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Old Lyme - Sap was running across the state this weekend and it was a welcome sight to the state's maple syrup producers, many of whom spent the weekend boiling sap down to sweet, sticky syrup for the first time this year.
The traditional season in Connecticut for maple sugaring - the process of collecting maple sap from trees and turning it into maple syrup - extends from early February until late March, depending greatly on the weather.
This year's sugaring season got off to a slow start, due in part to the frigid temperatures that have frozen the region for much of the winter, and some fear that it could imperil the year's syrup output.
"I don't think anybody has made much syrup if any in the last three weeks," Mark Harran, president of Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut, said. "It is not a good outlook this season for Connecticut producers, in my estimation."
To get maximum sap flow, producers need a string of days with temperatures in the 40s during the daytime and in the 20s at night, Harran said.
For Donald Bureau, who owns Bureau's Sugarhouse on Rowland Road in Old Lyme, the slow start to the season has been discouraging.
"February 1 and 2 were warm, so I boiled down 200 gallons of sap. But since then I haven't boiled until today," Bureau said Sunday. "So for three weeks my taps sat idle."
This year is Bureau's 23rd sugaring season and he has seen good years and bad alike. In 1999, his best year, Bureau made 100 gallons of light amber syrup in February alone.
"I'll be lucky to make five gallons this February," he said. Not only has the sluggish start cost Connecticut sugarhouses in terms of the overall quantity of syrup, but it could also affect what type of syrup they are able to produce this year.
Generally, Bureau said, early season sap produces grade A light amber syrup, which has a subtle taste of butter and vanilla. Sap collected later in the season typically produces darker grade B syrup.
"As we get further on towards April, the sap has less sugar in it," Harran said. "At the beginning of the year, sap can have four, five or six percent sugar. As the season goes along it diminishes down to one percent. So we have missed some of that high sugar content sap in the past three weeks."
But all hope is not yet lost. As long as nighttime temperatures continue to be just below freezing, there is always a chance that the sugaring season could be salvaged.
"The concern is that it will get warm and stay warm and it will end up being a very poor season," Bureau said. "Hopefully we will get the classic one or two weeks with ideal temperatures and we will, as they say, make a crop."
Indeed, syrup producers have gone through year's like this one before, when a bleak outlook turns into a productive season thanks to a week or two of perfect weather conditions.
"Last year's season was fantastic, the best one we've had in Connecticut in a long, long time and possibly the very best one I've ever had," Harran said. "And it didn't start running until about mid-February. We just had a good period of ideal weather in the range of 25 at night and 40s in the day."
Like any farmer, Bureau and Harran said all they can do is keep an eye on the forecasts and hope that the sap keeps running.
"Sometimes it is too warm, sometimes it is too cold. This year has been too cold," Bureau said. "When you're dealing with Mother Nature you're at her mercy."