March 3, 2011

The Sap is Slowly Running ...

Hank Peterson in the doorway of his Londonderry sugar shack, the boiler behind him still waiting for enough sap to make his first batch of syrup for the season.He’s planning to boil for the first time Saturday, no matter what.
Union Leader Correspondent
REGION - There is a science to maple sugaring that’s heavy on the math. One tap drilled into a 10-inch maple should produce a good 40 quarts of sap, which boils down to 1 quart of syrup. A gallon of the sweet stuff sells for about $50, multiplied by the 100,000 gallons this state’s network of maple houses should produce this season, rendering a multi-million dollar chunk of economy-boosting change.
It takes sub-freezing nights and temperate days to coax the sap from the tree roots and create enough internal pressure to release the sap through strategic taps. Nature pulls the sap toward the limbs, where it will feed the burgeoning buds that eventually will bloom into leaves and, by fall, explode into fiery fall foliage.
Maple farmers have done the math. They under­
stand the science well enough to intercept enough sap to turn sweet sap into gold every year around this time. 

Brian Folsom of Folsom’s Sugar House
 in Chester checks a bucket for sap.
But beyond the math and science, it’s really just a matter of pure maple magic. 
“The way we think it all started — and we give credit to the Indians — who at one point in the spring slashed a tree to cut it down and saw the sap pouring out of it. They recognized it had a sweetness to it, and the wives decided to cook their meat in this sweet sap. 
As legend goes, the brave who was supposed to keep feeding the fire fell asleep and the sap cooked away and it turned to syrup, and there you go,” said Peter Thomson, president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association. 
All the know-how in the world goes right out the window if the weather doesn’t cooperate, said Thomson. 
“My farm, halfway up the state in Orford, hasn’t run a drop yet because of the deep snows and cold weather we’ve had,” said Thomson. 
Meanwhile, Hank Peterson of Peterson Sugarhouse in Londonderry plans to boil his first syrup of the season this weekend. 
“My plan was to collect today. But as soon as you think you have it all figured out, a day like today happens,” said Peterson, who discovered his 800 taps were dry by midday yesterday. He tapped his trees two weeks ago. 
“On a good day, we should come in at about 350 to 400 gallons of sap. So far, we haven’t hit 100 a day,” Peterson said. 
He’s optimistic that, by Saturday, he will have collected 800 gallons of sap — enough to fire up the boiler and get the steam pouring from the chimney. 
“The tourists are demanding it — we have to get going,” said Peterson, who, after 30 years in the business, doesn’t worry too much about the details. 
“Everything was indicating this would be a good year. We had deep snow in February, which meant we had trouble setting up the tubing and buckets because we were wallowing in snow up to our knees. 
‘Course, snow’s good. It keeps the ground cold and improves the quality of the sap. What we need now are those days that are about 12 hours of freezing temperatures at night and 12 hours of above freezing during the day.” 
The problem with days like yesterday, Peterson said, is how misleading they can be. By 10 a.m., the mercury had climbed above freezing. The sun was shining, but the wind prevented the trees from absorbing enough heat to release the sap. 
Thomson said experienced maple farmers are familiar with a saying that, for whatever reason, holds true. 
“When the wind is from the west, the sap runs the best; when the wind is from the east, the sap runs the least. It’s so true. You could have the perfect day, and if the winds come from the east, nothing happens. We just don’t know the answer,” said Thomson. 
Which gets back to maple magic, something that’s not lost on Brian Folsom, who started his own sugar house about 20 years ago in the woods of Chester. He learned about sugaring from friends who were dairy farmers. When they decided they were tired of tapping trees, Folsom took over and has been doing it ever since. 
“I have about 500 taps all over town, about 20 different landowners that allow us to tap,” said Folsom. “I give them syrup in exchange.” 
It’s a sweet deal, considering the value of a jug of Grade A syrup, which retails between $50 and $55 a gallon. Processing the sap beyond the syrup stage leads to other, pricier confections, including maple sugar candy, maple cream and dry maple sugar — one gallon of syrup produces $110 dollars worth of candy. 
“Since I won’t be tapping today, it will be a candy-making day for me,” said Folsom, who boiled his first 10 gallons of syrup last weekend. 
Although there are about 350 members of the state’s maple association, and 60 certified sugar shacks on the official statewide map, Thomson said if you add in those who aren’t members of the association — those who tap a few trees regularly for their own consumption — there are upwards of 1,000 maple sugar producers in New Hampshire. 
“We go from the backyard sugar makers all the way up to Bascom’s in Alstead. With 60,000 trees, they are something like the third-largest producer of maple syrup in the country,” Thomson said. 
With plenty of warm days and cold nights in the immediate forecast, and NH Maple Weekend just around the corner — March 19-20 — maple producers like Folsom, Peterson and Thomson are expecting production to be prolific this year. 
“Every maple syrup season has its own personality,” Thomson said. 
More than 60 maple houses across the state will participate in NH Maple Weekend March 19-20, with demonstrations, tastings, and a variety of family- oriented activities. 
For more information, or to find a maple house near you, go to, or call NHMPA at 225-3757. 

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