Franklin County, North Quabbin sugarers optimistic for high yields this season


Staff Writer

Published: 02-27-2023 4:47 PM

While the temperature’s ups and downs might be puzzling this winter, local maple syrup producers are reluctant to question a good thing. For them, after all, the weather has been perfect.

“We’re getting really good runs,” said Howard Boyden, owner of Conway’s Boyden Brothers Maple and president of the North American Maple Syrup Council. “It looks good. I’m very optimistic.”

Updated data from the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows the region on pace for one of its warmest winters ever after recording the warmest January on record for Massachusetts last month. At the same time, though, 2023 has had its share of frigid nights. This literal night-and-day change in temperature has been overwhelmingly relished by sugarhouse workers across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, who have observed their taps flowing with bountiful syrup.

“What the sugarmaker is waiting for is the arrival of the time of year known as ‘sugar weather,’ when the nights are below freezing and the days are mild,” the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association’s website explains. “This is the type of weather that makes the sap flow.”

Producers, many of whom are aiming for larger-than-usual yields this sugaring season, said their prospects have been helped by having been able to start tapping early. According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, the season typically begins as winter comes to an end, usually in late February or early March. This year, producers often started tapping in early to mid-February, sparking optimism that the season could last longer than the usual four to six weeks.

“This is why everybody watches the weather,” Tom LeRay, owner of Royalston’s Sweet Water Sugar House, said of the sugaring community. “Things are looking kind of good, but you never know with Mother Nature.”

Pure maple syrup is made by concentrating — and then boiling — the slightly sweet sap of sugar maple trees. According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, raw maple sap is approximately 98% water and 2% sugar, but once converted to syrup, it is just 33% water and 67% sugar. Aside from merely amassing large yields this winter, most syrup producers have reported collecting high-end, lightly colored sap with relatively high sugar content.

“The quality of the syrup this year has been very good,” said Jacquie Boyden, who packages and markets for Dan’s Veggies and Poplar Mountain Maple in Erving. “We made a lot of light [syrup]. We used to call it ‘fancy.’”

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“It’s all been delicious right from the beginning, and for me, it’s all been the lighter syrup,” added Doug White, owner of White’s Maple Syrup in Charlemont.

Syrup producers said that even with this year’s sap having a high concentration of sugar, consumers won’t notice much of a difference in taste. The benefits are primarily for the producers, who need less time to process the lighter, sweeter sap than more “amber” sap. With more sugar in the sap, less water must be evaporated to make syrup.

“If the sugar content drops out of it, you might as well stop the taps once it drops below 1% because all you’re doing is burning up next year’s wood,” said Gary Billings, who runs Ripley Farm in Montague.

“Mother Nature gave us quite a break,” said Howard Boyden, noting that last year’s 56-1 sap-to-syrup ratio has been condensed to 44-1 this year.

Syrup producers collectively projected that this year’s yield will meet expectations, if not exceed them. Dan’s Veggies and Poplar Mountain Maple, which began the season’s sugaring on Feb. 13, has already produced 40 gallons of syrup, whereas in the past, an entire season’s yield would hover between 50 and 60 gallons.

Locals looking for a taste of this year’s syrup shouldn’t have a tough time getting their hands on some. Many sugar houses, including White’s Maple Syrup, Sweet Water Sugar House and Boyden Brothers Maple, forgo regular hours and allow people to stop by whenever is convenient for them to buy syrup.

Others are formally opening their restaurant space for the season, such as Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant in Shelburne and Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield. Davenport opens for the season Feb. 25, with hours on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through April 2. Williams Farm will open on March 4, with hours on Saturdays and Sundays from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or