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First tap makes season official

Kevin Snyder, president of the local maple syrup producers association, at the first-tap ceremony Feb. 28 near Gads Hill. [Damon Maclean / The Observer]

The weather’s been too variable for the sap to be running in earnest, but the maple syrup season got its official start in this area last week with a tree-tapping ceremony near Gads Hill.

Members of the Waterloo Wellington Maple Syrup Producers Association (WWMSPA) were joined by area politicians and members of the public for the annual launch of the season, held this year at Schmidt’s Family Syrup.

The ceremony included a pancake breakfast featuring some local maple syrup for the occasion. The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival also announced that Hoover’s Maple Syrup of Atwood was the winner of the “producer of the year title” and will be the official supplier of syrup to the festival on April 4.

While more southerly parts of Ontario have seen sap runs already, the season is just ramping up in this area. At this point, it’s difficult to predict what kind of season it will be, says Fred Martin, a past WWMSPA president.

“Maple season is so dependent on the ‘now weather,’ I call it,” he said, referring to the random heavy snow the area had received a couple days before the ceremony. “What happens before the season does have a bearing on what kind of a season you’re going to have: did we have lots of moisture last year? Were the leaves a beautiful display of colour, because that indicates kind of a sugar uptake that the trees have taken in? Lastly, what kind of a winter have we had?”

Although these questions can help to predict what type of season producers will have, nature remains unpredictable, and an early thaw doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a dry season, Martin explained.

Martin served as president of the local producers’ association for some 20 years, and has seen a variety of conditions.

Yeah, I can think back to not that many years ago – 2012, we had an extremely warm front come through and our season was over in eight days. From the time we had basically tapped until it was over because it went up to like 24-25 degrees Celsius. We need that minus-five/plus-five (temperature swing) during the day, with a bit of sunshine – that causes the fluctuation,” he said of the ideal conditions.

“That year, it just  warmed up and the trees just kept producing sap. Surprisingly, we ended up with probably half to three quarters of a normal crop. Everybody was surprised because the weather was so hot that we just figured the trees would just quit as soon as they drip.”

The day of the ceremony was a reversal of the warm weather that occurred earlier in the week. A cold front overcame a large portion of southern Ontario, with cases of whiteouts and blowing snow in the minus-15 degree weather. The harsh weather stopped any sap from running.

Current WWMSPA present Kevin Snyder explained the process: “a lot of people don’t realize the tree made the sugar last summer with its leaves – it’s all stored in here. It’s just a matter of us trying to get it out into here.”

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