March is prime maple-sugaring time, creating the best conditions for local producers and hobbyists to collect sap and turn it into the New England staple. This month, producers are opening the doors to their sugarhouses to give interested residents a peek at the process.
Last year, a number of producers closed their doors for the traditional Maple Weekend, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, many of those producers have returned — some with special restrictions — for a longer-spanned “Maple Month,” according to N.H. Maple Producers Association Vice President David Kemp.
Kemp said the monthly format allows farms to spread out their visitors, if they need to, while still allowing “farm-gate” sales that many small producers rely on.
“Many producers were forced to start selling online with COVID, but for many of them, [Maple Weekend] was very important and a very large part of their annual production sales. To a lot of people, it’s still a big part,” Kemp said. “And people like to be able to see the story and history associated with the product, meet the producer face to face and see the sugarhouse.”
Mark Thompson, owner of Longview Forest Products in Hancock, said the maple syrup his sugarhouse produces does indeed come with a long history. While the business has been selling maple syrup commercially for 22 years, maple sugaring on the property has been going on since the 1960s.
Thompson has carried on the business, which was started by his father-in-law, who had been making syrup since the 1980s, and was taught by his parents, who gathered sap before him. Now, he said, there are about 2,000 taps on the property.
“It’s a great way to get out there, to have some fun, and be in the woods and make some syrup,” Thompson said.
Thompson said his sugarhouse is open for tours this year, but only by appointment.
Bernadette and Ernest Todd, owners and operators of Chris-Mich 3 Farm in Antrim, said they are scaling back some of their offerings, not putting out samples or their maple donuts for tasting this year, but are carrying out daily tours. Bernadette Todd, in a recent interview, said it’s typical for them to be open daily, but they are especially promoting their weekday hours this year, to try to spread out some of the weekend crowds.
Chris-Mich 3 Farm is in its 11th year producing syrup from its 500 trees. Todd said this year so far has not been a great syrup producer.
Maple syrup needs alternating freezing and warm temperatures to encourage the sap to flow. Thompson, who uses a series of collection tubes, said the temperatures so far hadn’t been warm enough for him to start the 2021 season in earnest, but he hoped upcoming warmer forecasts would kick off sap runs.
“It’s slow, but it’s picking up. Mother Nature, what can you do?” Todd said.
A full list of sugarhouses in New Hampshire participating in Maple Month can be found at nhmapleproducers.com. Residents interested in visiting a sugarhouse are encouraged to call ahead to set an appointment or learn about COVID-19 restrictions, which may vary among producers.