HOPKINTON, R.I.—The word is out on Tom Buck. He was the first one to boil in Rhode Island this week.
“I got calls from a couple sugarmakers who heard I was boiling,” Buck said on Feb. 5 during a visit from The Maple News.
No one else was.
It was a late start for Buck and sugarmakers throughout southern New England who have been getting used to starting their seasons in January.
Not this year.
Across the U.S. not much January syrup was made, as a record breaking Polar Vortex and several big snowstorms kept the January boilers mostly idle except for a few hard-core sugarmakers.
But this first week of February got many sugarmakers scrambling with the first big sap run of the 2019 season, as the freeze finally broke and sugaring temperatures abounded in the Northeast and MidAtlantic.
Many sugarmakers contacted by The Maple News were still “waiting it out” thinking it too early to tap and run the risk of exposing tap holes to bacteria build-up later on.
“Just a flash in the pan to get your holes wet and the bacteria growing,” said Jaffray, N.H. sugarmaker Dave Kemp, who was holding off to tap.
Others decided to jump on the warm up and start their seasons this week.
In Massachusetts, 18,000-tap producer Rob Leab in Hancock, Mass. had many of his taps drilled in January, but the early sap he got froze into a giant, 6,000-gallon ice chunk in one of his tanks.
He and wife, Missy, decided to just let the chunk sit. And sit. And sit. For almost three weeks.
As of Feb. 6, when temperatures were into the 50s, the chunk still wasn’t completely melted but the Leabs were able to start boiling after finally filling their 9,000 gallon tank with fresh sap that pooled in under the chunk. They boiled for the first time on Wednesday night.
Back in Rhode Island, Buck said he started tapping on Jan. 28, getting back in the woods and fixing leaks and squirrel chews.
“I saw a two week warmup coming,” he said.
Buck had his 300 taps drilled in fairly short order and able to catch the run that started on Tuesday morning. By Wednesday night, he was ready to start boiling on a brand new Leader 2x6 evaporator bought from Connecticut dealer Richard Norman.
In Lebanon, N.H., Matt and Barbara Patch were firing up for the first time on Feb. 7, breaking in a brand new CDL R/O and inaugurating a sprawling new 26x48 foot sugarhouse.
CDL sales rep Tom Patterson was on hand to help get the couple used to the R/O which is touted to process 6,000 gallons per hour to 23 percent concentrate.
“Sap started running on Monday,” Patch said during a visit from The Maple News.
During the week he collected about 12,000 gallons. He had about 15,000 taps of his 16,000 he expected to have out for the season.
“We saw the weather and decided to jump on it,” Patch said.
His sugar content was very low. Only 1.1 percent. But he was still happy to get going with the season and get the “kinks worked out” on a brand new set-up early on before the season begins in earnest.
“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “We gotta work the bugs out. That’s why we’re doing it on February 7.”