While many of us have been enjoying the mild winter, it has some food producers double checking the calendar. For instance, March is usually prime season for boiling the sap from maple trees down into syrup. But at the farm Nathan Goodell’s family has worked for seven generations in northeastern Ohio, record-high winter temperatures have pushed everything way ahead of schedule.
“We finished tapping our trees the very beginning of February and made our first syrup on the seventh of February, which is the earliest we’ve ever boiled syrup,” Goodell says.
In fact, they’re already winding down work at the sugar shack. “This year, we’re going to finish about as early as we ever have.”
Orchards are also off their regular growing season. Plum and apricot trees are about a month ahead of schedule and already close to blooming, according to central Ohio grower Ralph Hugus. He expects to lose those crops if the region gets another hard frost.
Rich Marini, a fruit tree specialist at Penn State University, says if temperatures dip below about 28 degrees, fruit trees that have flowered could be in trouble. “If we get a frost when they’re in bloom, it kills the flower,” Marini says. “The flower contains the developing fruit.”
But Marini says apples and peaches — Pennsylvania’s major fruit crops — haven’t soaked in too much sunshine yet. He says apple trees, for example, have been blooming earlier over the past 25 years, though this year looks to be ahead of schedule even by recent standards. Still, apples might be able to delay budding until spring really arrives.
“Don’t give up hope yet,” Marini says. “Right now I’m assuming we’re going to get a crop. We’ll see. You just never know. I like the warm weather. But for the trees, I’d like it to stay in the 40s in March, or even the low-50s to delay blooms if we could.”
Back at Nathan Goodell’s farm, maple syrup production looks to be a little short of an average season. His farm is a stop on an annual March “Maple Madness Tour,” but visitors won’t be seeing the sugar shack in full swing this year. Instead Goodell’s visitors will have to be content working their way through a stack of pancakes.