March 31, 2013

Sweet syrup season shaping up

WEST CHAZY — Surging sap is making spring a sweet, syrupy success.

Dick Atwood of Atwood Maple Products in West Chazy said prime conditions have led to an excellent maple-syrup season so far. Atwood said his first boil of the season was Feb. 28, which is fairly typical for the last 10 years.

The season ended abruptly last year due to consistent high temperatures early in the season. This year, the combination of below-freezing nights and about 40 degree days has been almost optimal for sap flow.

Atwood said his father always said that combination of temperatures, high-pressure in the atmosphere and a northwest wind was best.

Snow cover helps

The short-range forecast looks good, he said, and the snow cover is helping keep the tree roots cold, which also helps. He thinks the season could extend into April unless there is a sudden warm spell.

”Last year I was done by this time (March 27),” Atwood said. “I should surpass last year’s production today.”

At age 67, he said he’s been involved in the maple-syrup trade his entire life. He is the fifth-generation of maple producers in the West Chazy area, as his great-great grandfather had a sugar shack on the property at 161 Atwood Road.

He presently has about 4,800 taps. Atwood said 3,700 of those send sap through vacuum lines to the sugar house, while the rest are collected from two other sugarbushes and carried for production.

Atwood changes the drop lines from the tap to the transport lines every three years to prevent bacteria from building up and making its way back into the trees.

”Sap is the life-blood of the tree. It comes out through the tap, like a wound,” he said.

One of the few who still use a wood-fired evaporator, Atwood uses a six-foot by 16-foot unit manufactured by Leader Evaporator of St. Albans, Vt. He goes through about 20 cords of three-foot firewood a year. 

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