In the snowy woods of Newburgh, sap flowed from the maple trees on Sunday at Nutkin Knoll Farm and Sugarworks. With the sun shining bright and the temperatures in the 40s, the operation was in full swing for Maine Maple Sunday.
“You look forward to this all year, and you just cross your fingers for decent weather,” said Len Price, who owns the farm with his wife, Nancy. “It’s amazing how often it works out really well. And even in really bad weather, tons of people come.”
Maine Maple Sunday is an annual statewide event where dozens of sugarhouses throughout the state open their doors to the public. Each year, participating locations are listed on an online map created by the Maine Maple Producers Association.
“Some people make a day of it and go from sugarhouse to sugarhouse,” said Josh Knipping, owner of Back Ridge Sugar House in Winterport, a maple sugar producer that was also open for both days of Maine Maple Weekend. “We usually do about 90-95 percent of our sales for the season on this weekend.”
In Maine, maple sugaring season traditionally begins in mid- to late February, when producers tap their trees. They then wait for the sap to flow, which depends on temperature. In general, sap flows best when the trees freeze at night and thaw during the day.
This year, the low temperatures in early March have put Maine sugarhouses behind, Knipping said. But he was optimistic on Maine Maple Sunday, when sap was flowing from his roughly 700 taps in Winterport.
“This is only our fourth boil of the season,” Knipping said. “The weather has played a lot into it, but I think with warmer temperatures coming, we’re going to be alright.”
About 2,000 people visit the Newburgh farm each year on Maine Maple Sunday and the Saturday before, Price said. It’s the farm’s biggest weekend for selling maple products, hands down.
For the event, the farm — which also grows and sell Christmas trees — offers tours of its sugaring operation and sells a variety of maple products, including maple cotton candy, maple-topped ice cream and, of course, maple syrup on pancakes.
“It’s a great time of year to be out,” said Nancy Price. “A lot of people complain about being tired of winter, but I love this time of year.”
In the sugarhouse on Sunday, Nancy and Len Price took turns educating visitors about the process of boiling down the sap to create syrup using a reverse osmosis system and a wood-heated evaporator. For every 40 gallons of sap, they create 1 gallon of syrup — a fact that baffled many.
From there, visitors could take a short walk to a grove of tapped maple trees, where sap flowed through long straight tubes into a holding tank.
“It’s interesting to see how this all works,” said Alexandria Poulin of Hampden as she held her 2-year-old son, Thorin, up so he could touch one of the many tubes strung between the trees. The toddler grinned as he felt the vibration of the sap flowing through the line.