CUTTINGSVILLE, Vt.—The trend of tapping early is still a thing.
“We’re just trying to capitalize on as many freeze/thaws as we can,” said Elliott Stewart of Stewart Maple in Cuttingsville, Vt., during a woods tour for The Maple News on Dec. 18.
Stewart, along with brother Tanner and hired man Wyatt Davenport, started tapping their woods on Dec. 2 and caught a few late fall runs, resulting in about 150 gallons of syrup made so far.
As of Dec. 18, the crew had 5,000 taps already drilled and expect to have their full 40,000 in by early February.
The first 5,000 taps have been productive Stewart said, gushing about 20,000 gallons of sap so far in December although with low sugar content of only 1 percent.
“We’re already at 1/3 of a pound per tap on those 5,000” Stewart said.
This is the second year the family has experimented with early tapping, jumping on to a trend where big operations are tapping earlier and earlier.
In Northern Vermont, the legendary Branon family in Fairfield, Vt. has already started tapping their two sugarbushes, getting as early a start as possible on what will ultimately be 80,000 taps for the family.
Last year, the Stewarts tapped in mid-Dec. and had no issues with tap holes closing up too soon.
“Our taps were running well into April last year,” Stewart said.
Elliott acknowledges that local old timers are skeptical.
“We haven’t been doing this without listening to the old timers,” Elliott said.
But modern technology makes it all possible.
The Stewarts installed a multi-claw screw pump made by Atlas Copco that the family credits with their ability to keep holes fresh over the span of autumn to spring.
“The CFMs are insane,” Elliott said.
The pump will run 24/7 the entire season, Elliott said, keeping at least 28 inches of vacuum on the trees over four or five months.
Meanwhile, back in the sugarhouse, a small collection of filled barrels sit next to the evaporator. And it is a sight that still seems a little unusual.
“We’re feeling good to be where we’re at so far but it does seem a little weird to be out here this early,” Elliot said.
“Yeah, it was crazy filling our first drums with the lawn still green outside the sugarhouse,” Tanner said.