By Jeanne Sager
LONG EDDY March 15, 2002 Theres only one certainty in maple season there are no certainties.
Thats what the Andersen family of Long Eddy has discovered, and they should know.
After all, the Andersens have one of the few remaining maple farms in the area, and the third generation is now tapping the trees each year.
With the unpredictable weather this year, the Andersens had to begin tapping in late February more than a week earlier than they usually do.
Its been an unusual year, said Irene Andersen, who owns the farm along with husband August and son Peter and his wife, Patti. We were afraid we wouldnt even have a sap season.
Andersen led children from the Delaware Valley campus of the Sullivan West school district around during a recent field trip, explaining that the farm depends on the weather to produce the syrup and maple candy that have made them a household name in the Catskills.
Weather is the determining factor in what we get, Andersen explained.
The Andersens started tapping the maple trees in February. This was one of the few years the family has ever gone out and put taps in on 250 acres of their 1,000-acre farm while the ground was bare.
And theyve been tapping maple trees since Augusts late father, August Andersen, purchased their Long Eddy farm in 1936.
We started making syrup in the 1940s, around World War II, August Andersen recalled. At that time, sugar was hard to come by.
Then, most local farms, even those who dedicated most of the year to dairy farming, had their own maple trees.
Many tapped for sap to feed their own families.
At that time of year, there wasnt much else to do, Andersen explained. They had the rest of the day to do this.
Over the years, the sap business began to die out. Families were spending too much of their time trying to retail their product and found they had to focus on their cows.
The Andersens are one of the few remaining in the area. A caterpillar infestation in the 1980s killed thousands of acres of maple trees in the area, August said, further debilitating the industry.
But the Andersens are forging ahead, even working with the weather.
In most years, the season begins sometime in the first week of March, with anywhere from six inches to four feet of snow on the ground.
We like to be ready and set up to go by the first of March, August explained. Usually sometime in the first week of March we begin boiling the sap.
The family sells their products at local supermarkets and farmers markets throughout the year, but it takes a lot of work to make just one gallon of syrup.
Forty gallons of sap needs to be culled from the maple trees trunks to make a gallon of syrup.
The family inserts taps in trees scattered across the property. Only trees that are at least nine inches in diameter may be tapped, and the trees cant be overtapped because the farmers run the risk of killing them.
According to August Andersen, the maple season depends upon the temperature dropping to around freezing during the night and rising during the day so the sap will run.
This is really a gamble, Irene Andersen noted. You dont know what youre going to get.
If you dont get the weather, then the sap doesnt come, August added.
When the weather is right, the sap runs through the taps down pipes and into bulk tanks for storage down by the Andersens sap house.
The family then runs the sap through a reverse osmosis machine to draw out all the water.
The machine, August explained, was developed for countries where there is a dearth of water. Seawater can be run through the machines, drawing out the salt. People then throw out the salt and use the clean water.
Maple farmers use the reverse osmosis process to draw the sugar out of the water in the sap. They throw out the water and keep the sugar, which is then boiled to get rid of any other impurities.
The Andersens continue tapping trees for as long as they can.
In a normal year, August noted, the sap usually runs from the beginning of March through the middle of April.
In the last couple of years, though, he said, its just stopped on the last day of March.
Once the trees come out of dormancy for the spring, they can no longer be tapped because the enzymes running through the sap would ruin the flavor of the maple products.
Asked when they expect to be finished with maple production for this year, August and Peter, both laughed.
Ill tell you when its over, they both said.
The only thing thats constant in the maple business is that its variable, August added.