GLENVILLE — The start of the maple syrup season has begun and the crew at Riverside Maple Farms is hoping for a good crop.
The farm started tapping trees for sap around Valentine’s Day to kick off the 2018 season, which follows three years of modern-day record-breaking crops for New York state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2017, there was a total of 760,000 gallons of maple syrup produced in the state, beating out the 707,000 gallons produced in 2016.
The USDA attributed this to the “warmer than normal” temperatures that occurred earlier in the season. And, according to farm co-owner Chris Welch, things are shaping up to be similar to last year.
“We’re still tapping when we used to tap,” Welch said.
Welch has been making maple syrup with his family for the past 30 years.
The Welches gave away the syrup to friends and family until two years ago, when they started selling it. It was during those two years, Welch said, they knew there was a market for their syrup.
So Welch and his wife, Erica, opened the maple syrup farm in September. They wanted to offer several products with their maple syrup in it, including maple candies, maple coffee and their popular maple cotton candy.
Welch said the tapping season generally runs from Presidents Day week through April. This is because the conditions necessary for making maple syrup and, more importantly, extracting sap from trees, occurs when temperatures during the day are slightly above freezing and slightly below freezing at night.
Last March, they experienced a freeze for two weeks. However, Welch said they weren’t too concerned as all it takes is for the sap to thaw.
“You don’t get any sap then,” Welch said. “Which is fine, because you tend to get it later.”
Maple syrup farms have been known to start tapping trees in January because of warmer-than-normal temperatures, according to the USDA. Welch says they try to start later so their season can run a little longer.
“The earlier you tap [a tree], the earlier the holes close on you,” Welch said.
Welch said when you a tap a tree and create a hole, the tree starts to heal and close the hole on its own as the weather gets warmer and the tree begins to bud. He said you don’t want to tap a tree too early because you don’t want to lose "that last good run.”
The sap runs into a tank that holds about 3,200 gallons of sap, which Welch said only contains 2 percent sugar. Then, after going through a reverse osmosis system — which takes out 80 percent of the water from the sap — it goes through an evaporator, where it becomes 66.9 percent sugar. Also, when it goes through the evaporator, it gets cooked, turning the sugar into syrup.
The end result is filling up 40 gallon kegs with maple syrup.
There were several groups going through the warehouse on Sunday for tours and learning how the syrup gets made. Welch says there is an interest in it.
“People want to see it,” Welch said. “They want to be a part of how their food is made.”
One of those people is Alexa Szotka of Vermont. She said she was so used to growing up in an area where maple syrup is prevalent, and has been such a fan of consuming maple syrup products, that she had to drop by the farm.
Szotka, who was also there with her friend Amanda Miller of New Jersey, said she was surprised to see how much went into making the syrup, saying she originally thought they just used buckets.
“It’s interesting to know how it’s made,” Szotka. “More goes into it than I originally thought.”