2017-01-25 / Outdoor Life

April Problems in January

By Ryan Trapani

Well, it’s not feeling much like winter as I write this message on the 17th of January, 2017. Temperatures will be hovering in the 40s during the day throughout many parts of the Catskills, sparking an interest in some maple producers to begin tapping. Some areas may see 50 degrees! Now, January tapping is rare, but does occur. Take last year for instance; I tapped around the third week in January. Normally, in central Ulster County, the tapping time occurs about the third week in February; in the higher elevations possibly in the beginning of March or so.

However, start times are highly site-specific and subjective, too. For instance, elevation can drastically influence temperature. I live at approximately 900 feet, while Walton sits at about 1200 feet. Claryville and Tannersville are each above 2000 feet and surrounded by higher mountains where colder air often collects. Aspect – or the side of a mountain you’re facing – can also mean different start times. The north side is generally cooler and tapping there often occurs later in the season; however, the season ends later too. If you’re at a lower elevation and are southeast facing as I am, then your season will most likely begin earlier. In other words, marking your calendar for tapping trees really starts on the ground where your feet are planted and inside your head.

Another problem with traditional timetables is that they existed under a time period when producers didn’t have access to the weather channel. It’s probably true that global warming could be having an influence on an earlier start time. But, it’s probably true too that technology also has changed the way we tap trees. For instance, in 1850, there was no 10-day weather forecast. Instead, a producer would have to experience a series of warm days before thinking about tapping. Also, sap collection technology probably plays a role too. Buckets used for collecting sap are more exposed to wind and seem to be more likely to “shut off” in comparison to more sealed tubing systems. Tubing with added vacuum systems are even more efficient and less exposed to the elements and apparently flow longer, too. In other words, technology cannot be discounted in its influence on sap flow and start times.

Too Warm to Tap?

Now here comes the newfound phenomenon - at least for me who has only been at it for 10 years. I am peering into the 10-day forecast to see if there are enough “above 40-degree days” to warrant tapping; yep, there sure are. During this time of year, it’s “normally” not warm enough during the day for the sap to run, right? Well, it turns out that every day will be too warm; that’s right, it’ll be too warm. In other words, the lows are also all above freezing. Well, the sap just won’t run after a few days if it doesn’t freeze at night; normally a late March or April problem. But we’re in January! So, for the first time, I’m debating not tapping in January because it’s too warm; can you believe that? Maybe I’ll wait until February for it to warm up. Or maybe I’ll just take a chance, tap now, and hope for the best. I guess guessing is still a part of the maple sugaring season in 2017 just as it was in 1917 and before.

Ryan Trapani is the Interim Executive Director at Catskill Forest Association;

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