Old Man Winter finally loosened its grip and maple sap is flowing! For comparison using growing degree days (GDD) on February 28th, we were at 16 GDDs and 22 GDDs in 2019 and 2020 at our sugarbush on the Ohio State Mansfield campus. 2021 GDDs will likely tick up for the very first time on this – the final day of February; however, the extended forecast looks iffy whether we will get many of the needed recharge cycles with nighttime temperatures in the high 20s or lower. Whatever the season may bring, our research is progressing nicely and the first data of the 3-year project is being collected.
Students have worked hard to get PVC research canisters built to collect sap off individual maple trees. COVID-19 reared its ugly head by disrupting the shipping supply chain and a University-wide switch to a new fiscal operating system caused further delays for all the components to arrive. Though we had working prototypes built by early January, we used up every bit of time that Old Man Winter’s stranglehold gave us to finish the entire research system. What a relief when the final pallet arrived, the last canister was assembled, and pressure testing confirmed our DIY canisters were a success!
With warmer temperatures on the forecast and piles of snow melting away, last week was an all-out scramble to get our upgraded vacuum pump cranking, production taps running (a smidge over 1,100 for the 2021 season), single tree canisters situated in their collection racks, research trees hooked into the research system, and an additional fleet of buckets/lids installed across campus in the crop tree release demonstration area.
Student help has been and will continue to be integral to our success. And Anthony Tambini – a recent graduate from the School of Environment and Natural Resources – has been full-time on the project since January 1. Without the students and his help, none of this would be possible.
Moving forward, daily sap measurements (volume and sugar content) will be taken from each individual research tree’s canister through the end of the season. Buckets will be emptied daily in the crop tree management zone as well. 2021’s data will be the first of 3 years to examine potential differences between maple species and between crop tree treatment groups (much more on that in a later post!).
We all wonder what March and April will bring to the maple woods in the Buckeye State, but this year’s cold grip of winter and late start highlights one important principle of research. Because of variation, multiple years of data are necessary to make reasonable research conclusions – so we are in it for the long haul! Happy sugaring!!