March 04. 2014 9:52PM

Frigid weather has maple producers expecting a 'couple of weeks' delay

Union Leader Correspondent

Parker Rowe and his daughter, Meredith, check one of their 4,000 taps in the woods of Andover. The sap is too cold to run. (DAN SEUFERT PHOTO)

FRANKLIN -- Parker Rowe stands in his sugar shack, looking at his idle sap-boiling equipment, which sits below a wall with several lines of dates written on it.

Each year, Rowe uses a felt-tip pen to record the first day of maple sugaring season. The dates go back a decade or so, and are mostly from this time of year: March 3, March 8, March 5. There's even one from February.

This year, Rowe says, he'll probably be writing the date on March 20 or so.

"We're usually able to get started around town meeting time," he said. "This year we're a couple of weeks behind."

This winter's bitter, near record-breaking cold has been great for snowmaking crews and ice fishermen. But it's going on a little long for some people, including maple sugarers.

Rowe, a logger by trade, still hopes to get a normal five-week season in, but the late start this year may make it difficult. The ground is frozen and covered with lots of snow; the sap in the trees is not going to run until the temperatures rise.

Sugar shack operators around the state said they're in the same boat.

"It looks like it might be a late start," said Mike Moore of Sunnyside Maples in Loudon, who has about 3,000 taps "ready to go when the weather decides to change."

On Tuesday, Rowe stood on his acreage in Andover, about five miles from his home, where he and his family have a system of 4,000 taps that they must maintain year-round just for this time of year.

From the end of one hose, a trickle of sap was frozen into an icicle. That probably happened a few weeks ago when the temperature reached into the 40s, enough to coax a bit of sap out of the trees, he said.

But for the sap to run, it will take numerous warmer days and nights.

"We need 40-degree days and 20-degree nights, not these 10- and 20-degree days," Rowe said. "And for the season to last, we can't start running into 70-degree days and 50-degree nights."

On a windless day, the sun may feel warm on the skin, but it's not warm enough, Rowe said.

"The sap wants to run, the sun is warming things up, but everything is still frozen," Rowe said.

It's no time to panic, though.

"Actually," Moore said, "this is about the way it used to be in the old days, before we started having some of those warmer winters. This isn't that unusual."

"I guess it is more of a traditional year," Rowe agreed. "But this cold weather has to break sometime."