2023 Maple Syrup Season Summary
On average, this was close to an average winter in Vermont temperature wise. But underneath the averages there was a tremendous amount of extreme weather.
The winter of 2023 started with mild temperatures and very little snow. This allowed for relatively easy "tapping" of our sugar maple trees. Tapping is the process of going to each maple tree, drilling a very small 1/4" hole in the tree, and inserting a spout (also called spile) into the hole to collect the sap coming out of the tree. Due to the unusualy low snow depth we were able to get around the woods without using snowshoes. This made for much easier and faster tapping. February 5th, 2023 brought an exceptional cold snap to New England with a fierce wind and the temperature at the sugarhouse dropped to -26 degrees with a wind chill factor of -42 degrees! But within a few days temperatures returned to normal and we were all set for the maple sugaring season.
March is typically prime sugaring time in Northern Vermont. This March the temperatures were a bit "aggravating" - not brutally cold, but just a little below freezing. Some days the temperature never got above freezing at all and on other days the temperature didn't get above freezing until mid-afternoon, so we only got short runs of sap before the temperatures dropped down below freezing with nightfall. We had made additions and improvements to our operation during the previous year, but due to the poor weather our syrup production was only equal to 2022 even with the expansion.
One of the interesting things about this year is that the sap we collected was unusually sweet. We saw this same phenomenon last year and we don't have an explanation. Some people believe the sap sweetness for one year is determined by the amount of rain the previous summer and fall, but this has never been proven. We measure the sugar content of sap and syrup using hydrometers which gives a reading of the Brix. One Brix is equal to 1 gram of sugar in 100 grams of water. A typical Brix reading for sap is 2% and for every 40 gallons of this sap you get about one gallon of maple syrup. The sap we collected during the early part of this season was averaging 2.5% - 3.0% Brix so it didn't take as much sap as typical to get a gallon of syrup. Having higher sugar content sap combined with cold weather helped us produce some great tasting syrup this year.
The 2023 weather compared to an average year is summarized in the graph below. The chart shows "Cumulative Growing Degree Days" which is a measure of how fast or slow the weather is heating up in a given spring. Farmers, gardeners, and orchardists use this information to predict when seeds will germinate and other plant events like bud break. The blue line is 2023 and the black line is the last 30 year average year. As you can see the prime sugaring period from Mid February through the first week in April was much cooler than average. Then the second week of April had a huge warm up, ending our season.
- The weather early in the winter was warm with little snow
making for easy tapping.
- During the prime sugaring month of March the weather turned cold. Many days didn't get above freezing until mid-afternoon, so the sap runs on those days were short. Overall production was below average.
- The percent sugar in our sap was unusually high again this year.
- The taste of our syrup was very good this year, probably due to colder than normal tempertures. Our amber syrup had a distinct buttery taste.
- We learned a lot this year. A huge THANKs to everyone who helped us!