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With Valentine’s Day in the books, it’s unofficially syrup season

  • Patrick Colby taps a maple tree at Maple Ridge Sugar House in Loudon on Wednesday. The family owned and operated business will tap about 6,000 trees and repair miles of plumbing to prepare for the season. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • A small amount of sap is seen inside one of the lines at Maple Ridge Sugar House in Loudon on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Patrick Colby taps a maple tree at Maple Ridge Sugar House in Loudon on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. In total, the family owned and operated business will tap about 6,000 trees and repair miles of plumbing to prepare for the 2018 maple season. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • A tapped maple tree is seen at Maple Ridge Sugar House in Loudon on Wednesday. About 169,000 gallons of New Hampshire maple syrup was sold last year.



Monitor staff
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A white board on the wall at Maple Ridge Sugar House in Loudon lists the first boil dates for past seasons. The evaporator first kicked in on March 16 in 2015, then Feb. 4, 2016, and last year’s warm winter had things up and running by the end of January.

“Last year we made 187 gallons on Jan. 27 so last year was really early,” said Patrick Colby, owner of Maple Ridge Sugar House

This year is still a long way from boiling.

“There’s so many variables to maple – when to tap, when not to tap,” Colby said. “It’s still early in the season.”

Early or not, there’s still plenty of work to do. Colby and his associates were tapping trees last weekend ahead of this week’s warmer weather in preparation for the sap to flow. They’re almost done with all 6,000 taps, but for now have more pressing concerns.

“There’s still multiple days of chasing squirrel chews.”

Holes along the miles of blue tubing in the woods – usually caused by small sharp teeth – leads to wasted sap on the ground.

Colby sees frequent damage from deer and raccoons to the plastic tubing and once found a clean, smooth puncture likely caused by a stray bullet of some kind.

In addition to the repairs, Colby is upgrading some of the equipment that uses vacuum pressure to pump sap from the trees to the holding tanks and then on to the sugarhouse. Once the system is ready, lines and tanks will be flushed clean before being hooked up to the evaporator for boiling.

Even with 6,000 taps, the Maple Ridge operation is small, and Colby refers to it as “a very expensive hobby” he and his wife run in addition to their full-time jobs.

In the last few years, they have made between 1,600 and 1,900 gallons of syrup each season.

Maple syrup is a surprising small industry in New Hampshire. In 2017, total syrup value in the state was slightly less than $9 million, from the 169,000 gallons sold at about $55 a gallon. That syrup was boiled down from the sap that flowed out of roughly 550,000 taps operated by several hundred operators throughout the state, according to state agricultural data.

New Hampshire is dwarfed in this area by Vermont, which is by far the nation’s syrup leader. Vermont produced 1.98 million gallons in 2017, or about 11 times as much as the Granite State and as much as the 11 other syrup-producing states combined. Maine and New York state are the only other major producing states, at about 700,000 gallons each.

But even Vermont is dwarfed by Quebec, which dominates the world’s syrup production. That Canadian province made more than 11 million gallons of syrup in 2017, which is 60 times as much as New Hampshire.

Direct sales don’t begin to measure syrup’s economic value to New Hampshire, however. It is a major part of statewide tourism and part of the state’s image, as demonstrated by the eagerness of elected officials to be photographed in sugarhouses each year.

(Staff writer David Brooks contributed to this report.)