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REFLECTIONS ON A SEASON

Tina Hartell

The 2014 season has ended. We boiled for the last time on Monday afternoon – pushing thick sap through the pans, clogging the filter press every few draws, and making super-strong, super-dark syrup. Blackjack syrup or Black Gold: one of Bobo’s favorites.

Syrup made: 550 gallons, a 35% decrease from last year. A lot of dark syrup.

Sap boiled: ~ 34,000 gallons.

Sugar content of sap: varied through the season but averaged 1.4%.

Number of boils: 16

Amount of wood used: 10 cords.

Sap ran: 26 days.

Season started: March 29 – while there was a quick small run for three days in early March, the sap never truly ran until the 29th, making it the latest start in recent memory. “Like the Old Days,” they said.

Season ended: April 21.

In General: Our experience seemed to mirror that across the region: super-late start, average production year, mucho dark syrup made. The Guys at the equipment stores said that even the light syrup tasted dark. Producers with a vacuum system seemed to fare better than those without. Sugar makers just running buckets or gravity lines might have had a poor season while those with vacuum systems veered more towards average. The Guys were okay with it though; they had already sold a few vacuum pumps by the time I’d talked with them.

On the Mountain: We knew how good we had it last year with brand new equipment and fresh tubing in the woods. This year, everything was less tight, more leaky, less efficient. Need to step up woods work and equipment maintenance in 2015.

Hard to predict and while we certainly want to be ready for an early March run, it wasn’t really necessary to be tapped out the last week in February.

You can never clean the pans too often. Once it gets warm, sap gets the funk. We had to dump much of the sap in our back pans twice. Remember learning in biology class how bacteria replicates exponentially? This demonstration would win ribbons.

Once again, I am reminded how closely held we are to the winter-spring transition. We begin in the woods in deep-winter February. The first boils are cold, quiet ones – wearing jackets and hats. Everything is still frozen solid. By the end we’re boiling with the doors open in T-shirts listening to the Red Sox, water run down the hill, and the wood frogs in the pond. Soon I’ll be back in the woods with sneakers and bug spray watching the spring ephemeral flowers pop off the mountains.

There is nothing subtle about this transition. I love being pulled through it covered in sticky syrup.