When the weather turns warm, production heats up to ensure top-quality maple syrup.
NAPLES — High in the Bristol Hills, sap started flowing in late January at Wohlschlegel's Naples Maple Farm.
It’s been a scramble ever since, as Mother Nature has thrown her share of curveballs this season.
Maple trees deliver sap, but only when warm days follow cold nights — and sap runs best when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise into the 40s during the day. With the longer stretches of cold and warm — a lot more on the warm side lately — collecting and processing the sap for maple syrup runs at a feverish pace.
“I watch the weather, do a lot of weather studying,” Garry Wohlschlegel said on a recent Sunday from the family farm on Coates Road.
When two days recently reached a high of 70 degrees and another day hit 60 degrees, followed by warm nights, Garry and his wife, Bobbi, worked into the wee hours. When the sap runs fast it has to be processed quickly, “before it ferments,” Garry said, showing a sparkling clean production facility where the sap is made into syrup.
The sugar house is conveniently positioned inside an extension of their main home that overlooks a magnificent vista of the valley and sits a few steps from a forest of maples trees.
Having been in the maple business for years, nothing surprises the Wohlschlegels — or any experienced maple producers, for that matter. They know they must go with the flow.
Garry said he is hoping for a return to cold weather right through April. An abundance of warm temperatures causes sap sugar content to fall. Sap can hold its sugar content for about 72 hours after freezing temperatures, Garry said.
"Ideally, we need freezing and thawing,” he said.
But ideal conditions or not, producers are known for their perseverance and making the most of whatever Mother Nature dishes out.
On average, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. But sap sugar content varies, based on weather and other conditions. When sugar content is low, it takes more than 40 gallons, sometimes nearly double that, to make one gallon of syrup.
During the upcoming Maple Weekends (March 18, 19, 25, 26), producers will open their doors so folks can see how it’s done and taste the results. Dozens of Finger Lakes-area producers will be among those hosting tours, tastings, pancake breakfasts and other special activities.
Even Packard Valley Farms, which lost a house to fire in early February on its Macedon Center Road property in Wayne County, isn’t missing a beat. The fire did not affect the Packard farms’ sugar shack. They are in full-speed maple production, having already made 250 gallons of syrup early this week, with much more to go.
“We’re hanging in there,” said farm co-owner Tom Packard, who moved in with a family member after the fire destroyed his house. A GoFundMe page was set up to help the Packards rebuild (http://bit.ly/2ldYygV).
“It was a complete tear down,” Packard said.
No one was home at the time of the fire, but a dog was killed. Packard said the cause was related to an electrical outlet.
Packard Valley Farms, which the family established in the early 1900s, a while back switched to modern methods of maple production that involve the use of vacuum tubing to collect the sap. A system of reverse osmosis removes much of the water from the sap.
It’s a method also used at Wohlschlegel's Naples Maple Farm. Garry said his system removes about 85 percent of the water.
“It saves a huge amount of energy, saves time and fuel oil,” Garry said.
How will this year's maple season turn out? It will be difficult to top last year's efforts of maple producers.
Last year, maple producers statewide broke the previous season’s 70-year record for syrup production by more than 100,000 gallons. After results rolled in last June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that production was up 18 percent, bringing the gallons of liquid gold to more than 700,000.
Warmer-than-normal temperatures last year made for an extended season and producers are continuing to find ways to ramp up efficiency.
New York state remains the nation’s number two maple producer and the number of maple taps continues to climb. With more than 2.5 million taps in production in 2016, it’s the highest number of taps since 1947.