By Tom Collins
PICTON — Around March 18, Picton maple syrup producer Justin Williams thought he was in for a terrible season.
A long cold winter meant the sap wasn’t running as early as usual and all the snow meant tapping his 500 trees took twice as long. Normally boiling in the middle of February, William’s first boil this year on March 17 was his latest boiling date. Looking at the weather forecast, he was worried it would be the shortest maple syrup season of his life. Ideal sap conditions are plus 5 C during the day and – 5 C at night and it was far too cold for far too long.
A couple of days later, his taps were producing record runs.
“It was pretty well like a garden hose running in off my 500 trees and I was barely able to keep up with it,” he said. “Very heavy flow.”
He estimated it will still be a short season, but those few days will give him an average production year, about a litre of maple syrup per tap. One of the biggest issues for Williams has been a high amount of sugar sand, a natural byproduct that is formed from boiling sap to make syrup. Syrup sand looks like and has the texture of beach sand and will make syrup cloudy and is removed from the final product. However, the sand has been plugging up the filters more often this year, slowing down the production.
OMAFRA says most areas of Ontario are having issues with the sugar sand, and that although areas of the Ottawa Valley have had deeply cold nights that prevented the daytime thawing of trees, the sap is flowing.
Brian Barkley, of Barkleyvale Farms at Chesterville, one of Ontario’s 3,000 maple syrup producers in Ontario, said this season has seen a slow start compared to recent years, but is more typical to the way the maple syrup season used to be. Last year, he was boiling on Feb. 22. This year, he didn’t start until just after March Break.
This year has its share of difficulties. A huge amount of snow on the ground created problems for tapping trees. Barkley heard of some producers who spent hours digging out their maple syrup lines. Barkley had to do all the tapping by snowshoe, which took longer. However all the extra snow is good for the forest as it gives extra moisture and can help prolong the maple syrup season.