Sap season underway in St. Lawrence County

Posted 3/18/23

BY ADAM ATKINSON and CHERYL SHUMWAY North Country This Week As winter begins to wane and the days grow longer in the North Country, local maple syrup producers are beginning to harvest sap and fire …

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Sap season underway in St. Lawrence County


North Country This Week

As winter begins to wane and the days grow longer in the North Country, local maple syrup producers are beginning to harvest sap and fire up boilers to render down maple syrup.

After the sap is pumped or hauled from maple trees, maple steam pours from cupola ventilators perched atop sugar shacks sitting among the bare late winter trees for several weeks in St. Lawrence County.  

Sap boil has begun  

Like other sugar shacks around the region, maple syrup production is now underway at Canton’s Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The evaporator in the Sugar House was fired up to 220 degrees F on March 13 to evaporate the excess water in the sap and convert it into maple syrup.

“We now have about 1, 000 taps on our 20-acre sugar bush. We get about one quart of syrup per tap. We make about 200 gallons of syrup,” said farm manager Charlie Hitchman.

About 40 gallons of sap are needed to make 1 gallon of syrup after it is boiled down, said Hitchman.

It used to take about 4 hours to gather the sap when buckets were used. Now they use tubing to collect the sap, said Hitchman.

BOCES students in the Agriculture Program help put taps into the maple trees in January. They also monitor the tubing during the maple season for squirrels who often chew through the lines.

“Up to three taps are put in each sugar maple tree, depending on the diameter of the tree,” said 4-H program educator Maureen Ring, during a tour for a St. Lawrence University class.

The maple season lasts about six weeks, from early March to late April, depending on the temperatures, said Ring.

“Mother Nature tells us when it’s done. Once leaves start budding, the maple season is over,” said Hitchman.

Syrup by the numbers

Sugar shacks across the county are in full swing tapping trees and making syrup. While the USDA estimates about 37 days of sugar season with everything wrapping up at the end of March, sap can start flowing as early as January.

It’s a short turnaround for area maple producers, many of whom are farmers, to produce enough syrup to consistently rank the county third in the state for maple production.

The state is the second biggest producer of maple syrup in the nation, pumping out around 800,000 gallons of syrup annually, with 2,000 maple sugarmakers statewide. That ranks behind Vermont’s 2 million gallons. The U.S. produces about 4 million gallons total annually. Quebec, however, churns out about 13 million gallons of syrup.

Economically, while the cost of production, with equipment prices and labor is high, a gallon of syrup retails around $50 depending on where you purchase it.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap, depending on sugar percentage, to produce one gallon of syrup, according to a fact sheet from Cornell.

Most trees these days have one tap, with those 80 inches in circumference or larger often get two. A tapped maple can produce 10 to 20 gallons of sap a day, and can keep producing for decades if healthy.

Sugar maples, with its higher sugar content in sap, are thought to produce a better flavored syrup than other maple species, Cornell said. Other common tapped species are red, black and silver maples.

Not just a sweet treat

While maple syrup is a sweet treat, it actually sports many health benefits compared to other sugar or corn syrup products, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Syrup contains numerous antioxidants, USDA said. “The medical journal Pharmaceutical Biology revealed that pure maple syrup contains up to 24 different antioxidants (4). These antioxidants, in the form of phenolic compounds, are beneficial for reducing free radical damage that can cause inflammation and contribute to the formation of various chronic diseases,” USDA said.

Maple syrup contains the antioxidants benzoic acid, gallic acid, cinnamic acid, and various flavanols like catechin, epicatechin, rutin and quercetin, the service said.

Maple syrup syrup compounds fight inflammatory diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or heart disease because they reduce oxidative stress, said USDA.

Other health benefits include protecting skin health when used topically, being source of important vitamins and minerals like zinc and manganese, being a healthier alternative to artificial sweeteners, and enhancing antibiotic effects.