Unseasonable weather patterns may have given maple syrup producers a head start in production this year, but an early and extended thaw in below-freezing temperatures could lead to an abrupt end to their season.
“We need the freezing and the thawing, which we could absolutely still get lots of,” said Tom Shaw, who owns Shaw’s Catering in Oro-Medonte with his wife Terri-Lynn Shaw. “The more freezing nights and warm days we get, the better. Keeping in mind that once a certain amount of sap has gone up and fed the trees, and the buds come out, that’s it, we’re done. So an extended warm period of time will allow that sap to seep up to the trees, and that will quicken the season.”
Tom started tapping into his maple syrup bush, which has 5,000 trees, at his usual time during the earlier part of this month. The difference being: this year, the sap started running in the second week of February, as compared to the first time the sap ran on March 10, last year.
“We got a really good flow just this past weekend on the Saturday and the Sunday, which again is very early,” said Tom, adding that, generally, even though taps are set up early in February, the sap is not expected to run till the second week of March.
“The last two years have been great years,” said Tom. “But in agriculture, we’re gonna have good years and bad years. So we’ve had the good years, so maybe it’s time for the bad year, we’ll see.”
Because of the unpredictability of the temperatures, he said, he wasn’t ready just yet to start collecting and boiling sap, so he has not tapped all 5,000 of his maple trees yet. But from the 4,500 he has tapped into, he will be able to produce 1,000 gallons of syrup: enough to last him for the year.
The early sap flow has also produced a bit of a crunch for companies that supply and maintain maple syrup equipment.
According to CDL Atkinson Maple Syrup Supplies Central Ontario sales rep Josh Holmes, this year has also put a little pressure on the company as far as the needs of larger producers are concerned.
“They weren’t planning on having their big equipment running quite yet,” he explained. “I had a local producer who had bought a brand new RO (reverse osmosis machine) and he wasn’t planning on installing everything till the first week of March and everything had to be done in one day, as he was overflowing with sap.”
As long as the sap is running and the boilers are boiling, Terri-Lynn said the family business is likely to see people lining up outside the restaurant for the two months they’re open between mid-Feb and mid-April.
“After that, people are moving on to the next season: summer,” she said. “Lineups on busy days are really common. Sometimes, it amazes us that people like us so much that they’ll line up for our food.”
But for some, it’s not just the food, it’s simply a family tradition.
“When you’re from Oro, you grow up coming here every year,” said Katrina Annunziello, who was visiting Shaw’s with friends and family, and used to work summers at the restaurant before she moved to Calgary. “It’s the only place around that does maple syrup, and it’s the same people running it, and it’s delicious.”