The sweet taste of the season
Temperature swings bring early maple syrup production
After wild temperature swings in February, Hardwick Sugar Shack owners Joe and Megan Raskett aren’t sure how much longer the maple sugaring season will last.
The Rasketts started boiling their maple syrup earlier than in the past as last month’s weather provided pristine conditions for production, with cold nights and warm days.
“We’re noticing that some of the trees are starting to bud, especially some of the red maples,” Megan Raskett told the Herald on Friday. “That signals the end of the season. If the temperatures stay too warm or too cold, the sap doesn’t flow.”
Optimal sap flow comes when nighttime temperatures are in the low 20s and daytime temperatures are in the 40s, according to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.
The start of maple production season, which lasts four to six weeks, varies in the Bay State. In the eastern part of Massachusetts, it typically begins in mid to late February, while the central and western regions usually start boiling in the first week of March.
“For good sap production, maple producers must have alternating warm/cold temperatures,” the maple producers association says. “This is why it’s so impossible to predict the outcome of the maple crop from year to year.”
This year, maple producers across the state saw those prime conditions despite the winter being the warmest on record, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
While many days soared into the
40s and 50s, making February feel more like March, Raskett said, the Bay State also saw some bursts of arctic cold. The average temperature in January and February was nearly 34, 7 degrees warmer compared to the first two months of 2022.
The temperature swings over the years, though, haven’t made much of a dent in production, Raskett said. She and her husband continue collecting sap from 1,400 taps in their backyard
which is turned into hundreds of gallons of maple syrup that they supply locally in central Massachusetts.
“It is what it is,” Raskett said of the earlier season. “There are always changes from year to year anyways. What remains to be seen is the long-term impact of global change.”
More than 300 Massachusetts maple producers annually produce 50,000 to 60,000 goals of maple syrup, according to the state Department of Agricultural Resources.
Vermont, the nation’s top maple producing state, hauled in a record 2.55 million gallons of maple syrup last year, a massive jump of 46% from 2021. The temperature swings there led to a 40-day season compared to 28 the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Raskett and her husband, who have been sugaring for 30 years, will welcome guests to their Hardwick family farm Sunday, showing guests how they create maple syrup over an open fire and the modern way with a reverse osmosis machine and an oil-fired evaporator.
The event is part of the maple producer’s association annual Maple Weekend.
“The passion remains, the work is still hard and the syrup is still sweet,” Raskett said.