The Gleaner
Agriculture

Syrup season ends after roller-coaster run

“I think everybody had a good year,” says Jeff Blair of Blair Orchards in Franklin, though he admits this year’s sugaring season was “very strange.”

Producers who were tapped and ready for an early run saw their season start around February 10. Most were still boiling into the first week of April, with many reporting high-quality and above-average yields.

“It was crazy. It started so early, and it just kept hanging in all the way through,” says Blair. “I could count on one hand the number of cold frosts that we had during the season. We would go six or seven days with no frost,” he adds, a bit incredulously. “The trees just kept on running.”

Blair points to the April 4 snowstorm as another oddity affecting this season. Around two feet of very wet and heavy snow fell in parts of the Valley. “We tapped on Covey Hill in work boots and had to clean the lines wearing snow boots,” he says, with a laugh.

The season wrapped up at Blair’s with a final boil under the total solar eclipse on April 8. As of the end of last week, they were still washing lines and cleaning up.

Blair says their maple boutique and restaurant is also booming this spring. He says the number of clients has doubled from last, with some weekends feeling like the fall apple season in terms of visitors. He says the spring snowfall caught many off guard, but helped people get into the spirit.

Just down the road at Rockburn Orchards in Hinchinbrooke, owners Laurie Ann Prevost and Roger Duheme have also seen a bumper year.

 

Steam was still billowing from the sugar shack at Rockburn Orchards in Hinchinbrooke on April 2 PHOTO Facebook Vergers Rockburn Orchards

 

Prevost says that compared with last year, “The sugar content was a little lower but the quantity of syrup we made was higher and the quality was very good and consistent.”

The pair, who are in their second year of production, prepared for the season by replacing a lot of old pipeline and properly setting up their lines. Prevost attributes their increased yield to the improvements made in their sugar bush.

They had the trees tapped and ready for the initial run in February, but Prevost admits the milder weather kept them guessing to the end. “We never knew what to expect with the variation in the temperatures. Those hot days were a little stressful,” she admits.

Blair suggests it is starting to feel like producers are caught in a constant battle with Mother Nature. And, thanks to the mild winter, apple producers like Blair and Prevost are having to pivot more quickly. He says apple producers have already had to start spraying their trees, as the scab spores are mature and there is green showing. “I have never sprayed this early,” he says, while acknowledging he is now having to worry about late frosts.

Now that the maple season has passed, the state of things is somewhat ironic: “Right now, we want it to cool off during the days,” says Blair.

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