It has been a very interesting start to the 2015 maple season. We traditionally open our sap house doors on the weekends during the months of February, March, and April so that people can fill their bellies and watch maple syrup being made. February through April are considered the typical maple months in New York State. However, this year, February was a complete bust. With record cold temperatures and never-ending snowstorms, there was just no way that the sap was going to run. And now, with such a deep freeze in the ground, each of our sap runs have been slow. We have yet to really see the trees "open up" and let the sap pour out. However, we've still seen a lot of sap in the last two weeks so we've been able to make plenty of that sweet syrup.
The sap that is collected from the maple trees is mostly water. On average it has a sugar content of just over 2%. It is this sugar that is crucial for the production of maple syrup. In our first week of the 2015 season we found that the sap we were gathering had a very low sugar content. It was rare that what we collected actually hit that 2% mark; actually, we were getting several samples below 1.5%! This means that it takes a lot more than the average of 40 gallons of sap to produce that one gallon of maple syrup. Fortunately, this week has seen a drastic change. My husband was like a little kid on Christmas morning when he reported to me on Tuesday that he had gathered a tank of sap that tested at 3%! He was basically skipping around the sap house on such a high from his findings! My Dad came back a little while later in an equally euphoric state with similar findings from another woodlot. And this was just the beginning of what turned out to be a sweet week in the sap house! In fact, it was this sweetness that prompted my April Fool's prank this year. Maya and I emptied one of the sap buckets on the old maple tree in front of the sap house and dumped a liter of Sprite into the bucket. We excitedly told everyone to taste how sweet the sap from that tree was today, and laughed as they all took a big gulp and then looked at us in confusion. A very successful prank!
Unfortunately, our week did have a sour start, and I found myself grateful to have the sweet distraction of maple season to keep me busy. Many of you are aware that on top of our involvement in the maple industry, we also have a dairy farm. Our 30 milking cows are like an extension of our family. We have a deep love for our beautiful Jersey cows, and enjoy working with these hard-working ladies. Sadly, I lost my cow Cindy on Sunday to an illness that hit her fast and hard. To say that I'm heartbroken is an understatement. Before I had my human babies (Maya, 4, and Kaden, 4 months), before I had my dog baby (Barley, 6 years), and even before I met my husband (Tim, 8 years), I had Cindy. Right from the day she was born, she became a fast favorite. Cindy was just shy of her ninth birthday and was big, beautiful, and very affectionate. I was fortunate to travel around the country showing Longview Signature Cindy, both as a heifer and as a young cow. We had a very memorable history together, but what really hurt the most at losing her is that she still had a great future ahead of her. She was such a strong, powerful cow who never showed any signs of stopping. One of those "pets" that you expect to live forever. I planned to get Cindy back out on the show circuit again this year to see what she could do as an aged cow, and I also looked forward to meeting her future calves. She was one of those cows who did it all - she had extremely high production, produced outstanding offspring, and looked perfect doing it! For those of you familiar with the dairy industry, you just couldn't ask for a much better cow. So, at 8:00 last Saturday night, knowing that this illness had really hit Cindy hard, I did what any normal 30-something year old lady would do. I drove up to the farm and curled up next to Cindy in her stall, and cried (or maybe sobbed would be a better word). I clung to the hope that some good old-fashioned TLC and my comforting words might give her the rest of the strength she needed to fight. I just wasn't ready to say good-bye to a cow I thought would be around for at least five more years.
The farming industry is one that has highs and lows like no other. This was a perfect week to demonstrate those ups and downs that we go through on a regular basis. Having an efficient week in the sap house lifted everyone's spirits after a tough start to the week, and that give-and-take cycle that is a part of agriculture will continue to be what drives us forward. Who knows what next week will bring?!?
Cindy and I in Louisville, KY in 2007.