MILWAUKEE – Temperatures in Wisconsin had already hit the high 60s when Gretchen Grape and her family began tapping their 850 maple trees. They had waited for the state's ceremonial tapping to kick off the maple sugaring season. It was moved up five days, but that didn't make much difference.
Maple sap drips from a tap in Calais, Vt., on Wednesday. Many maple-syrup producers in the Midwest and Northeast have had their harvests cut short by warm weather, a setback that could be hard for smaller producers to overcome.
For Grape, the typically monthlong season ended nine days later. The sap had stopped flowing in a record-setting heat wave, and the 5-quart collection bags that in a good year fill in a day were still half-empty. Instead of their usual 300 gallons of syrup, her family had about 40.
Maple syrup producers across the North have had their season cut short by unusually warm weather. While those with expensive, modern vacuum systems say they've been able to suck a decent amount of sap from their trees, producers like Grape, who still rely on traditional taps and buckets, have seen their year ruined.
"It's frustrating," said the 69-year-old retiree from Holcombe, Wis. "You put in the same amount of work, equipment, investment, and then all of a sudden, boom, you have no sap."
Here in Maine, the sap started running in mid-February - if you didn't catch that run you were SOL.
The 80 degree weather this week caused the trees to flower.
It's over - even though Maple Syrup Sunday is next week.