TORONTO – Just like any other crop, maple syrup is at the mercy of Mother Nature, and the frigid winter hasn’t been kind to Canadian sugar bush owners.
Many producers, like Ray Bonenberg of Mapleside Sugar Bush south of Pembroke, Ont., are keeping a close eye on the thermometer and anxiously waiting for a stretch of warmer days to get the sap flowing.
“I’ve been tapping all day, drilling holes and tapping, and it’s running on the south side of the tree but not on the north side of the tree. It’s too cold,” said Bonenberg, who is also president of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association. “I’ve been talking to producers every day. Some are getting small, small runs.”
So the waiting game continues.
But Bonenberg is unfazed since last season was also late due to the cold temperatures.
“It’s March,” he said. “It’s typical. You get that cool wind. Anyway, we’ll just wait. This is identical to last year.”
Looking at the long-range forecast Tuesday, Bonenberg said a cool trend until Easter weekend means dribbles here and there.
“We need a really good thaw,” he said. “We need a plus 12-to-15 (Celsius) day a couple of days, to break loose and let things melt. I don’t see that. I see plus-five tops.”
Bonenberg, who taps 1,400 trees, said two years ago on March 24 he made 118 litres of syrup.
“Last year I still had a lot of snow in the bush and I kept rolling till after Easter, which was late, late, late (April 20).”
Production can vary widely from north to south. A few producers in the Sault Ste. Marie area boiled until May 1 last year while those south of Highway 7 in Ontario were finished by the second week of April.
Quebec is experiencing a similar situation to Ontario this season, according to Caroline Cyr of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
“In general the season is late,” she said, adding that she expects it to begin in earnest by the end of March. “Last year was a really late season for sure. But we were lucky it was a really good season, the second-best production, so we never know.”
Pierre Faucher, owner of Sucrerie de la Montagne in Rigaud, Que., was jubilant this week as sap started dripping into his 3,500 buckets. He’s not letting the delay get to him. After all, says Faucher, you can’t control Mother Nature.
“It’s just the time that nature is arriving,” Faucher said from his operation west of Montreal. “Nature doesn’t have a watch. Doesn’t have a schedule like we do.”
A combination of nights below freezing and days above freezing is needed to get the sap flowing in sugar maple trees.
Faucher’s trees were tapped two weeks ago and he’s predicting a “really, really good season.”
“There’s a lot, a lot of frost in there so by the time it all comes out it’s going to be at least a month’s worth of running,” he said. “That’s what it sounds like to me right now.”
Faucher and four others gather sap by hand and boil it over a wood fire in a sugar shack. It takes about 40 litres of maple sap to make one litre of maple syrup.
“Normal people have pipelines and pumps and stuff, but I wanted to keep it traditional. We boil into the early hours of the morning,” he said.
Deep snow in the Maritimes this winter has meant producers have had to do some digging to uncover their lines. But sap flow a few weeks behind schedule was buying them time to get their trees tapped.