Another sorry sap season: For second year, collection is slow for Welty center

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Temperatures this week are closer to seasonal than they were a year ago.

Unfortunately for one group of environmentalists, temperatures are erring on the wrong side of "sweet."

For the second year in a row, conditions have been poor for the Welty Environmental Center's sap collection from maple trees at Big Hill Park on Afton Road. In contrast to the record-breaking high temperatures that killed the sap run last year, below-average temperatures have limited sap collection so far, said Kelly Washburn with the Welty Center.

"This year, it's been too cold," Washburn said. "It's just the opposite problem from last year."

Average temperatures start around 43 degrees March 15 and slowly climb to 50 degrees by the end of the month, according to Gazette records.

Maple sap runs when days are warm and nights are cold, Washburn said. Typically, the maple sap collection lasts for about six weeks from late February through March, she said.

So far, daytime temperatures haven't been high enough to make sap run in any great quantity, she said. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, Washburn said. Welty volunteers tap about 20 trees with the goal of showing students how it's done as opposed to making syrup in great quantities, she said.

Welty volunteers tapped maple trees last week, but they're "just getting drips," she said. It's been barely enough for students to taste the sap from the taps, Washburn said.

As usual, student groups have been coming to learn about maple syrup production all month, she said. Volunteers have "cheated" and put plain water in the evaporator so students can see what it would look like to cook the water out of maple sap.

Volunteers have their fingers crossed that forecast temperatures in the upper 30s this weekend will get things moving in time for the center's annual Maple Syrup Festival, Washburn said.

"It's just got to be the warm sunshiny days, and the sap will run," she said. "If it warms up, we'll get sap."

On Tuesday through Thursday, temperatures will be in the low 30s and mid-20s, according to the National Weather Service forecast. The weather service predicts a high today of 36 and up to an inch of snow.

The event will go on no matter the weather, she said. The center usually gets maple syrup for the festival from a farm in northern Illinois, Washburn said. It was able to do so this year, although it was touch and go for a while, she said.

A year ago, the daily high was 80 or higher on five days between March 15 and March 22, according to Gazette records. On two other days, the daily high was in the 70s.

It was so warm during the day that it didn't get below freezing at night, Washburn said. In that case, the sap rises into the trees' leaves, she said. At that point, it gets bitter rather than sweet, she said.

Last year, sap was collected for only about a week, she said.

"It's been two bad years for maple syrup," Washburn said.

Last updated: 7:55 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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