The Herald of Randolph – March 20, 2008:
Despite Snow And Squirrels, Sugaring Season Underway
By Martha Slater
During a late-night boil at the Silloway family sugarhouse on Boudro Road in Randolph Center, Paul and Marilyn Lambert, along with John Silloway, stoke the fire. As of St. Patrick's Day, the Silloways had boiled off 125 gallons of maple syrup. (Herald / Tim Calabro)
David Silloway of Randolph Center is not a big fan of squirrels right now. In fact, he recently visited the Herald office to place an ad in the classifieds: "Wanted: Squirrel hunters."
What does he have against these small, furry creatures?
Silloway, who has been making maple syrup since 1950, when he was five years old, now has a large sugarbush operation, half on Silloway Road and half on Boudro Road. All 2,200 taps are on plastic pipeline, half vacuum fed and half gravity fed, and it’s the fact that the squirrels love to chew holes in that plastic pipeline that has caused him to want to eradicate them from his property.
During a winter with heavy snow, the squirrels have a harder time finding food, and being small and light, they can walk on top of the deep snow. This puts them at just the right height to cause big headaches for sugarmakers.
"Squirrel trouble comes and goes in cycles," Silloway observed, "and every 10-15 years is a bad year for extensive squirrel damage."
So, what’s the attraction?
"Well, originally, we washed out the lines with a solution that had salt in it and I’m sure they liked the taste of that," Silloway said, "but they’ve also chewed lines. Sometimes they also steal the spouts, which maybe they think are nuts!" He noted that other animals, like deer, also like to munch on the tubing, and woodpeckers "like to drill holes in it the size of a pencil in diameter."
Due to the heavy snow, Silloway said, "It took us an extra day or two to get our lines dug out of several layers of crust, but because we did the tapping on snowshoes, it took us only about the normal two days to tap."
Silloway’s crew includes three fulltime and seven part-time family members. He and his wife, Lynn Gately, sell about one third of their crop wholesale, and the other two thirds retail from their home. He tapped about March 1, and when he talked with The Herald on St. Patrick’s Day, had made 125 gallons, mostly fancy.
"I’m guessing that the deep snow will help the quality of the syrup," Silloway said. "Snow on the ground at this time of year keeps the air temperature cool and makes for lighter syrup."
While Jeff Vinton of West Braintree said he hasn’t had a lot of trouble with squirrels and woodpeckers, he said he agreed with Silloway that "the grade of syrup you get is dependent on having cold weather, a decent snow pack during the winter and good sugaring conditions in the spring. That’s what makes light syrup."
The westernmost sugarmaker in Orange County, Vinton has all 4,800 taps on his 100 acres of sugarbush on vacuum pipeline.
"I’ve been sugaring all my life, except for from 1992-2002, then I restarted with brand new equipment," Vinton explained. "Sugaring provides most of my income."
Vinton has a maple gift shop at his sugarhouse on Rte 12A, and also goes to farmers markets and craft shows to sell syrup, maple candy, maple cream, Indian (granulated) maple sugar, and maple covered walnuts. He also noted that his girlfriend, Nancy Davoll, "makes wonderful maple covered doughnuts to sell."
Vinton has help from his grown son Anthony, who has a cattle hoof trimming business, but also does all of the boiling and helps check pipeline; and a couple of other adult helpers whom he hires. When he talked with the Herald from his sugarhouse where he was boiling Monday night, he had made over 450 gallons, all fancy.
Mice in Rochester
Over in Rochester’s North Hollow, Harold Hubbard reported that he hasn’t had "any more squirrel trouble than usual. It’s not too bad normally, but I have had problems where the lines have gotten knocked down into the snow and it looks like mice have been chewing on them. About two or three years ago, coyotes dug up and chewed some of the line!"
Hubbard noted that, "We put the lines up pretty high, but in a few places whole trees or large tree limbs have come down and pulled down the lines. The snow has been pretty deep this year, but after the rain this past weekend, there was a strong enough crust to walk pretty much anywhere. Prior to that, we’d use snowshoes in the afternoon, but didn’t always need them in the morning because it was usually crusty enough for awhile."
Hubbard and his sugaring crew, which includes his two teenage sons and two other helpers, boiled for the first time Saturday, March 15, and also boiled on Sunday. He said he hoped to boil again Tuesday, and as of Monday, had made about 30 gallons, all fancy.
Lots of Digging
Barnard sugarmaker Ralph Ward was busy boiling when the Herald called, but his wife Jeanne reported that, like Silloway, her husband has also had to contend with lines damaged by the squirrels.
"It’s been very hard going for the crew this year, digging around the trees to excavate the lines," Jeanne said. "A lot of trees came down and damaged the lines and that has also made it hard to get around. They’re just exhausted when they get home!"
She added that they feel lucky that they use wood to fire their arch, "because oil is very expensive this year."
The Ward sugaring crew includes Ralph’s adult sons Jason and Justin, and their friend, Jim Snelling, as well as Ralph’s brother, Ted. The sugarhouse is located on Route 12 south in Barnard. If you’re heading for Silver Lake, it’s about three miles from the Locust Creek Store, on the left.
Although they didn’t all report the same degree of problems with the heavy snows and those pesky squirrels, these area sugarmakers all share a love of this annual rite of spring in the Vermont woods.