets, as they contain no lead. Another option is disposable plastic sacs that also can be hung on the trees, just like buckets, but are also lead free.
Concern about lead contamination is the main reason we have converted all of our equipment over time to lead free, stainless steel, either soldered with lead-free solder or, lately, TIG welded to totally eliminate solder of any kind. Since Blue Heron Farm is a commercial scale producer with 3,500 taps, and making 600 to 800 gallons of syrup a year, we can justify the cost over time. Similarly, we can justify the paperwork and cost of becoming Certified Organic through Baystate Organic Certifiers, although, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only commercial-scale sugar makers in the state who are C.O.
Blue Heron Farm pure maple syrup can be found all over the state in Big Y and Hannaford Bros. supermarkets, and it can be mail ordered from us as well. An  important aspect of our mail order business involves selling Grade B syrup. As readers may know, Grade B syrup is darker in color and much stronger flavored than the three Table Grades. Grade B is favored by folks doing one or another of the various “cleansing diets” that are out there. We often get asked for Grade B because the purchaser believes “it’s less processed” or “it’s got more minerals” than Grade A syrup. Unfortunately, neither of these statements is true. Actually, Grade B syrup is normally produced at the end of the season, when sap sugar content often drops off and the days are warmer (making it harder to keep sap in good condition. Because of these factors, we actually have to boil the sap longer to concentrate it to “standard density syrup”, with between 65 and 67% sugar. Similarly, many analyses have shown, that while mineral content and flavor can vary substantially from sugarbush to sugarbush, grades of syrup tend to have very consistent mineral levels when the sap came from the same source.
To learn more about us, please visit our web site at www.blueheronfarm.com. We occasionally post updates of doings around the farm either there, at my Facebook page (Facebook/Bill Coli) or on the Facebook page dedicated to our Norwegian Fjord Horse breeding and training operation (Facebook/Blue heron Fjords). If you visit us on Facebook, we hope you will “like” us. Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering, we are NOT the Blue Heron Farm where the Obama family has spent the past 3 summer vacations. We are also not to be confused with the Blue Heron Organic Farm in Lincoln, MA, or any of the countless other Blue Heron Farms that have sprung up over the past 37 years all over the country. As 20-something kids when we started this business, we never thought about trade marking the name, but now wish we had.