Challenges arise during this year’s maple sap harvesting season in the Chippewa Valley

This spring, Mother Nature has been shorting maple syrup makers with maple sap

Abby Johnson (She/Her)

More stories from Abby Johnson (She/Her)

Devices like vacuum taps are used to speed up the sap collection process and draw every last drop of sap from maple trees.

Heather Wanish

Devices like vacuum taps are used to speed up the sap collection process and draw every last drop of sap from maple trees.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on the supply of food and various products throughout the Chippewa Valley, mother nature may be to blame for the potential maple syrup shortage. 

Heather Wanish, general manager and operator of Wanish Sugar Bush, says that local maple syrup makers have been having a particularly hard time collecting enough sap due to this Spring’s weather. Wanish Sugar Bush is a locally owned and operated maple syrup company founded by Heather’s teenage son, Will Wanish. 

“There are Facebook groups for maple syrup that we’re a part of,” Heather Wanish said. “The trend throughout the area is that there have been lower amounts of sap collection this year because of the cold weather.”

In 2018, Heather’s 14-year-old son Will began tapping trees and making maple syrup for fun. Today, his once hobby has transformed into a 5,000-taps business that provides 100% pure maple syrup to 150 stores throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. 

The sap collected for Wanish Sugar Bush maple syrup is tapped from maple trees within a five-mile radius of the Wanish’s house where a 2-by-8 Liquified Petroleum (LP) fired evaporator within a 30-by-30 shed and a 6,000-gallon sap holding tank are stored in Colfax, Wisconsin. 

Recently, Will has been able to expand his tapping radius and collect sap from maple trees on surrounding neighbor’s land. As a financial tax incentive to let Will tap maple trees on their land, Heather Wanish says that their neighbors can claim their land in the agricultural tax bracket instead of the recreational bracket. 

“For those that are just tapping trees and using buckets or bags, it’s definitely been a season where sap collection is less than normal, it’s just been so cold,” Will Wanish said.

Mark Isselhardt, a maple specialist at the University of Vermont, agreed with the Wanish’s and said the steady cold weather in Northwest Wisconsin is to blame. According to Isselhardt, harvesting maple sap begins when temperatures are consistently below freezing at night and above 40 degrees during the day. 

At night, when the temperature falls below freezing, the maple sap inside of the tree gets sucked up the trunk. Then in the morning, when temperatures rise above 40 degrees during the day, the sap thaws and drips out down the inside of the trunk, and out of the tree through a spicket tapped in the tree for collection of sap

In Wisconsin, the season can start as early as late February, with the most sap collected when temperatures are in the 20’s overnight. Isselhardt is experienced in research and development of long-term maple tree health techniques and creates processes resulting in higher sap yield, syrup production efficiency and sales of maple syrup.  

Isselhardt said around 40 gallons of maple sap are needed to create one gallon of maple syrup. For some maple syrup makers, using a drip tap leaves maple syrup makers prisoner to gravity and temperature. Additionally, those who use drip taps compared to vacuum pumps are likely to collect less sap per year. 

“We use vacuum pumps and not just gravity to collect the sap, so the whole process actually goes a lot quicker and is more efficient,” Heather Wanish said. “The only downside to this process is that wild pests who live in the woods sometimes can chew the collection tubes we have, which then need to either be repaired or totally replaced.” 

According to Heather, squirrels can be a huge problem if a hole goes unnoticed, because the generators running the vacuum pumps are using energy. Therefore, not only the loose sap goes to waste, but the energy the generators give off to the vacuum pumps is also wasted. Preservation of energy and sap are important to the Wanish’s because a waste of either resource is also a waste of money. 

To make 100% real maple syrup, Isselhardt said there are no substitutions to create or use any other resource in place of maple sap. The amount of maple syrup Wanish Sugar Bush or any maple syrup producer can make is directly dependent on the amount of sap production.

Maple syrup sap harvesting this year in Northwest Wisconsin began in mid to late March and will likely last until the temperature consistently remains above 40 degrees during the night, Heather Wanish confirms. In years where the weather is inclement, Will has purchased additional sap from other maple syrup makers around the area to have enough to fill his distributors orders. 

“For now, the warmer weather looks promising,” Will Wanish said. “Anything can happen, but we’re sitting in a good spot with our vacuum pumps right now. And we’re hoping to get a couple more nightly freezes and sunny days out of this season.”

The Wanish’s have high hopes for Wanish Sugar Bush. Will’s goal is to increase the size of the businesses operations in the years to come, and distribute maple syrup to more stores, further from the Colfax area. 

For more information on Wanish Sugar Bush or where you can purchase its maple syrup, visit

Johnson can be reached at [email protected]