Registration OPEN for Maple Boot Camp

Maple Bootcamp: Ohio is for woodland owners looking for an annual income from their woodland or current producers looking to sharpen their skills.  This multi-day workshop will cover everything from tree identification and tree health through tapping and marketing an end product (syrup, candy etc).  There will be tours of a sugarbush that has been in operation for more than 50 years and one that takes advantage of today’s technology.  We will also tour the sugarbush that was installed on the Ohio State University Mansfield campus in 2019 and is a hub for maple research.  Join us June 22-24 for this exciting event.

Registration is $150 total for the 3-day camp.  Sign up here and check out the agenda for more details. 

Upcoming Webinar on Red Maples

Join Future Generations University’s Out of the Woods webinar series this Thursday evening at 7 PM to hear Dr. Abby van den Berg’s talk “Total Yields from Red Maple Trees.”  Red maple trees are sometimes ignored as crop trees for maple production due to several persistent beliefs, including that they produce lower yields than sugar maple trees.  This study quantified the total annual yields from red maple trees to examine this belief empirically. This talk was captured as part of the Southern Syrup Research Symposium.  Here in Ohio, we were lucky to have Abby speak in December’s Ohio Maple Days event as well on the same topic.

Register HERE

The Southern Syrup Research Symposium was made possible with support from a 2017 Acer Access project titled “Expanding the Maple Industry in West Virginia and the Central Appalachian Region through Research and Education” awarded to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture in partnership with WVU & Future Generations University.

Maple Bootcamp Announced: June 22-24

We are thrilled to announce Maple Bootcamp: Ohio, hosted at The Ohio State University-Mansfield campus from June 22-24 this summer.  Spots are limited and this opportunity will be shared across our tri-state collaborative (OH, WV, PA) and beyond.  You can register here and check out the 2022 Maple Camp Brochure that contains a full agenda.

2022 Season in Review: OSU-Mansfield Research

Just when we thought the 2021 maple season was a wild ride never to be (hopefully) repeated, 2022 did not hold back with surprises of its own.  My best way to sum it up…it felt like we were clinging to a weather yo-yo.

Pre-season was full of the normal upkeep and maintenance as well as transitioning a few production lines that had been 3/16″ over to 5/16″.

We got fully tapped less than 24 hours before the season’s first run which was good, but not quite the huge run of last year’s initial burst of activity.  The big weather event of mid-February that left deep snow over much of northern Ohio certainly played a role in keeping the ground frozen.

As the season progressed, sugar levels came up from a rather low initial level, but the big warm fronts interspersed with cold weather and few more harsh freezes created a topsy turvy season.  The ice event in late February was not a huge interruption, but it did result in some strange runs for the week following.  It did make for some great photo opps though!

Interspersed with daily sap measurements, we hosted a few outreach events to showcase the research sugarbush and were surprised at the repeated warm fronts that sped the syrup season to an early close.  Our woods were done on March 17th!

As we close down the woods and complete post-season clean up, we look forward to diving into a second year of data collected for the ACER research objectives.

Ohio Sugarbush Highlighted by NRCS – New VIDEO

As you brush the dirt off your knees and shake the cobwebs from your head (what a crazy syrup season!), here is a new video featuring one of our state’s own maple producers – Bill & Dee Belew of Messenger Century Farm in Chagrin Falls, OH.  You’ll remember that we have highlighted the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) and other NRCS programs (such as the Conservation Stewardship Partners program) as excellent opportunities for maple producers to improve their woods AND their operations.  This video is a marvelous example of just that.

A special thanks to Brooke DeCubellis who produced the video.  Brooke DeCubellis serves as the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) public affairs specialist in Ohio.  In this capacity, she creates and leverages communication strategies and products supporting NRCS objectives throughout the state.  She maintains effective working relationships with regional partners, highlights local producer conservation efforts and shares technical and financial resources to further natural resource stewardship within the state.  Brooke is a skilled communications professional, with more than ten years of experience in federal and state government work, specializing in media relations, public engagement, photography and videography.  Thanks Brooke for shining a light on a fine example of what Ohio sugaring is all about!

Maple Buds and the Story They Tell (Part 2)

We have all heard it (or said it) – once the maple trees ‘bud out’ the sap collection season is done.  “Done” meaning the sap has become buddy and making syrup for the season is over.  Our eyes see it and we know to expect it, but we all hold out for just one more day of collection before the tide turns.  That day or the very next, the sweet smell of sap turns sour.

The good news is you don’t have to rely completely on your nose when boiling that last batch of sap.  Keep a close eye on how the tree buds develop as the season progresses.  When you start the season the buds are tight.  As the season progresses and the weather changes towards spring, the tree buds tell the story. We can use our eyes to track bud development as the season progresses, the weather warms, and making syrup draws to a close.  The good news is that this progression is somewhat predictable if one understands how something called growing degree days (GDDs for short) correlate.  Read Part 1 released last week to learn how you can start tracking GDDs and incorporate them into your season planning.

Using a 60-power spotting scope we took pictures of our trees on March 17th, 23rd and 27th during the 2021 sap season.  The bud progression is for sugar maple and a red x silver native hybrid maple that are present at the Ohio State Mansfield sugarbush.  For reference, we deemed our sap no longer worth collecting on March 21st.

First the red x silver “mystery” maple – in the March 17th photos, the hybrid’s buds are noticeably swollen but the flowers have not burst forth yet.  In the branch I’m holding, you can see the flower buds cracking open with the leaf bud still tightly closed in the center (black arrow).  This is crucial to understand because trees have both flower buds and growth buds which break at different times and have different impacts on the sugaring season.

By March 23rd, despite the difficult lighting, the buds have clearly flowered.

This is even more apparent on March 27th when I took the last set of photographs.  Examine the leaf bud (in the black circle) which is protruding more but still closed surrounded by the bright red maple flowers.  Our operation’s sap edged towards being “buddy” in the last 2 days preceding the red maple buds popping completely out.

For the sugar maple photos, the differences are more subtle and the progression is slower – a timeline we talked about in Part 1 last week.  In the March 17th pictures, the buds were barely noticeable at the ends of the uppermost twigs of the trees; however, buds were more prominent 6 days later.

By March 27th and nearly a week after we had closed down the sugarbush, sugar maple buds were elongated and swollen and obviously scaled but not yet officially burst open.

All in all, this was a great exercise to watch how trees go through the season’s progression as the weather changes.  A set of binoculars is a handy tool for the sugar maker; pick some key trees in your woods and watch their buds next year.  Better yet, keep detailed notes and be a studious observer of 3 primary things: sap quality, tree bud development, and those GDDs we mentioned earlier.  Once you are familiar with what the bud progression looks like relative to your tree’s sap production, you will have information to align alongside GDDs for anticipating when the end of the season is near.

The Ohio State Phenology Calendar: Understanding Nature’s Biological Clock (Part 1)

A special thanks to Denise Ellsworth from OSU’s Department of Entomology for contributing her phenology expertise that makes this article possible!

Phenology, sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest science, is the study of recurring biological events and their relationship to weather and climate. Examples of phenological events include bird migration, flowering of plants, and the seasonal appearance of insects. Because the growth and development of plants depend on temperatures, phenological events of plants, such as bud swelling or flowering time, may be useful for monitoring short-term weather patterns. Likewise, scientists can detect long-term changes due to climate change by tracking the pattern of phenological events over many years.

Insects emerge earlier in warmer years than in cooler years, and plants bloom earlier too. The critical assumption in the use of plant phenology to predict other biological events is that the phenological sequence (the order in which events occur) remains constant from year to year even when weather patterns differ greatly. It is no mystery, even to a novice sugar maker, why plant phenology matters in maple. The quality of maple syrup is at stake! Once the phenological calendar for a sequence is established, the biological calendar is easily monitored to anticipate when maple syrup quality drops. If phenology can be grasped, this can greatly simplify the logistics of planning and scheduling monitoring programs, post-season clean-up and sanitization, and other critical activities. And using phenological sequence is valuable to a whole host of applications beyond just maple—beekeepers, naturalists, and gardeners also use the predictable patterns of nature to predict plant bloom and other biological activity.

On The Ohio State University Phenology Calendar website, degree-day data and related plant bloom and pest emergence sequences are accessible for any location in Ohio.  A degree-day is a measure of the amount of heat that accumulates above a specified base temperature during a 24-hour period. A degree-day is also referred to as a growing degree-day (GDD), heat unit, or thermal unit. One GDD accumulates for each degree the average temperature remains above a specified base-temperature over those 24 hours. Several degree-days can accumulate during a 24-hour period.  However, it is important to understand that degree-days have meaning only in relation to the base temperature that has been specified. The Ohio State Phenology Calendar uses 50 degrees F as the base temperature. To provide an example, if the average temperature over a 24-hour period is only 47 degrees F with a base temperature of 50 F, no GDDs would accumulate. However, if the 24-hour average temperature was 55 degrees F, 5 GDDs would be added to the phenology calendar (more on degree day calculation here).

To inform The Ohio State Phenology Calendar, daily temperature data from 12 OARDC Research Stations and three USDA-ARS weather stations located throughout Ohio are used to calculate cumulative GDD in real-time.  Calculations for locations between weather stations are extrapolated from climatic isotherms for Ohio.  Upon entering a date and any Ohio zip code, degree-day accumulation for that location is calculated, and the user is directed to the appropriate spot on the phenology calendar to determine what plants are blooming and what pests are active in their locale.  By scrolling through the full phenological calendar, it is possible to see what blooming and pest events have already occurred, as well as what has yet to occur.  And by clicking on the Summary tab, you can get a year-by-year breakdown of GDD count for the same date and zip code location across the past 6 years.

It is important to define a couple terms as we launch into species-specific phenology.  First bloom is defined as the first flower opening to expose sexual parts. Full bloom is when just one out of twenty buds is still closed while all others are open to expose sexual parts.

Of particular interest to maple producers, silver maple is listed first with 34 GDD at first bloom. A bit further down the sequence, silver maple reappears with full bloom at 42 GDD.  Red maple first bloom follows at 44 GDD just after silver maple full bloom. Red maple full bloom averages 75 GDD.  Sugar maple is not currently listed on the GDD calendar; however, it is believed that sugar maple tracks very closely with black maple – another of the “hard” maples.  While there is some uncertainty about the exact GDD timing for sugar maples, they are definitely “late bloomers” as compared to their “soft” maple counterparts.

The consistency in phenological sequence from year to year demonstrates that even one year of observation is useful to expand the phenological sequence to other plants or insects not included on the OSU calendar. This means that users can readily create, expand, and customize their own biological calendars by observing plants in first or full bloom and taking note of the GDD for that date on the OSU calendar. Many observers use a journal or excel file to track plant and insect activity from year to year, adding in new plants or insects of interest. These calculations can even be made by referring to photographs that show first bloom or full bloom; the photo’s date and location can be entered on the OSU calendar to determine the GDD for that event. Insect observations should be of developmental stages, such as egg hatch or adult emergence.

For the maple producer, understanding the predictability of nature’s patterns is crucial for better anticipating the end of each maple season. For years and years, sugar maple bud break was the traditional visual signal to take down buckets and end the sap season. Unfortunately, lots of poor-quality sap was made waiting for those first buds to break. Now we know that physiological changes occur within the tree prior to actual bud break that bring seasons to a close earlier. And sanitation issues that result in “sour” sap (due to bacterial build-up) halt most sap seasons before “buddy” sap is rampant. While we are excited to continue tracking sugar maple performance relative to GDDs, keeping an eye on the 100 GDDs mark is a rough indicator for when things are winding down. Some woods will shut down earlier and others will stretch a bit later, but when the Forsythia approaches full bloom in your yard – which occurs right around 100 GDDs depending on variety – you can be sure the end of your sugaring season is nigh.

New Article Series Launches Next Monday

This short post will serve as a sort of guidepost, a table of contents or roadmap if you will, for the next month or so worth of content.  We are excited to bring you a 4-article series on maple phenology.  Phenology is a fancy word for describing nature’s calendar.  We’ll discuss one of the most practical and accessible tools for tracking phenology – the growing degree day, or GDD for short.  Second, we’ll seek to understand and document how GDD is related to species-specific patterns in maple bud and bloom timing and why that matters for maple producers.  Then over the course of two installations, Les Ober will break down why an improvement of one’s understanding of maple season timing is particularly important towards the season’s end and how you can minimize and prevent unwanted bouts with “sour” or “buddy” sap.  After all, our main goal is promoting sustainable production of high quality maple syrup!

Out of the Woods Webinar Series Continues

Future Generations University, one of our primary partners with the USDA ACER-funded work, continues to march along producing excellent monthly content through their webinar series “Out of the Woods.”  The next 2 months are scheduled for February 17th and March 17th.

For February, Cara Rose – from Pocahontas County’s (West Virginia) Community & Visitors Bureau – will discuss how to incorporate tourism practices into one’s maple enterprise.  You can register for the February 17th webinar here.  To stay plugged in to Future Generations’ broader swath of maple-related research and outreach, their Facebook page is a great follow.

Cara’s webinar topic looks like it will be somewhat similar to a great presentation by Rob Leeds of OSU Extension at the 2021 December Ohio Maple Days in Ashland.  There is a huge amount of information packed into Rob’s presentation slides from that day, and he updates a site for Ohio agritourism that is worth bookmarking and regularly checking for ideas of how to up the attractiveness of your maple enterprise.

Ohio Maple Days – Spotted Lanternfly, Part II

Part I last week focused on the basics of spotted lanternfly.  What they look like, where they are, where they might be going, what to do if you see some, and more.  This week, I want to share a few initial findings (albeit preliminary results) of how spotted lanternfly impact maples.  A big thanks to Scott Weikert of Penn State Extension for relaying these great bits of information.

First let’s start with the good news.  One bright spot of optimism for most maple producers is that while monitoring efforts are seeing spotted lanternfly in the forest, the pest does not tend to have super high population densities there.  Rather, the heaviest infestations tend to be more on the edges.  That is perhaps reason to be encouraged for most maple producers, but certainly not all.  In my own mind, I would imagine a sugarbush surrounded by intact forest on all sides is at lower risk whereas a backyard sugarmaker tapping a few open-grown trees may face more of a threat.

Heavily infested silver maple trees are showing abnormal bud swelling during the fall and producing no seeds the following year.  It remains unknown what the implications are for sap quality, but anytime an insect pest interferes with a tree’s reproductive cycle there is cause for legitimate concern.

It is certainly worth noting that initial data suggest that spotted lanternfly favor silver maple more than red maple.  As sugar maple does not constitute much of the forest composition where spotted lanternfly infestations are heaviest in Pennsylvania, it would be conjecture to rank sugar maple’s preference to other maples just yet.  As the pest moves into more localities, more will be learned.

Finally, some researchers observed that feeding on red maples tends to be extremely intense and concentrated to just a few weeks in the fall.  While no actual mortality has been observed in maples at this time, discoloration of the xylem in branches is a suspected result of heavy feeding.  It is uncertain what that damage means for future sap flow, but it stands to reason that discolored wood may inhibit sap flow if the response is similar to when a tree compartmentalizes the wound of a taphole or other injury.

While this post leaves far more open gaps in our understanding of how spotted lanternflies may impact the maple resource in the future, it is a start.  As the pest continues to infest new locations and studies gather more data, we will be better equipped to anticipate and combat impacts from this novel forest pest.

For more information, see Part I from last week or check out Penn State’s resources for spotted lanternfly to learn more.

If you see spotted lanternfly or other invasive species, please report your findings!  That is the single best way to improve the efficiency of any efforts to fight back.  Click here for more information on reporting through the Great Lakes Early Detection Network (GLEDN).