Published Date Written by Roger AmsdenGILFORD — With a weekend of ideal weather for making maple syrup Bolduc Farm has already surpassed last year's syrup production, and, if the same kind of weather holds for the next few weeks, is on pace for a very good year.
''We only made 34 gallons last year but we already passed that on Saturday when we were up to about 40 gallons.'' said Ernie Bolduc, who will turn 80 in a few months and has been helping make syrup at the farm for about 70 years.
Bolduc noted that the last good year for the farm was in 2011, when it made 102 gallons in a winter that was very similar to this year in terms of snowfall.
''We didn't even have our first boil until March 16 that year.'' says Bolduc, whose many years of experience have taught him that it's all up to Mother Nature and that it doesn't make much sense to venture predictions based on early season results.
''You never really know how it's going to end up,'' says Bolduc.
He says the season usually begins in mid-to-late February and can last to mid-April, about six weeks. Ideal sap-producing weather involves cool nights with temperatures in the 20s and warm, sunny days in the 40s. About 40 gallons of sap are needed to make a gallon of syrup..
Bolduc says that the farm can lay claim to being the oldest continual producer of maple syrup in the state, perhaps in the entire country, dating all the way back to 1779 when it was the Jewett Farm.
Bolduc says that only three families have owned the farm over the more than 230 years in its history: the Jewetts, the Luciers and the Bolducs, who purchased it in 1917.
''There were only one and a half acres of fields then. The family created the fields we have now by cutting down trees, digging up the stumps and moving rocks,'' says Bolduc, who says that at the peak of the farm's maple syrup operations it produced 400 gallons a year.
''The maple orchard ran all the way to Persons' Ramblin' Vewe Farm and we had 429 trees tapped back then. We used to use a team of horses to collect the sap,'' says Bolduc. That ended when the Laconia Bypass was built in the early 1960s and the farm was left with less than 100 maple trees.
Since that time production has averaged between 60 and 80 gallons a year with a low of 19 gallons in 1989 and a record high of 122.5 gallons in 2004.
He says that unlike the old days, the sap is now collected in plastic tubes which feed it into two large holding tanks, which together hold 1,400 gallons.
Bob Hamel, who has helped Bolduc and his brother, Armand, during maple syrup season for the last several years, says that he can remember how difficult it was to use the older green plastic tubing, which had to be put out every winter.
''You had to stretch it and sometimes it would let go just as you were connecting it to the taps and snap you backwards. And when the snow was deep you were on snowshoes and you'd end up in quite a mess.'' says Hamel, who, like Armand, is a member of the Laconia City Council.
That's changed in recent years with the addition of blue plastic lines, which can be left in place year round, helping cut down on the time needed to tap trees.
The brothers use three-foot long pine wood to fire the evaporator and typically go through at least five cords a year.
"Pine gives a quick, hot fire and that's just what you want for making syrup," says Ernie, who says that when the boiling sap hits 219 degrees it is ready to be drained off, strained and then bottled.
Armand, who tends the evaporator, says that it was built by the Leader Evaporator Company of Burlington, Vermont in 1859 and may be the oldest in continual use in the country.
''When we had repair work done on it a few years ago they said it was the oldest one they know of," says Armand.
The current Bolduc sugar house was built in 1983 with an addition in 1991 which allows more visitors to get a view of the syrup making operation.
"We've had visitors from as far away as China,'' says Ernie, who says that a large display of maple syrup items ranging from galvanized buckets, wooden and metal spiels used in tapping trees and maple syrup jars and containers at the sugar house help spark the curiosity of the many young children who visit each year.
Armand Bolduc stokes the fire under the evaporator at the Bolduc Farm in Gilford, which has already surpassed last year's maple syrup production and is on pace to have a very good year. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Ernie Bolduc, who has been helping make maple syrup at the Bolduc Farm in Gilford for 70 years, strains the syrup right after is has been drained from the evaporator. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)