Dispatch from the Sugarwoods, 2018 - Part 4

Dispatch from the Sugarwoods, 2018 - Part 4

Buried infrastructure at the Hall bush.

So the cumulative effect of the four March Nor’easters hit this area hard. Ten miles away from our Hall bush and 800 feet up in elevation, one weather-watcher documented 81 inches of snow that fell in 8 days.

Our sugarbush on the Taconic range escaped with knee-deep snow, but the Hall bush got pounded. I don’t know how deep it was, but floundering deep. As the snow buried mainlines it snapped the wires that held them suspended to trees. In the north- and the east-facing woods I was still, as of yesterday, pulling buried mainline up and out of the snow.

As this mainline sagged, sap collected then froze, creating ice blockages. When the weather started to break, the tubing system completely filled with sap and then froze, pushing spiles out of trees, snapping plastic fittings, pulling mainlines apart.

All told, that bush generated a quarter of the sap in March as it did in February.

We’re still going; I can’t really tell how much is left. But as I’m looking at numbers this morning it’s the low sugar content that really stands out. We’ve collected and processed about 30,000 gallons of sap so far, and when you look at the amount of syrup we’ve made from it, the sugar content across the board averages out to around 1.4 percent. That’s a 61:1 sap to syrup ratio. Most years we’re closer to 40:1.

Why? I suspect it’s because the maples had a hard go of it last year. Remember the summer of 2016 was so hot and dry. And then the winter of 2016-2017 was warm with lower-than-normal snowfall amounts. We had a good sugaring season last spring, which took some of the tree’s reserves, followed immediately by a prolific seed year – botanists called it a “stress crop” – which took more from the reserves. And then late summer last year was dry. Remember how the leaves dropped in September without a frost. How October was the warmest in recorded history.

Through this lens it doesn’t seem surprising that the trees have less energy in their bank accounts than they normally do. One thing that makes me feel better is that the gobs of snow we got in March fell on unfrozen soil; the 10-day forecast indicates it may have the opportunity to slowly percolate into the earth, which I think will be great for the trees.

Dispatch from the Sugarwoods, 2018 - Part 3, Part 2, Part 1

 
Discussion
  1. Bill Torrey → in West Bolton, Vermont
    Apr 01, 2018

    Reading your assessment of the season so far sounds like just one steaming load of good news after another. Thank goodness that maple sugaring is so much dang fun and easy money too! And you only have to do it for a few weeks in the nice spring weather!

  2. Deborah Lee Luskin → in Williamsville VT
    Apr 08, 2018

    A farmer in southeastern Vermont has this to say about the low sugar content this season:  “I have been consumed by the sugaring season which has been excellent thus far. Volumes and volumes of sap have been harvested and sadly the wood piles have taken it on the chin. The culprit is weak sap. It makes sense, last summer’s grass was voluminous but the quality of the hay below average due to lack of sun - this translates to the sugaring season too - the trees didn’t have optimal sugar producing weather…” Lack of sun last summer was significant in this corner of the state, where the skies were overcast until September. Not enough sun for surplus energy generation to get us through the winter, either.

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