March 23, 2010

Maple syrup season short for many

BY MECHELE COOPER Staff Writer

WHITEFIELD -- Mark Fenderson tore down his sugar shack early this year.

click image to enlarge

PACKING UP: Jim Gilbert, left, collects slabs of firewood Sunday in front of Mark Fenderson's sugar shack in Whitefield. Several of Fenderson's friends helped him clean and pack up the shack after only making syrup for seven days this years. "It was a pretty short season," Fenderson said.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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More information about sugarhouses participating this Sunday in Maple Syrup Sunday can be found at www.mainemapleproducers.com

With help from some friends, he cleaned and packed up his sugarhouse on Hilton Road this past weekend after making syrup for only seven days.

"It was a pretty short season," Fenderson said.

That isn't the case for all sugarhouses around the state. Many will open their doors to the public Sunday for the annual Maine Maple Sunday promotion.

Lyle Merrifield, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said some people have experienced a short, but nontheless successful, season.

"The bulk of the people experiencing difficulty this year tap with buckets and tubing systems that do not have vacuums on them," Merrifield said. "The vacuums create an atmosphere in the tubing that, on days the sap isn't running naturally, it will bring it out of the tree. I know a fair amount of folks who are not experiencing a decrease this year because they have tubes with vacuums."

Sap flows from maple trees from late February to sometime in mid-April most years. Merrifield said those who tapped a little earlier this year are doing fine.

Kathy Hopkins with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension said the state had a nice stretch of weather for syrup making in early February.

"A lot of people don't think about starting that early and don't start until March," Hopkins said. "If they didn't get in on that first run, they're having a hard time now because the weather isn't really right."

She said Maine sugarhouses produced 395,000 gallons of syrup last year. The state usually is the second largest annual producer of maple syrup, behind Vermont.

Merrifield said the weather hasn't been the best for running sap. The days and nights have been too warm. Temperatures during the day have been between 50 and 55 degrees, he said.

"When it's that warm, it needs to get very cold at night -- to freezing -- and the bulk of the lower half of the state hasn't been experiencing that," he said. "You like to see sunny with no wind and 40 degrees during the day and 15 to 20 degrees at night. That's ideal."

He said the big producers in central and northern Maine are optimistic.

As long as northern Maine producers do well, he said the short season shouldn't have a huge impact on consumer prices or availability.

"The large bulk producers in the northern half of the state having a good year can sell to the smaller producers if we run short, then we'll have a decent year," he said. "It shouldn't have that big of an effect."

Shelley Bacon of Bacon Farm Maple Products on Goodhue Road in Sidney said her season ended two weeks earlier than last year.

"It was an early season, but it's definitely coming to an end for us here in central Maine," Bacon said. "We're ending it all about two weeks earlier, but we're average as far as production is concerned."

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

mcooper@centralmaine.com

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