•  Sugarmaker Steve Berger of Wallingford, Vt. taps a tree on Friday, Feb. 15. Berger was just getting to his 5,500 taps this week. Not much syrup has been made in Vermont so far this season.

  •  Kyle Blanchard of Walingford, Vt. taps a tree on Feb. 15. Blanchard, and grandfather Steve Berger were just getting into the woods this week, a later start than previous years.

  •  Jim Norris tags plastic piping elbows on Feb. 6 at The Pick & Shovel's maple store in Newport, Vt. Norris said sugar makers across northern Vermont were "tapped and ready to go, getting ready for that first, big run.” (Photo: Jennifer Williams Thompson)

  •  Connie Berger minds the shop at Roaring Brook Maple in Wallingford, Vt. The store opened in June and is carrying DSD, Sugarhill, MemProTec and Thor Equipment. She says the shop has been busy with sugarmakers just getting back in the woods.

Season Update #2: In Vermont, a slow start to season so far and that's ok

Sugarmakers happy about 'normal' winter


WALINGFORD, Vt.—Vermont maple syrup producers have gotten off to a slow start to the season.  

But most sugarmakers are characterizing it as a return to “normal” after several years of warm winter sugaring.

“In a normal year, this would be normal,” said 5,500-tap sugarmaker Steve Berger on Friday, Feb. 15, who was just getting into the woods to tap for the first time this season.

“Five or six years ago, we wouldn’t be doing anything in February,” he said.

Indeed the last four to five years have seen Vermont sugarmakers making big portions of their crop in January and February.

Not this year.

“Not much syrup yet, 1,000 gallons,” said Gary Corey when asked about his season production so far. Corey will be boiling off of 115,000 taps at Corey’s Maple Orchard Fairfield, Vt. 

Corey is known as one of the best per-tap average sugarmakers in the state, consistently making more than 7 pounds per tap every year.

As of Friday, he said he was only halfway tapped.

At the massive new operation The Forest Farmers in Marshfield, Vt., manager Michael Farrell said he had only collected 12,000 gallons of sap last week and hadn’t even boiled it yet.

“We are just letting it sit outside in tanks under cover because it wasn’t enough to process,” Farrell told The Maple News on Friday.  So far, he had 20,000 taps drilled with another 20,000 to go. 

Vermont’s biggest sugarmaker JR Sloan in Fletcher, Vt. has all of his 205,000 taps in but has only made about 24 barrels so far, he told The Maple News on Friday.

“The last two years of sugaring have been easy because it was long and drawn out,” he said.  “We could be faster and shorter this year.”

Back in Wallingford on Friday, Berger and grandson Kyle Blanchard were trudging up and down their steep slopes in about a foot of wet snow, drilling trees.

“This is a unique February,” he said.  “It’s 45 today and then it’s supposed to drop to the 20s and 30s for the next ten days.”

Berger, 65, who has been making syrup since he was 14, said he was just fine with the “normal” cold February.  He was also hoping for a normal March and April.

“Three months of sugaring, you get tired,” he said.

Berger said he held off tapping until this week because the weather has not been favorable.

“There’s maybe been a few squirts here and there but not worth getting loaded up and then shut down for a couple of weeks,” he said.

Vermont has seen at least two big snowstorms this month and low temperatures throughout.  

Most of the syrup made came during the three day run last week. And only for those who had taps in, which weren’t many.

Meanwhile, sugarmakers in Canada were also on stand-by with a big dump of snow this week and cold temperatures in the long range forecast.

David Lesley who has 500 taps in Caymamat, Ont. reported he got about three feet of snow this week and snow there was already super deep.

“On snowshoes we were sinking up to our waist,” he said on Thursday.  “I’m hoping to still tap in March.”

Sugarmaker Robert Mason in Ormstown, Que. was happy with the cold start to the season.

“There haven’t been any runs but it’s been perfect tapping weather,” he said on Wednesday.  

“We got close to some sap a few times but it just filled up the lines and barely made it into the dumper,” Mason said.