It’s been cold and there’s still a lot of snow on the ground.

Which begs the question: Is the sap is running well enough to make maple syrup in the run-up to Maine Maple Sunday this weekend?

The answer? Mostly, but producers are crossing their fingers.

Lyle Merrifield, of Gorham, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said Tuesday that depending on where you go this weekend, there will be varying quantities of fresh maple syrup.

“Statewide, I would say, central to southern Maine has finally let go a little bit and a fair amount of syrup has probably been made – certainly we’re behind – we’re about three weeks behind what we normally are in this part of the state,” he said. “Some syrup has been made, and I’m sure more syrup will be made before Maple Sunday. The weather looks good for starting to make sap here over the next few days.

“But I believe northern Maine has done little to nothing so far.”

Merrifield said this winter has been unusually cold. In southern Maine, he said, there is a lot of ice packed under the snow, keeping the maple tree roots in a deep freeze.

“It’s going to take quite a bit to loosen that up and let those trees to get flowing,” he said. “It’s going to take a few decent days.”

Christine Shea, left, hands her husband, Dan, tea from their evaporator at Cobbs Hill Sugarhouse in Mount Vernon on Maine Maple Sunday, March 25, 2018, as Isaac Cooley, 3, samples maple ice cream with his mother, Amanda. Dan Shea said Tuesday, “It has been a really late spring and the sap is only starting to run now,” but he and his family will be ready for this Sunday. Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

Dan Shea at Cobbs Hill Sugarhouse in Mount Vernon said that the sap had just started running, so he and his family will be ready for Sunday, but this year has been unusual.

“It is just starting,” Shea said Tuesday morning. “It has been a really late spring and the sap is only starting to run now. There’s been a lot of frustration among Maine maple producers because it’s been very slow.”

Shea said that in the woods there is still more than 2 feet of snow on the ground.

In Farmington, Mike Bolduc at Twin Brooks Maples, said there are 3 to 4 feet of snow on the ground from a succession of storms that froze and never had a chance to melt. He said sap in his 500 taps hasn’t started a good run yet.

“Last year, I had made 40 gallons of syrup by now,” Bolduc said.

Shea, in Kennebec County, said part of the problem is that the base of the maple trees are still frozen with ice.

“It’s only now that we’re starting to get enough melt to open up the very base of the trees,” he said. “So we’re really optimistic that it’s finally going to open up – there should be some good runs this week. I think tomorrow and Thursday could be the best runs of the season so far. We’re deep into it usually by Maine Maple Sunday. Everyone’s got their fingers crossed that April will be good.”

IDEAL CONDITIONS

Strawberry Hill Farms in Skowhegan is where the first meeting for Maine Maple Sunday took place in 1983. Manager Jeremy Steeves said Maine Maple Sunday will go on as it has since his father, Jack, first got together with other producers to start a statewide day in appreciation of all things maple, despite the unrelenting cold.

Unfortunately conditions haven’t been ideal. Steeves said a good sap run calls for the air temperature to be around 45 degrees during the day and down to about 25 degrees at night.

“I don’t think we’ve seen that since about Thanksgiving. We haven’t had any warm days,” he said. “Even if it runs a little bit, I make syrup, but I’m not making as much as I’d like to make right now.”

In February 1983, eight Maine maple syrup producers gathered in the Steeves’ living room to designate one day for maple syrup lovers to visit the state’s many sugar houses, smell the vapor of the evaporators and see how sap is transformed into sweet, golden syrup and maple candy.

The group decided that Maine Maple Sunday, to be celebrated this Sunday, would be the fourth Sunday in March, when sugar houses all over the state are open to the public and offer free syrup samples and demonstrations on how maple syrup is made. Many farms offer games, activities, treats, sugar bush tours, and more.

A list of participating sugar houses can be found at visitmaine.com.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow