The sweet smell of thousands of gallons of tree sap cooking in a oil powered evaporator in Cliff Nightingale’s sugar house can only mean one thing: Maple Syrup season has begun.
Nightingale is the owner of Nightingale’s Maple Farm, an 8,000 tap operation that draws sap from a 30 acre sugar bush in Galway. He said the maple syrup business is a “drop by drop” affair. In the old days those drops came down one at a time into buckets, but lately he’s used vacuum powered tubing to increase his sap yields by about 50 percent per tap.
But no matter what technology a maple syrup farmer uses, the season is still always dictated by the weather.
“This year has been good, today it’s a little slow. Last year we started a little early, this year we’ve started a little late, so looking at the charts, it’s a little out of kilter, but that doesn’t mean much at this point,” he said.
To draw sap from the maple tree the temperature must be freezing at night and then above freezing during the day. As soon as temperatures stay above freezing through the night the season will be over for most trees. That gives farmers like Nightingale a season that could be as short as three weeks, or as long as five or six.
Saturday was the start of the annual Maple Open House Weekend sponsored by the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association. The open house involves maple syrup farms throughout the greater Capital Region. The event is meant to increase awareness of syrup operations, promote family visits and support sales.
By the time of the open house last year, Nightingale had produced 416 gallons of maple syrup. This year the season started March 6 and by Saturday he’d produced 266 gallons. Each gallon of syrup requires 40 to 50 gallons of sap to start.
The process and the product were more than enough to impress the people who came out for the annual open house Saturday. “We like it better than the store bought stuff,” Nancy Wicschel, of Glenville, said.
“It has more of a pure taste,” said her sister Cindy Varriale, from Galway.
Nancy and Cindy came out to learn more about making maple syrup. They brought their mother Mary Ann Hutchins, from Schenectady. Hutchins said she has fond memories of tapping maple trees with her grandfather as a girl.
“I remember going into the woods with the big barrel and the sleigh. My grandfather would take the bucket from the tree and dump it into the barrel. He would drill a hole in each tree and put the tap in it.”
Nightingale said he’s participated in the annual Maple Open House Weekend for the last eight years and its been a great success for his farm.
“It gives us a good chunk of money right around the time when we need to pay for all of the supplies that go into this. It’s a good retail weekend for us. It also helps to ensure that we don’t have a lot of syrup left over at the end of the season,” he said.
The open house weekend continues today and next weekend.