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NH sugarhouses welcome public for Maple Weekend

Holly Ramer, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- More than 100 of New Hampshire's sugarhouses are throwing open their doors to visitors this weekend as the farmers who turn sap to syrup said they're optimistic the sometimes-fickle weather will make for a productive season.

The New Hampshire Maple Producers association said about 120 members have signed on, but many others also are likely to welcome guests, showing them how the sap gets boiled down into sweet, delicious syrup, publicist Robyn Pearl said.

"If you see steam, feel free to stop," she said.

Farms will be serving up everything from maple-glazed doughnuts and sugar on snow to coffee brewed with sap and maple baked beans. And while cold temperatures following last week's snowstorm slowed the flow of sap in some places, several producers said Friday they were optimistic about having enough to boil during the weekend.

"We're getting ready. We'll have everything up and running," said Dean Wilber of Mapletree Farm in Concord.

Wilber, who's been in business for 38 years, collects sap from about 800 taps. This year is shaping up to be an average season, he said, unlike last year when he had his shortest season ever.

"We've made some really nice syrup," he said. "I don't think it's close to being over, but it could be, because they weather changes quickly."

Wilber said he's had guests from Massachusetts and Maine stop by during past Maple Weekends. Often, the public doesn't realize how much work and time goes into making syrup, he said.

"So many people don't understand this is not something we can turn on and off by demand. They call and say, 'We'd like to make an appointment to see you boil,'" he said.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Last year, United States maple syrup production totaled 1.9 million gallons, down 32 percent from the all-time high reached in 2011, and the lowest production since 2007. Vermont led all states with 750,000 gallons. New Hampshire produced 76,000, down from 120,000 a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Below-freezing nights followed by warm days are necessary to start the sap flowing from maple trees, a period that usually begins in late February or early March. But those conditions arrived early in many parts of New England last year, and a series of heat waves in March brought an abrupt halt to the season.

At Bolduc Sugar House in Gilford, Ernest Bolduc said Friday that he wasn't able to collect enough sap during this week's cold weather to boil on Saturday but was hopeful that the sap would run well enough Friday to allow for boiling on Sunday. But overall, the season is better than last year, he said.

"So far, it's been real, real good," he said. "It started to flow a little bit yesterday, but it has been so cold, the trees take a while to thaw out and by then the sun was setting."