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Maple Syrup-Making: “Weather is Everything”

Maple Syrup-Making: “Weather is Everything” March 12, 2024
Jeff Mahler and Tyler Bean of Mud Street Maple
Jeff Mahler and Tyler Bean of Mud Street Maple

New York’s maple syrup production has grown by 50 percent in the last two decades. The state’s sugar bushes yield higher volumes of syrup than in the past and more people have entered the field.

Among them: Jeff and Robin Mahler, owners of Mud Street Maple in Thurman, who began hanging buckets on roughly 600 trees a decade ago.

This year, Jeff and co-worker Tyler Bean will be found boiling sap every March weekend and throughout Maple Days, the local festival.

As every Adirondack school child knows (or once knew), “sap runs when the snow runs.” Sugaring time begins when the nights are freezing and the temperatures rise during sunny days and winter-thaws. But with this year’s warmer winter (reportedly the warmest ever measured), many producers began drawing sap from many of their trees as early as February and even January. 

“The season started early this year,” said Tyler Bean. “Temperatures were above freezing for a few days in February and the sap was coming in like crazy. We’ve boiled a few times already.”

Even at 1,600 feet above sea level, Mud Street Maple’s woods received less snow this year than in years past, and according to some researchers, the loss of snow and layers of frost may determine how much syrup local producers are able to make this season.

“I think that affects how much sap is up in the tree,” said Bean. “But it’s hard to know precisely how it will affect us because there are so many factors at play.”

“As long as you get the right weather when it’s time to make maple syrup, then the sap will run,” said Jeff Mahler.

Mahler, a chef in the summers, began tapping trees and making maple syrup as a hobby.

“I’d like this to become a full-time job,” said Mahler. “It’s all I want to do with my time.”

Mud Street Maple sells all the syrup that it can produce to restaurants and through markets, an online outlet and its own store. It is best known for its flavorful, darker varieties, which retail for $60 per gallon.

Any profits are put back into the operation, which could expand with access to more woodlots.

“We don’t have any problem selling syrup,” said Mahler. According to statistician for USDA’s National Agricultural Service (NASS), New York’s maple syrup production hit a 75-year record in 2019, with 820,000 gallons.

“2019 was a good year, 2020 and 2021 were good years, but 2022 was a great year,” said Mahler.

On average, the US season lasted 34 days in 2022, compared with 27 days in 2021.

“Weather is everything, and we had great weather in 2022, just the right amount of cold nights and warm days. Our first boil was February 23 and our last was in mid-April. We boiled 17 times and produced 600 gallons that year,” said Mahler.

On Sunday, March 3, temperatures climbed into the 50s, prompting Mahler and Bean to contemplate boiling that afternoon.

Where the snow lies deeper on north-sloping hills, the woods will remain colder longer, but, Mahler hopes, not for too long.

“We need the sun to wake the trees up,” said Mahler.

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