Bob Parsons slid a slap of wood into a fire box as vapor rose from boiling sap last Thursday in a sugarhouse on his family’s farm in Gorham.

Parson and his brother, Russell, were preparing for Maine Maple Sunday. While the annual event coincides with Easter this year, thousands are expected to flock to sugarhouses, such as the Parsons, statewide to buy and sample the sweet syrup.

The Parsons of 316 Buck St. in Gorham will have an ample supply of maple syrup, although the sugaring season got underway late because of the harsh winter. Russell Parsons said last week they’re about three weeks behind their usual schedule because the snow, piled up as much as four feet deep in some places, had slowed the collection process.

“It’s cold, and the snow’s deep,” Russell Parsons said last week.

Although Easter came early this year, Maine Maple Sunday has become a tradition for the faithful, who trek to sugarhouses on the fourth Sunday in March. And the Parsons’ sugarhouse will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday and daily through the end of March.

They’ll have maple syrup available in half pints, pints, quarts, half gallons and gallons. The Parsonses, who are the sixth generation on their family dairy farm, have been open on Maple Sunday since 1993, and usually about 600 people visit their sugarhouse on that day. They’ll serve up free samples of ice cream topped with maple syrup.

The brothers began tapping maple trees on March 7 this year while Bob Parsons noted their maples are usually all tapped a week earlier. “Winter seems to be hanging on,” Bob Parsons said last week.

The brothers have about 900 taps on trees, but deep snow halted placing 100 more taps on maple trees near the Little River. “Most years we’re up to our waist in mud, not snow,” Bob Parsons said.

On March 16 this year, they collected 165 gallons of sap and 300 gallons on Monday with daytime temperatures warming. Those figures are down, compared to the 1,000 gallons they collected on March 12 last year. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of maple syrup.

Collecting some of the sap the old-fashioned way, the brothers still have about 75 pails hanging from trees. But most of the sap flows through tubes from tree taps into 15-gallon collection tanks placed through their woods.

They use two crawler vehicles that they refer to as “bombardiers” or “sap buggies” to haul the sap to the evaporator in the sugarhouse for boiling. They produced 115 gallons of maple syrup last year. “The evaporator will boil 95 gallons per hour,” Russell Parsons said.

Producing syrup is expensive as a new evaporator that size would cost $10,000, and they’ve had to make various other repairs, such as replacing their smoke stack. And they once had to fix the roof.

They kept a piece of charred wood from the sugarhouse roof, as a reminder when it caught fire. They didn’t have to call the fire department. “We put the fire out by throwing buckets of sap on it,” Russell said.

The oldest of the maple trees on the Parsons’ farm are only 60 years old. Their grandfather, Howard Parsons, cut a lot of the maples during World War II and sold them for firewood in Westbrook.

Sugaring is rooted in tradition on the farm. Bob and Russell are following in the footsteps of a forerunner in collecting maple sap at the farm, but they are unsure who it would have been. In the sugarhouse, they have a cross section of a woodblock cut from a maple tree, which they figured by counting tree rings was tapped in the 1930s.

The Parsonses can be contacted at 839-4466.

Maine Maple Sunday photo