Milder than usual temperatures have caused some producers to tap their trees in January, well before the traditional date of February 14th, according to Everett Sechler, President of the Somerset County Maple Syrup Producers Association. Each year, a 2- to 2-1/2"- deep hole is drilled in a new location in the sugar maple tree trunk to collect the sap that is stimulated to flow by cold nights and warm days.
Sechler said the sugar content of this year's sap is proving lower than usual in most cases, maybe because of the mild temperatures, so it's taking more sap and more boiling to make a gallon of syrup. On the other hand, instead of the extra boiling producing a darker syrup like it usually does, Sechler said it's a beautiful light color. He called last year a "sugar maker's delight" that led to a bumper crop.
Somerset County is the state's largest producer, and Pennsylvania vies with Ohio as 6th or 7th in the country. Vermont is always first, with New York second and Maine coming on strong. But Sechler thinks Canada produces about 10 times as much maple syrup as the U.S.
Sechler's family has been in the syrup business since 1850, and he termed it a labor of love and family tradition — not a venture anyone he knows can really count on to make a living.
The Pennsylvania Maple Festival takes place March 24th through April 1st in Somerset County.