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Thứ Bảy, 28 tháng 3, 2015

Maple sap taking its sweet time this year - (registration)

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DEAN, Halifax County — It’s time for a tap dance in maple syrup country.

“I never heard tell of anybody doing a sap dance,” Gerry Lemmon, 53, said from inside the sugar shack on top of Blueberry Lane.

Lemmon was referring to the immediate need for some good sap-running weather that might depend on a special dance, good luck or divine intervention.

“It’s gotta start next week or things are going to get serious.”

Lemmon, his older brother, Cyril, and nephew Will were getting some work done around the shack and tapping some nearby trees Thursday.

“We’ve had this camp here for 35 years and I’ve never seen snow like this,” Lemmon said.

A quick step outside the rear of the camp toward the kilometres of polyethylene tubes that will eventually carry the sap from 3,000 tapped trees to the sugar house bears out Lemmon’s weather descriptor. Without snowshoes, a visitor immediately plunges into waist-deep snow.

“You’ve got to get them shovelled out,” Lemmon said of the sap lines.

And you’ve got to keep them shovelled out.

“This year, it’s been relentless. Every time the wind blows, it covers the line and the taps. It’s expensive to get going.”

Lemmon said some of the bigger producers in Cumberland County who tap 10 times as many trees as his operation does have been hit with even more snow. But he said in the Musquodoboit Valley area, it has often been snow, rain and freezing, building up layers of crust that have to be busted through to free the lines.

The Lemmons usually finish a season with about 800 litres of syrup that they sell from the shack and from Lemmon’s nearby house, all by word of mouth and to built-up clientele. They sell it for about $50 per four-litre jug.

According to their records, the first boil of the season took place on March 14 last year, on March 9 the year before and on March 5 the year before that.

Not this time around.

The wood for the fire that steams off water from the raw sap in the evaporator is ready. The men are ready, the equipment is ready, but the sap is taking its time, dawdling in the unco-operative weather.

“This week and next week, we need the temperatures getting up to five to seven degrees or more every day and down to minus-four or minus-five at night, without the wind,” Lemmon said. “The wind is a killer. You get a cold wind blowing, and it cools the air temperature right down. Wind and snow makes the air awfully cool. We need a week of nice weather to get things up and going.”

Will Lemmon approaches a tree just outside the camp, and drills a five- to seven-centimetre hole in it about waist-high, not counting the nearly two-thirds of a metre of snow he is standing on. His father, Cyril, smacks in a hard polyethylene tap.

When that tap and others produce, the Lemmons will pipe the raw sap, which contains only about two to three per cent of sugar content, into the sugar shack. The wood-heated evaporator machine burns off the excess water, producing a finished syrup product that is about 66 per cent sugar. They boil the sap for 10 to 12 hours a day, averaging about 12 to 20 boils per season. They also make maple butter and grow blueberries in the summer. Gerry has a seasonal job, while Cyril is retired.

“One thing about the syrup industry, it’s thriving,” Gerry Lemmon said. “There is great demand for the product. It’s not a problem getting rid of the stuff.”

He is still hopeful for a great season, with temperatures dropping overnight and rising during the day to keep the sap running for about three consecutive weeks.

“I would rather have a season that starts from mid- to the end of March and let the sap run every day for three weeks and you’re done. We have had years where the sap runs at the end of February. But what always happens, if you have an early sap run at the end of February or the first of March, it will turn cold for a week and a half or two weeks and everything freezes solid. You’ve got to drain all your evaporators and everything.”

The church in Dean will host a maple festival on April 11, followed by tours of the Lemmon operation. Usually, the Lemmons are close to sold out by that time, but it is not likely to happen this year.

“If we can get her going and the weather starts, we should have good runs every day,” Lemmon said hopefully.

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