People waiting for the genuine taste of maple syrup can look forward to what area producers are calling an optimistic sugar season this year.
Sugarhouses began setting up tree taps in the past week on schedule to begin collecting sap for about the next six weeks, depending on the weather.
Some say the recent snowfall should saturate the ground and keep it cold for a longer season.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Steve Savage, owner of Peaceful Valley Maple Farms in Johnstown, installs drop lines to collect maple sap to trees near his business Thursday as his dog, Riley, looks on.
"Snow is actually helpful in some respects," said Peter Gregg, a spokesman for the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association.
"It insulates frost in the ground and we want to keep the ground cold because that makes for a longer season," he said. "When we see those days that it gets above freezing and goes below at night, that gets the sap going in the trees, and those days should be here soon."
If the earlier snow in the season hadn't stuck, this week's snowfall would have been deemed the ideal "sugar snow," said Vernon Duesler III, who owns Mud Road Sugar House in Ephratah.
Maple syrup grades
New York Grade A Light Amber: very light, delicate maple taste.
New York Grade A Medium Amber: medium color, a little fuller taste
New York Grade A Dark Amber: dark color, full and robust flavor
New York Extra Dark for Cooking: very dark and strong flavor.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
"For the sap to run, the maple roots need to be like saturated cloths," Duesler said. "Basically, the snow puts more moisture in the ground. Now, if the ground had been bare and we got this snow, it would have been what we call a sugar snow because it would have given the tree roots moisture to absorb, but the ground has been pretty well saturated already."
Duesler and his family-operated sugarhouse had set up about 100 taps by this past week's snowfall and plan to have 2,000 taps out by Monday.
"We'll be in full swing by the first weekend in March," he said.
Duesler said he hopes to produce about 500 gallons of maple syrup this year to create everything from maple cotton candy to chocolate-covered maple drops.
About 40 gallons of sap are necessary to make 1 gallon of syrup. The other 39 evaporate during the process, according to information provided by the Upper Hudson Maple Association
In 2009, Duesler's sugarhouse produced only 300 gallons of syrup because there was no January thaw, Duesler said.
John Quinlan, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Albany, said even though this winter may seem unusually frigid, it's actually been warmer on average, causing no delay in maple syrup production.
"We had cold stretches for longer periods of time, so it feels like it has been colder," Quinlan said.
Temperatures in Albany in January and February were 2.2 degrees above normal, Quinlan said.
Under ideal conditions in 2008, Mud Road produced 600 gallons of syrup.
"Production is 99.9 percent weather related," Duesler said.
Temperatures also affect the grade of syrup. The colder temperatures in the early season yield lighter, more-delicate flavors, while the warmer temperatures near the season's end produce a full-bodied dark, strong maple taste in the syrup, Duesler said.
Quinlan said the temperatures through Wednesday should be the ideal freeze-thaw maple enthusiasts hope for.
Steve Savage, who owns Peaceful Valley Maple Farms in the town of Johnstown, began collecting sap with vacuum tubing Wednesday. By Thursday, Savage said they had about 2,500 gallons of sap ready to be boiled down to maple syrup.
"I think it's going to be a fairly good year," Savage said. "Looks like it's starting out normal."
The Peaceful Valley farm made about 1,800 gallons of syrup in 2009 and added more taps this year to bring its total number of taps up to 8,500.
"We've been expanding every year adding about 500 to 600 taps," Savage said.
The Peaceful Valley Maple Farm also operates a seasonal restaurant that serves a pancake breakfast on the weekends.
Kathryn Conbeer of Conbeer's Farm in Fonda, said the farm had all of its 250 taps out by Wednesday.
"They ran for the first time yesterday so we're collecting today," she said Thursday morning.
Conbeer said the farm usually produces about 60 gallons of syrup for the season.
Bruce Frasier, who owns the Frasier Sugar Shack at 144 Church St. in Lassellsville, said his farm finished setting up about 3,000 taps by the time Wednesday's snowfall started. Frasier said he remains cautiously optimistic about how the season looks to be panning out.
"You never know with Mother Nature," he said.
Amanda Whistle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.