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The Northwoods is now a month into unusually early maple tapping season

The sugar house at Whataview Farm in Phelps.
Katie Thoresen
The sugar house at Whataview Farm in Phelps.

Bright blue tubes web between the trees that run to the little red pump house that sits in the woods on the edge of 10 acres full of maple trees at Whataview Farm in Phelps.

John Jackl opens the door to show the set up. On Monday, there was a small, slow, but steady stream. The pump pushes the sap to the sugar house at the bottom of the hill that houses Jackl’s evaporating equipment.

Inside that house, there’s multiple tanks the sap goes through to reduce the water in the sap before it’s eventually heated up and made into syrup.

The initial tub the sap drains into was sitting not even half full on Monday.

“This is just from what came yesterday afternoon/last night. It's not a lot. There's about 300 gallons in here,” said Jackl.

Over the weekend, Jackl got about half the amount of sap he was hoping for.

In a typical year, He processes roughly 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of sap that comes out between 175 and 250 gallons of maple syrup.

It remains to be seen how this season will pan out.

“I don't know how terrible it's going to be. You know, it could be a wonderful year. We could end up with lots of syrup,” said Jackle. “But then again, it could end next week, and it'll be one of the worst years we've had. You just don't know until it's over.”

Jackl started tapping his 600 maple trees the first week of February, and even then, he missed the first sap flow of the season.

“Which is weird, because generally speaking, I say, ‘You gotta be ready by St. Patrick's Day or you might miss something.’ Well, I think if you're not ready for St. Patrick's Day this year, you might miss it all,” said Jackl.

Katie Thoresen

Jackl estimates he’s been making maple syrup for 40 or so years. He recalls only one other time he had enough sap to make syrup in February and never as early as this year.

“I could have been making syrup the first week in February. That's just, it's not, that's winter. That's not spring. That’s winter. It's wrong. It's just not right,” he said.

Twenty-five degrees at night and sunny, quiet, and in the upper 40s during the day are the ideal conditions to get a good sap flow according to Jackl.

He’s noticed those days have been coming earlier in the season over the years.

“When I first started doing this, you could think about going out and certainly get ready around St. Patrick's Day,” said Jackl. “But now, like I say, you got to be ready by then. Now with this [year], I hope it's an anomaly. I don't know how we're going to go on from here; if this is going to be the norm or is this just a fluke?”

Jackl admits there is at least one nice part about this year, not having to trudge through a foot of snow to tap all of his trees.

“In a normal year when the snow is this deep,” Jackl said gesturing to his knee, “for an old guy, it’s a chore. Especially on the hillsides, it's just not that much fun.”

Fun is a large part of why Jackl keeps making maple syrup. While the season has been changing, it’s still a time of year Jackl looks forward to.

“It just started as a fun thing to do. It turned into kind of a job, but I still like doing it. It gets you out at that time of the year in the spring when you get tired of winter and when you first start this up, you start smelling that fresh new sap, new syrup. It's just a good feeling, and it tastes good too. Who doesn't like sugar?” said Jackl.

Jackl sells the maple syrup he makes at Whataveiw Farm and at some farmer’s markets.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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