|Scenes from last year’s festivities during sugar season at Natick Community Organic Farm. (Photos by Trish Wesley Umbrell (above) and Maureen Sullivan)|
Oh, sugar, sugar
Local farms plan celebrations of all things maple
This has been no winter for snowshoeing or pond skating. But despite near record warmth, another New England tradition carries on: maple sugaring.
Natick Community Organic Farm will hold its annual Maple Magic Day on Saturday, and Drumlin Farm in Lincoln will hold its annual Sap to Syrup Farmer’s Breakfast on March 17 and 18.
It’s too early to tell whether the mild temperatures will affect maple syrup production this harvest season, which lasts through this month, said Winton Pitcoff, coordinator for the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.
Local producers, however, said they’ve noticed some differences.
Natick Community Organic Farm enlists volunteers to hang collection buckets on sugar maple trees throughout Natick, Wellesley, Sherborn, and Dover. The farm uses its wood-fired evaporator to turn every 40 gallons of sap into 1 gallon of maple syrup.
Farm director Lynda Simkins said she was able to start tapping trees about 10 days earlier than usual, but the season has not been without problems.
“The sap we are getting is not very high in sugar,’’ Simkins said, and that changes how long she has to boil the stuff to reduce it to the concentrated form of tasty syrup.
They are also collecting less sap. Below-freezing nights are necessary to squeeze the sap into the roots, so that it can rise back up during the daytime. The sap must be rising to flow into the buckets, she said.
“None of our buckets are overflowing,’’ said Simkins. “I can’t say until the end of the season, but so far we have made 80 gallons. We like to make 250 gallons.’’
Nevertheless, Natick Community Organic Farm invites the public to celebrate all things maple syrup at its annual Maple Magic Day on Saturday.
The festivities will kick off with pancakes in the cafeteria of the Memorial School on Eliot Street from 8 to 11 a.m. Admission to the breakfast is $6 for Natick Farm members, $3 for child members ages 4 to 8; and $8 for nonmembers and $4 for nonmembers ages 4 to 8.
After breakfast, participants can head across the road for maple sugaring tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the farm’s Sugar Shack, found at the top of the farm’s driveway at 117 Eliot St.
Matt Celona, crops manager at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, has also noticed a change in sap volume this year.
“You have to have freezing nighttimes and warmer daytimes to keep it flowing,’’ he said. “We started having nights when it was not flowing at all. We’re also seeing sap production start to slow down already. Now, in any sugaring season you’re going to have periods when sap is not flowing. That’s not an apocalyptic sign.’’
It won’t necessarily be a bad season, he said, but it is one that maple farmers are watching.
Drumlin Farm, at 208 South Great Road, will hold its annual Sap to Syrup Farmer’s Breakfast on March 17 and 18.
Visitors can also explore the natural history of maple trees, see how sap is collected, and visit the farm’s evaporator where sap is boiled down to syrup.
The cost is $14 for adults, $11 for children, and free for ages under 2. Tickets must be purchased in advance, by calling 781-259-2218.
Meanwhile, a special alchemy is turning the sap from more than 120 sugar maple trees in Concord and Carlisle into a small supply of pure, thick amber syrup that will be donated to food pantries in the Boston area.
Gaining Ground, a local nonprofit garden that provides organic produce for free, oversees the operation as the sap is trucked in 30-gallon barrels from the trees to a small sugar shack at the organization’s headquarters at the Thoreau Farm on Virginia Road in Concord.
The sugaring operation started about seven years ago with a few trees, said farm coordinator Michelle De Lima. But it has grown into a larger operation with the addition of a sugar house and a stove on the property where the sap is boiled down.
“This year we had a little less than normal, but it was better than we were expecting with the warm weather,’’ said De Lima. “The trees started dripping in January this year.’’
And while the season isn’t quite over yet, she said, most of the sap has been collected. She estimated that the trees produced about two-thirds of what they have in the past.
On a recent visit to Gaining Ground, assistant farmer Rafe Wolman stoked the stove as his cousin, Sofia Wolman, poured the sap into a large container. There are three boiling bins, each at a different level, so that as the sap reduces, and the steam pours out through the roof, the syrup is left in the lowest bin.
Once it gets to 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, it is siphoned into a stainless-steel bowl to be processed at another stove in the shack, ending up in sterilized canning jars for distribution.
There are about 140 trees in Concord and Carlisle that are tapped for Gaining Ground’s operation. The taps in the trees only take a fraction of the sap.
“Like giving blood,’’ said Wolman, “there’s plenty left.’’
Globe correspondent Shivaji Mudambi contributed to this report.