By Doug Ireland
---- — Nobody likes freezing, cold weather in March — just when spring is approaching.
But if you’re one of the several hundred maple sugar producers across New Hampshire, daytime temperatures in the 20s can be disastrous.
The cold weather last week meant the sap wasn’t running, hindering the production of maple syrup — a Granite State tradition. Maple sugaring is one of the “603 Reasons” readers believe New Hampshire is special.
So, when temperatures fell below the freezing mark, Hank Peterson of Peterson’s Sugar House in Londonderry wasn’t happy.
“It’s been lousy,” Peterson said yesterday. “The sap hasn’t really started to flow yet. It’s just been too cold — the trees froze up.”
Brian Folsom, owner of Folsom’s Sugar House in Chester, was unhappy, too.
“We’ve been in a bit of a freeze-up,” he said. “Sap running is pretty fickle.”
But Folsom is optimistic it will be a good season.
For that to happen, syrup producers need a combination of warm days and cold nights, according to Robyn Pearl, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.
The association represents more than 400 maple sugar producers across the state.
“It’s starting slow,” Pearl said. “We need to literally defrost the trees.”
With temperatures climbing into the 40s this week, the sap has finally started to flow, Pearl said.
It was just in time for Gov. Maggie Hassan to help celebrate the beginning of sugaring season.
Hassan stopped off at The Maple Guys farm in Lyndeborough Tuesday for the association’s annual tree tapping ceremony, Pearl said.
“We are going into a pattern right now of nice days and freezing nights,” she said.
Ideal daytime temperatures are in the mid-40s and the ideal nighttime temperature is about 28 degrees, Pearl said.
Peterson said he’s only been able to collect about 200 gallons of sap from his trees. He usually doesn’t start boiling sap to make syrup until he has at least 400 gallons.
Peterson anticipates he can start boiling this weekend, but is upset the first couple weeks of the season have been fruitless. A typical season is just four to six weeks, ending in early April.
It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup. Peterson generally produces about 125 gallons of syrup a year. He sells it for $55 a gallon.
Folsom said he’s collected about 1,500 gallons of sap so far and has made about 30 gallons of syrup. He averages about 150 gallons a season. The largest size he sells is a half-gallon, which costs $32.95.
Last weekend, Folsom hosted a sugar-on-snow event at his sugarhouse, attracting about two dozen families. His sugarhouse will be open to the public each weekend for the rest of the season, he said.
Folsom is hoping the warmer weather will help put syrup producers back on track. Pearl said it’s not unusual to have the season start slowly after having an early start the last two years.
New Hampshire produced roughly 100,000 gallons of syrup last year, which was slightly above average, Pearl said. The record was 125,000 in 2011, she said.
Folsom, Peterson and more than 100 other syrup producers across the state are gearing up for the annual Maple Weekend, set for March 22-23.
That’s when sugarhouses offer syrup samples, maple products and open their doors to the public. Many also serve pancake breakfasts.