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Joyce Endee

Maple syrup-making likely in February

Sugarmaker Dave Fuller of Fuller’s Sugarhouse in Lancaster holds a check-valve adapter, left, in his right hand, and a stubby spout in his left. Fuller who both sells the device and uses it says that installing a check-valve allows sugarmakers to be ready if the sap runs early. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
February 22, 2012
LANCASTER — Sugarmaker Dave Fuller of Lancaster started "catching some sap" — 500 gallons — on Friday, Feb. 17 in a sugarbush off Route 2, he explained on Saturday in his busy retail shop where he and his wife Patti sell supplies for other sugarmakers, maple syrup and candies, and hard-to-find northern New Hampshire gifts.

If the weather turns out to be as predicted, Fuller says he will probably be boiling by the end of the week — well before Leap Year Day — at Fuller's Sugarhouse on Main Street.

"The earliest I've ever boiled before was just barely in February — and that was just once," he said, noting that he and his family have kept good records. "If we do make syrup — and as always that depends on the weather — it will be the earliest we've ever made it. Back in the 70s we expected to be making syrup some time between March 15th and 23rd."

Technology has played a role in allowing sugarmakers to be ready for the sap to flow, Fuller said. Plastic check-valve (CV) adapters, developed by scientists at the UVM Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill Center, Vt., and produced by Leader Evaporator in Swanton, Vt., potentially allow new fresh and clean tap holes to last about 12 weeks, double the span of time of regular taps. "Sugarmakers now can be ready when maple trees are coming out of dormancy," he said. Each one costs 35 cents and must be replaced every year, but installing them can result in double the amount of sap being collected, Fuller explained. "There's a little ball inside the CV adapter that does not allow any sap to be reabsorbed by the tree," he said. "About half my customers who have vacuum pump systems use them to prolong the viable lifespan of tap holes."

An old rule of thumb was that a quart of syrup could be made from the sap collected from each tap, Fuller pointed out. For those who use the CV adapter, the new rule is that a half-gallon (two quarts) of syrup can be made, with some getting close to three.

"This means that sugarmakers can pay off their bank loans," Fuller said.

Today's rules for large-scale sugaring are: embrace technology; don't decide when to tap by looking at the calendar, and be ready. "Taps with CVs can be put in in the middle of January," he said.

When Fuller was asked what kind of sugaring season lies ahead, he predicted, "It will be early and fast."

There's a sharp rise in the number of maple sugarmakers in northern New Hampshire. "There are 50,000 to 60,000 new taps in the Colebrook area on both sides of the Connecticut River, including Lemington, Canaan, and Pittsburg" Fuller said. "There're two or three investors looking potentially to put in 15,000 taps, and, of course, I'd like to supply them with all their equipment."

Fuller smiled happily as he continued, "There are a lot of maple trees up here, and there're now very few factory jobs. Those looking to make a living here can buy land with a sugarbush and brand-new equipment and get a return (on their investment)."

While Fuller chatted, a number of area sugarmakers stopped in to buy supplies, including Bernie and Laurie Labounty of Lunenburg; Steve Tilton of Groveton; and Jim Reynolds of Colebrook.

Both New Hampshire and Vermont will hold Maple Open House Weekend on March 24 and 25.

The Lunenburg Maple Festival (www.topofthecommon.org) will be held on Saturday, March 24.

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