Maple weekend highlights 'sweet season'
With the state-wide Vermont Maple Weekend event coming up this weekend, local maple syrup producers are hoping to demonstrate how tree sap becomes maple syrup when visitors crowd in to their sugarhouses.
Local sugar producers participating in Maple Weekend include Dutton's Farm Stand in Manchester, Havoc Hill Sugar House in East Dorset, and Paul Ennis in Sunderland, among others in the Bennington County area.
"I make sure I have my glass samples in the sugar house and containers of syrup ready for tasting. Generally I am in the sugar house all day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We serve some tasties and muffins in the morning and provide general education tours for those that show up to raise awareness about what we do here," said Doug Zecher, the owner of Havoc Hill Sugar House.
Zecher said it has been an average year so far for production of maple syrup. Last year he made more than 1,100 gallons of syrup. As of mid-week this year he has made about 645 gallons as the time to harvest sap draws to a close.
"Its been cold this year," he said. "Generally speaking we got started early. It is an interesting season only because we are gun-shy from last year when most of us boiled on the 13th or 14th of March. I tapped early this year, like most people, because it was pretty warm. I made a fair amount of syrup in February. Then it got cold again and I haven't made any since last Wednesday."
Maple Weekend was designed to raise awareness on what these syrup producers go through to make maple syrup and show the public how much of the technology has changed. Zecher said that you have to be advanced in technology nowadays to get into this business, pointing to a brand-new reverse osmosis system he recently acquired.
"It's great. I bought a 1,000 gallon unit and I am very pleased," he said. "I buy less oil and what you're not spending is what pays for the investment. It saves me 80 percent of my fuel and my time and I can make seven to eight gallons an hour, compared to what I used to make which was around seven to eight gallons over a 25-hour period."
Reverse osmosis is typically used for water purification. A semi-permeable membrane is used to separate water from sugar, minerals, and other impurities. In the maple industry the same reverse osmosis system is used, but instead of keeping the purified water they keep the concentrated sugar, minerals, and other impurities as concentrated maple sap to finish boiling into maple syrup, a process that saves major amount of time and money.
The season is not quite over yet. Typically the season ends sometime between the end of March and the middle of April, according to Zecher. He believes that sugarmakers will continue to boil until about April 15 because of the typical Vermont winter. Last year, most of the boiling ended on April 1.
For more information about the Maple Weekend, visit benningtonmaple.org.
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