Sugar shacks in Hamilton and Halton are preparing for their busiest time of the year, but one thing is missing: the sap.

“Right now, the buckets are up and everything looks the way it should, but...there’s nothing dripping,” says Jim Aikenhead, who has worked at Mountsberg Conservation Area for the past 36 maple syrup seasons.

For the sap to run, Aikenhead says temperatures have to reach 5 C during the day, but must drop again to -5 C at night. The variation creates pressure inside the maple trees, which pushes sap up through the tree trunk.

“March break is when that tends to happen,” he says, “but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year.”

Temperatures are not expected to break freezing until later this week. Even then, Aikenhead doesn’t think the warmth will last long enough for making syrup.

Shacks open despite lack of sap

Despite the empty buckets, March Break activities at the conservation area continue as scheduled. When they don’t have sap, Aikenhead says demonstrators use water to show visitors how the process works.

The sugar shack and pancake house at Westfield Heritage Village are also open for business. Program coordinator Lisa Hunter says her staff are running wagon rides and tours of the wood lot.

“The most important thing is to be ready to go when it starts,” Hunter says. “You don’t want to be caught off guard when [the sap] starts to flow.”

“Even though we might be getting a little bit of a late start, we’re expecting a gradual spring, so that will give us the most amount of sap, which we would turn into syrup.”

While she waits for this year’s syrup, Hunter is serving up what is left over from last year. She expects to have fresh syrup — and lots of it — by the end of the month.

See the photos below showing sap running early due to a mild winter:

Maple syrup flows early