Maple syrup farmers tapping 'earliest we ever have' after warm winter

Trees 'start to wake up' with warm weather, leading to February harvests in Nova Scotia, say syrup producers.

Trees 'start to wake up' with warm weather, leading to February harvests in Nova Scotia

Scott Whitelaw checks one of his trees at Sugar Moon Farm mid-February. The snow shortfall made reaching the trees much easier this winter, and the warm weather brought out the sap earlier than usual. (Photo submitted by Quita Gray)

The warm winter has given some maple syrup farmers a head start in Nova Scotia this year.

Matthew Harrison of Hidden Mountain Maple Farms in Southampton, Cumberland County, said they started tapping their trees on Feb. 5 and finished on Feb. 17.

"This is the earliest I've ever tapped or had this much syrup before March," he told CBC News on Thursday. "It looks like the sap will run on Saturday and Monday again, so we will be boiling both days."

He's tapped around 17,000 trees so far, producing about 375 litres of maple sap. The sap is only testing at 1.2 per cent sugar, Harrison said, but he thinks that's because the ground and trees are still frozen. Maple sap ranges from about one to five per cent sugar. 

"I seem to start tapping about a week earlier every year, but I also have been adding more taps to my operation, so … it will take me longer to tap," Harrison said in an email.

The limited snowfall helps, too, he said, as he doesn't have to strap on snowshoes to get to the trees. Harrison credited the warm winter for the early harvest.

Trees waking up early

Scott Whitelaw of Sugar Moon Farms said 2018 has brought the earliest tapping since he and his wife Quita Gray bought the Earltown property more than 20 years ago.

He said the spring-like temperatures mean trees "will start to wake up." Whitelaw was in the woods earlier this week drilling holes, installing spigots and watching the sap flow down the pipes to the main collection point.

"We started tapping the earliest we ever have, just because of the way the weather has changed so much," he told the CBC's Maritime Noon on Thursday.

Whitelaw and Gray opened their business in 1996, and have seen the tapping season steadily come earlier.

"The fellow that I bought the farm from used to start tapping at the beginning of March and hoped to be all ready to get the season underway in the middle of March," Whitelaw said.

"Within a couple of years of us moving to the property, we realized we had to move it up a bit. I would start tapping around the end of February and now we're looking at the middle of February."

The shortage of snow means they've used an ice-crusher to produce their popular sugar-on-snow treat.

With files from the CBC's Maritime Noon