SIDNEY — Kevin and Shelley Bacon, owners of Bacon Farm Maple Products, have taps to collect sap in 4,000 maple trees connected by mileslong webs of tubing.

They have an employee who walks their groves of trees every day making sure things are running smoothly. They have high technology equipment, including sensors placed in the woods, which detect the temperature and any leaks in the system and send radio signals from the groves to the sugarhouse where the Bacons can see that and other data on their cellphones and computers. And they have a six-generation family history of producing maple syrup on their Sidney farmland, since 1881.

What they don’t have is much of a clue what the maple season has in store this year. They’ve got their taps in place, but the sap isn’t running much yet.

That’s up to the weather, over the coming days and nights.

“It’s a crapshoot,” Kevin Bacon said of how good the maple sap, and thus syrup, production will be this season. “It’s not something you can really predict.”

The ideal conditions for maple production, which really get the sap moving, are freezing nights and warmer days with temperatures around 40 degrees.

“If we have warm days, in the 40s or so, and it’s cold at night, we should have many good sap days,” said Kathy Hopkins, extension educator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “Looking at the weather forecast, next week looks like there should be some good sap run days. I think most people will begin (getting sap) next week. It all depends on getting favorable weather between now and early April.”

Last year was a banner year at the Bacon Farm, where they churned out sap to make syrup, a wide range of other maple products and wholesale distribution from Feb. 27 to the third week of April.

“We boiled sap last year to the point we didn’t really want to do it anymore,” Kevin Bacon said, chatting about the business in the sugarhouse of their family farm with his wife, Shelley, their son and worker Nathan and employee Tyler Jepson.

They put their taps in a couple of weeks ago, but so far the sap hasn’t been moving much. Hopkins said that’s pretty typical of what she’s hearing from other Maine maple producers so far this season.

“This year has been pretty slow so far, compared to the last few years, because we have had so much snow and cold weather,” she said. “Some, especially in Aroostook County and even some in Kennebec County, have had to dig out their lines because they were covered in snow. But it’s March, so people will be out tapping, if they’re not already completely tapped. They’ll be out in the woods.”

Maple producers will be joined at their sugarhouses by thousands of visitors on March 24 for Maine Maple Sunday, when numerous sap operations open their doors for tours, demonstrations, samples and other activities.

She said there seem to be an increasing number of people collecting and boiling maple sap as a hobby, though how many is hard to tell as hobbyists don’t need a license.

Bacon Farm Maple Products sells taps, tubing and evaporators and the same sensors and other aids they use in their sap operations. They also install equipment in the sugarbushes of other sap operations, for a fee, and can monitor their equipment remotely, via the internet.

Jepson said having them set up a system saves other producers from having to invest in the gear to install out in the woods and brings the expertise gleaned on the farm Kevin and Shelley have run since 2000, where the Bacon family has farmed and collected sap since 1881.

 

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