A mild winter was a big part of the problem. According to Farmer Jim, the sap in our maple trees began to run about three weeks earlier than usual, before the farm was ready to start collecting. A typical sugaring season in New Jersey may last about 8 weeks, so losing three of those weeks is a big loss.
The early start to the sugaring season has surprised syrup producers throughout the Northeast. Here’s a snippet from a recent article in the Boston Globe:
“We made syrup the earliest we’ve ever made syrup this year,’’ said Fisk, 23, a fifth generation producer who has been making maple syrup since he was 5. “This time of year, there should be three or four feet of snow, and it should be cold out and we shouldn’t even be thinking about making syrup for another couple weeks.’’
On the positive side for Howell Farm, once our trees were finally tapped, the weather was close to ideal. Sap flows the best when freezing nights are followed by warm days, and that’s pretty much what’s happened over the past several weeks.
Today, however, it’s 60 degrees, and the string of cold nights appears to be coming to an end. Once the nights stop freezing, the sap will cease running and the trees will begun to bud. And once there are buds on the trees, even a return of freezing nights won’t bring back the syruping season, because the sap takes on a bitter flavor.
Danielle Houghton, who overseas Howell Farm’s maple syrup bottling operation, believes this year’s final syrup output may tally about 20 gallons. During her first year of bottling in 2005, when the weather was just about perfect, Howell Farm bottled 60 gallons. An average year, Danielle says, is 45 gallons.