What Winter?

We are experiencing an abnormally mild winter so far this year. Not surprisingly, I frequently get the following question: How will the lack of cold and snow affect the maple syrup season? Since Mother Nature and I have such a close and communicative relationship, I can be confident in my response:

The 2016 maple sugaring season is going to be outstanding.

For background purposes, you need to know that a maple tree delivers sap only when warm days follow cold nights. Some sort of pressure thing occurs in the tree's veins during the freeze/thaw cycle that pushes the sap around. If the weather stays too cold, the sap won't begin to run. If the weather stays too warm, the sap soon stops running.

Two years ago Mother Nature delivered a surprise in the form of a very early seasonal warm-up. Maple producers who tapped their trees in January or February took advantage of substantial sap flows. Those who waited until March (including us) worried that we had missed the season entirely. Yet the temperature turned colder and the "late tappers" did fine.

Last year, the opposite occurred. The winter was long and cold. Maple producers worried that the spring warm-up, whenever it did finally happen, would occur all at once and we would not get the cold nights necessary for sap flow. Yet we ended up with plenty of cold nights even when the days turned warmer, and maple production in our area set records.

So whether the spring comes early or late, we always seem to get enough cold nights and warm days to allow maple syrup production to take place. But this is really only in the short term. If global warming persists, maple trees that evolved over thousands of years in colder temperatures will indeed be at risk, and we may instead be tapping rubber trees in upstate New York.

The next question inevitably turns to honey bees. How are they liking the warm start to winter?

My honey bees will tell you they prefer this year's weather pattern. Last year was so cold for so long that most of my bees literally froze to death. They were too cold to move to the honey stores in their hives. And they were too cold to venture outside for the bathroom breaks that are necessary to prevent dysentery.

So at least for now they seem happier. When the inevitable cold snaps occur, we hope Mother Nature interrupts with the occasional balmy day. (Speaking of mothers, did you know that the queen bee resumes laying eggs as early as February and that the worker bees must raise the temperature of the nesting area to 90 degrees? Simply amazing.)

Don't even ask about our chickens. As you can imagine, they are loving this winter. I've never seen a happier bunch of hens this time of year.