Full Steam Ahead for Local Sugar Makers

ORLEANS COUNTY – The sugaring season is off to an early start this year with the unseasonably warm weather. The boiling is going strong, but how the season will turn out is a mystery, completely dependent on Mother Nature. Temperatures are forecasted to be well into the 50s in the days ahead, and this concerns producers.“We’re at the mercy of the weather but off to a good start,” said Carolyn Collins.Collins, along with her husband Howard (Tom) Collins, operates a sugar bush in Newport Center. Their son Shaye Collins also has a sugar bush and a sugar house, and together they have 11,000 taps.Sugaring in the Collins family dates back to the 1800s, Carolyn Collins said in an interview Tuesday. She recalls as a child riding along on the gathering tank behind the horses while sugaring the old fashion way with buckets. Now the Collins family has a sophisticated modern method of sugaring that includes tubing, a vacuum, and reverse osmosis.The Collins family tapped maples in February and hopes the warm weather doesn’t create a short season. Once the buds appear on the trees, that’s it, Carolyn said. Jacques Couture, of Couture’s Maple Shop in Westfield, said he can offer more comments about the season later on. The Couture’s are gearing up for the Open House Weekend March 24 and 25, a long-time event in which people from all over tour local sugar houses, view tubing and possibly buckets, and watch as the sap is turned into liquid gold Shaye Collins will also open his doors for the event. His sugar house is located on Wright Road, off the Collins Mill Road in Newport Center.Butch Currier of Glover built a sugar house in 1992 and began sugaring in 1993. His business is called Currier Family Sugar Shack. Currently he has 3,200 taps. This year is the second year he started boiling in February. Last year he began boiling in mid-March but the season proved to be the best he'd ever had. “It seemed like it was never going to end.”Currier, like others, says the season is off to a good start but he is concerned with the forecast. Nighttime temperatures are not predicted to go below 32 degrees. Sugar producers need warmer days with below freezing temperatures at night, he explained. “It’s all dependent on the weather."Although Currier is not participating in the open house weekend, he regularly participates in public outreach. A group of school children are planning a field trip to his sugar house today and he always donates syrup to the school. “I don’t want the kids growing up on Aunt Jemima,” he said.While many producers are concerned about the forecast, many others warn that the real threat to the industry is the Asian long horned beetle. This non-native pest easily moves around the region on infested firewood and can kill mature maple trees, explained Caitlin Cusack with the University of Vermont Extension Service. An infestation of these pests was discovered in Worcester, MA, area in 2008. It is the largest outbreak so far in the United States, Cusack said.Once an infestation occurs, the main method for stopping the Asian long horned beetle’s spread is to cut down all the infested and host trees within a 1.5 mile radius of the infested tree, she said. “Early detection is the key to keeping Vermont’s forests free of the Asian long horned beetle and other exotic pests,” says Cusack. “Because people don’t realize that moving firewood can spread this tree-killing beetle, more of these infestations may be discovered in other cities and towns across New England,” added Leigh Greenwood with The Nature Conservancy.If you think you may have an Asian long horned beetle, report it at http://www.vtinvasives.org/tree-pests/report-it.