The snow may still lay deep here in the Lakes Region, but the maple sap is flowing, and the time for “sugaring off” has begun. For the next six weeks, the “sugar men” will work night and day to harvest “liquid gold” from the trees. To Steve and Carol, and all who live in northern New England, this is one of the true signs of spring. In the old days, maple sugar farmers headed to the woods with teams of horses, and the sap was collected in buckets. With thousands of trees being tapped, this was back-breaking work. Today, most large-scale sugar maple farms are networked into pipelines, with each tree’s taps connected into one overall system. Farmers then use a vacuum method to collect the sap. This process doesn’t pull the sap from the trees, but rather changes the pressure within the pipeline so that the sap flows more freely, even under colder conditions. From the pipelines, the sap goes through a reverse osmosis system, which streamlines the separation process. The reverse osmosis machine forces the sap, under pressure, through a series of membranes, which separate the water from the sugar--about 60 gallons of water are taken out at this time. From there, roughly eight gallons of sugar concentrate goes into the evaporator, where it is boiled down to make about one gallon of syrup. Every night during the season, sugar houses are in full swing, working against the clock to boil down as much sap as possible and make room for the next batch flowing in. Most houses boil for about four to five hours every night--and this is after the farmers have spent a full day in the field. On average, it takes 40 gallons of sap for every gallon of syrup--a lot of labor for that one yield of sweetness. While many farms now use oil-fired evaporators, a wood-fired one is still the tradition, and still found at a number of New Hampshire farms. Using a wood-fired evaporator takes a lot of wood, but keeps another aspect of the state’s “sugar season” heritage alive. If you have not experienced it, Steve and Carol invite you to come to New Hampshire for Maple Sugar weekend, held this year on March 28th and 29th. During this weekend, sugar houses all over the state will be open. Visitors can see how the sugaring off is done, enjoy fresh maple syrup and other maple products (think cotton candy, soft serve and much more), savor farmer’s breakfasts, and at some farms, experience horse-drawn trips into the woods. The “sweet season” is just another reason why we love to call the Lakes Region home.