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NATICK

Farms see sweet gains in annual maple harvest

By Erica Noonan
Globe Staff / February 24, 2011

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NATICK — Ideally, March enters ferociously, exits gently, and leaves a whole lot of maple syrup behind.

Local harvesters are hoping that next month brings the weather conditions — namely, sunny days in the 40s and nights dipping below freezing — necessary for an abundance of sweet sap to run from the roots up to the buds of sugar maples.

It’s impossible to predict what Mother Nature will do, said Jean-Claude Bourrut, assistant director of the Natick Community Organic Farm. Last year was not a banner season — the temperatures became too warm too quickly, and the sap did not run for long enough, he said.

But last week, the region’s snow accumulation was causing more concern than the prospect of a mild March, Bourrut said.

The farm typically hangs more than 600 buckets on sugar maples in Natick, Dover, Sherborn, and Wellesley, some of the trees standing quite deep in the woods. Huge snow banks have made it difficult to reach many of the trees until just the past few days.

“The snow is receding and hopefully that will take care of this problem,’’ Bourrut said late last week. “This has been a real winter like we haven’t had for a long time.’’

One of the Natick farm’s biggest events of the year centers around the maple harvest. On March 5, it will host Maple Magic Day, with a pancake breakfast, tours of the farm’s sugar shack, and an educational program about Native American and Colonial sugaring techniques.

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup, and the farm generally produces between 150 and 300 gallons of syrup from its harvest, Bourrut said.

Statewide, the maple season officially kicks off on March 4 in Northampton, where state officials will tap a tree and read a proclamation from Governor Deval Patrick declaring it Maple Month in Massachusetts, said Winton Pitcoff, spokesman for the Plainfield-based Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. There are just over 300 maple producers in Massachusetts, annually producing around 50,000 gallons of syrup worth an estimated $3 million, Pitcoff said.

He said some farmers have speculated there could be a chance of sweeter sap this year compared with harvests from the past few seasons, with last year’s early thaw and dry summer potentially leading to a lighter syrup that requires less boiling. “This has been a good winter, so we hope it bodes well,’’ Pitcoff said.

Another reason to hope for a good maple season is the boon that it brings to the local tourism industry. The maple producers organization estimated that sugaring season attracts nearly 60,000 tourists, who spend more than $1.5 million at local farm stands, inns, and maple-related commerce.

“People feel something really special about maple. It is really unique to this part of the world,’’ Pitcoff said.

Closer to home, local Massachusetts Audubon Society wildlife sanctuaries have planned a series of maple-related activities, said spokeswoman Mia Kheyfetz.

Drumlin Farm in Lincoln will host a series of public programs, including “sap-to-syrup’’ breakfasts on March 12 and 13 that will include maple-sugaring demonstrations before and after a hearty meal.

Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Belmont is also planning a series of programs, including a hands-on workshop on March 12 for adults and children interested in collecting sap, and seeing how it gets boiled down into syrup.

Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com.