Southwestern Ontario syrup season flowing after delayed sap run

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On a small woodlot, a spring tradition older than Ontario itself is finally warming up.

The spring harvest of maple syrup goes as far back as the indigenous peoples of North America, who began the process of tapping the sweet sap of hard maple trees, like the sugar maple, to make sugar.

While Southwestern Ontario isn’t as famous as Quebec and the U.S. northeast for maple syrup, the sweet stuff is still a tradition for many producers like the McLachlan family, whose family woodlot near Lobo has been harvested for at least the past three generations.

Another producer, the Robson clan near Ilderton, has worked their woodlots for only 40 years but considerably grown their output over that time.

Starting with 25 trees and an old iron kettle, the Robsons now tap 15,000 trees and string them together with eight to ten miles of main line, which collects the sap and is connected to a vacuum pump.

All the trees are tapped with one to three spigots.

A thin blue hose runs downhill from each tree to the main line.

“I would hate to think of how many hundreds of thousands of feet of the little blue line” runs through their various sugar bushes, said Jamie Robson, one of three brothers involved.

Robson said they’re late this year starting to tap trees because of the extremely cold winter that recently enveloped Southwestern Ontario.

“The syrup season is just delayed — it’s not lost,” he said.

“It’s like last year: We didn’t make anything till mid-March and we finished about as late as we ever have. We boiled our first (batch of sap) on March 15th and didn’t finish till April 11th, the last boil — that’s about two weeks behind normal.”

While maple sap can run for several weeks, “generally you make 80% of your syrup in 5 to 6 days of the year,” Robson said.

Those sweet spots on the calendar bring the conditions to make sap flow the best.

“We need that rapid freezing and thawing cycle, -5C at night and +5C in the day, high pressure, sunlight, no wind and that’s perfect,” Robson said.

Then, he started to laugh. “And the odds of getting that . . .”

Ross McLachlan, who runs McLachlan Family Maple Syrup, says he’s worried this season will be short like last year.

“We struggled tapping through the bush, and as soon as we were done tapping the warm weather came. In four days the snow was gone and in two weeks the season was over.”

​Over a season, the average harvest is about “just over a litre per tap,” said Robson, who calls that “a pretty realistic value” for Ontario.

“We spend more time and energy for our return (in maple syrup) than anything else we do farming, but we like it,” he said.

— With files by Chatham Daily News, Sarnia Observer, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, St. Thomas Times-Journal, Stratford Beacon Herald

mike.hensen@sunmedia.ca

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SOME REGIONAL SUGAR BUSHES

LONDON AREA

Rolling Ridge Maple Products

Where: 22681 Vanneck Rd., Ilderton

Opens: March 7

Web: rollingridgemapleproducts.ca

Phone: 519 666-3257

McLachlan Family Maple Syrup

Where: 10279 Lamont Dr., Komoka

Web: mclachlansyrup.ca

Phone: 519 666-2957

ELGIN COUNTY

Palmer’s Maple Syrup

Where: 34308 Lake Line, west of Port Stanley

Phone: 519 769-0007

Springwater Maple Syrup Festival

Where: Springwater Conservation Area, 8079 Springwater Road south of Orwell

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in March; also open same hours during March Break

Web: www.catfishcreek.ca;

Phone: 519-773-9037

CHATHAM-KENT

Giffin’s Maple Syrup Products

Where: 18862 Communications Rd. S., near Blenheim

Phone: 519-676-3448

Wortner’s Maple Syrup

Where: 29944 Zone Rd. 7, Bothwell

Phone: 519 695-3619

E-mail: sglades@hotmail.com

LAMBTON COUNTY

Ryan’s Sweet Maple

Where: 8354 Rawlings Rd., Lambton Shores

Web: sweetmaple.ca

Phone: 519 786-4729

Williamson Farms

Where: 7739 Lakeshore Rd., Lambton Shores

Web: williamsonfarms.ca

Phone: 519 243-2961

PERTH COUNTY

McCully’s Hill Farm

Where: 4074 Perth Line, St. Marys

Web: mccullys.ca

Phone: 519 284-2564

Hoover’s Maple Syrup

Where: 5896 Line 78, Atwood

Web: hooversmaplesyrup.com

Phone: 519 356-2132

OXFORD COUNTY

Jakeman’s Maple Products

Where: 454414 Trillium Line, Beachville

Web: themaplestore.com

Phone: 519 539-1366

Howard’s Maple Syrup

Where: 455241 45th Line, Woodstock

E-mail: dkhoward@xplornet.ca

Phone: 519 475-6752

 

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