By Stephanie Choate
Like a flock of baby birds, Williston kindergarteners clustered around the trunk of a freshly tapped maple at Sugartree Maple Farm Monday, letting the sap drip onto their outstretched fingers for a taste of the sweet liquid.
A chorus of exclamations rang out from the tightly knit group—“It’s sweet!” “I like sap!”—before the children ran off to examine the next bucket, slowly filling with sap in the early spring sun.
The Allen Brook School students visiting Mark and Amy Yandow’s Williston sugarhouse were not the only ones to check out one of Vermont’s most cherished industries.
Thousands of Vermonters and visitors to the state stopped by dozens of participating sugarhouses during the 12th annual Vermont Maple Open House Weekend.
Mark Yandow estimated that 1,000 people came by his sugarhouse over the weekend, sampling sugar on snow and snapping up syrup and maple treats.
Britnee Glass and Matt Wanderlich tasted sticky-sweet sugar on snow outside the sugarhouse Sunday.
It was Glass’s first taste of the confection, as well as her first visit to a Vermont sugarhouse. Wanderlich, a Vermonter, said he hasn’t been to a sugarhouse since he was young.
“It’s awesome,” Glass said. “It’s like taffy. It’s really sweet, but it’s good.”
Glass said she loved the idea of an open house.
“I think it’s great for someone like me who grew up in Washington, D.C. and has never been exposed to how it works,” she said. “Vermonters love their maple syrup. I’m always pleasantly surprised by all the different things they do with it.”
Amy Marks and her 8-year-old son, Jack, stopped by to see the sugarhouse and taste the sugar on snow—though Jack was more interested in a large bag of fluffy maple cotton candy, which he pronounced “really good.”
Marks said she loves the idea of opening up sugarhouses to the public.
“It’s great for Vermont,” said the Shelburne resident. “It brings people here and brings everyone together and it’s fun for kids.”
After a somewhat slow start to the season, Williston syrup makers are hoping the recent string of perfect sugaring weather—sunny days in the mid-40s and cold nights in the mid-20s—will hold.
Mike Isham of Isham’s Family Farm said he’s made about 25 percent of what he expected for this time of year, though he said the syrup’s flavor has been good and its sugar content is high.
The last few days have been good for sugaring, and he’s hoping the sap run will pick up over the next two weeks, he said. He’s also hoping for a bit of precipitation—ideally a blanket of snow, which would keep the ground cold and prolong the season.
“We need some moisture … a good snowstorm would be nice,” he said. “We like what the skiers like.”
Ann Comeau, who runs the Comeau Family Sugarhouse in Williston with her husband, Bernie, also has an eye on the forecast.
“We’re hoping it doesn’t get too warm too soon,” Comeau said. “My husband always says messy weather is good for sugaring.”
Comeau said their season has been great so far—much better than last year’s season, which ended abruptly.
This year, the Comeaus took advantage of new technology—taps with a small plastic ball that stops sap from flowing back into the tap hole, sending a signal to the tree to heal the hole and eventually stopping the sap from flowing. The new taps allowed the Comeaus to tap their trees in the beginning of January, extending their sugaring season. So far, they’ve made about 800 gallons.
Mark Yandow—standing in his sugarhouse Monday, as maple-scented steam from boiling sap filled the air—said he’d made 292 gallons so far, and estimated he’d make another 80 to 90 gallons that day.
“Every season is different,” he said. “The next two weeks is where the bulk of our syrup is going to be made.”
Yandow said he thinks the season could go well into April this year.
Once the ground thaws and buds begin to come out, the sugaring will stop.
“Once the worms come out on the dirt roads, it means the frost is gone and the season is done,” Isham said.