Slow syrup flow reflects severe winter

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Nick Crow
Saturday, March 8, 2014

BELOIT — Last year unseasonably warm temperatures in the area took a toll on local syrup production. This year production could be affected for the opposite reason, according to Lena Verkuilen, director of the Welty Environmental Center.

"Typically we begin to extract sap the last week of February," Verkuilen said. "This year we put them in Thursday. The frost is so deep it's taking it a long while to thaw in the tree. It's definitely different than average this year."

Verkuilen said that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The process involves drilling holes into the tree and collecting the sap as it moves up the tree to its limbs, she said. The process of sap moving creates buds for the tree as it blooms when the weather warms.

"Little sap equals little syrup," Verkuilen said. "The sap consists of 98 percent water so if the frost is deep it takes longer to thaw out throughout the tree. The clock is pretty much ticking. As soon as leaves come out the sap turns from sweet to bitter."

Verkuilen said that there is only a three-week window each year in which the sap is sweet. It only flows when the temperature is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day, she said.

She said she has been collecting the sap for four years now and has never seen weather this bad. She  hopes the Welty Environmental Center will be able to collect enough sap to make syrup for its Sugar Festival March 29. If not, syrup will have to be purchased from an outside source.

"This is beyond the norm," Verkuilen said. "The fact we've had super cold, lots of snow and it never melted. Usually it is cold or snowy. This year we had both."

Verkuilen isn't wrong.

Janesville set the record this year for the most days with a high temperature below freezing with 82 as of Friday. That number could still rise as the area pries itself out of winter's grip.

This winter ranked second overall in Janesville for the most snowfalls of one inch or more with 22 and ranked fourth for total snowfall with 60.2 inches. Again, these numbers could go up as spring gradually arrives.

The National Weather Service is predicting highs in the 40s for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before again dipping into the low 20s Tuesday night and low 30s for a high Wednesday before rising into the 40s again next Thursday and Friday.

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