Updates from the Sugarbush

Based on the forecast, it’s hard to tell when our season will launch at the Ohio State Mansfield campus, but we’ve been hard at work readying the woods for whenever Go Time is.

3 years of single tree lateral lines came down from the ACER project that examined differences between sap production in Freeman’s (red x silver or “Rilvers”) maples.

Lateral lines in bad shape from wildlife damage or sanitation issues were replaced.  Some of these issues are pretty small and hard to spot unless you have your vacuum pump running.  Other wildlife damage…guessing raccoon or coyote here, pretty obvious.

Bucked rounds were hauled and split to feed our new demonstration evaporator at the also brand new maple pavilion (more on that later!).

We’re nearly done replacing all of last year’s spouts.

As we find drops and T’s that need replaced, we are shifting to a pin- or peg-style T so that we cut off the old spouts when taps are pulled at the end of season.

New trees that have grown into a minimum tapping size have been added to the system.  Surprisingly, our second main line that originally featured 99 trees when the tubing was installed in 2019 grew by 9 additional taps this year.  This was a good reminder to keep a diameter tape handy when getting your sugarbush ready for the season.  Sure, trees grow slowly, but they are growing and it’s sometimes surprising what just a few years can do when conditions are right.

End-line sensors are out gathering sunlight to keep our monitoring system operational, and we’re adding valves to the end of our main lines to facilitate a more complete and convenient sanitation regiment.

And our invasive species contract to control multiflora rose, particularly where it was worst along main lines 1 and 2, is already paying dividends with increased mobility and ease of access throughout the system.  A chest-rigged brush cutter was used to sever stem clusters in tandem with a timely and targeted application of glyphosate to the cut stem surfaces.  **This is a good reminder that any herbicide treatment in and around a working sugarbush should be done with caution!  Being cognizant of compound half lives, targeted treatment that stays where it belongs, and a well-trained applicator are keys to ensuring these sometimes necessary steps help and don’t hurt.**  Honestly, having the ability to freely negotiate through the woods wherever we please probably contributed to finding 9 additional taps along our second main line.  I also couldn’t help but notice that the majority of our lateral sanitation issues were cropped up around the second main line too.  Certainly trickle down penalties of thorny access because of a nasty invasive thicket infestation in the woods!

You literally could not walk through this area of the forest before, and the stem clumps that are left (and hopefully dead!) are the reason why.

One last major priority for this off-season will be attempting to remedy the long flat (at best!) stretches of main line between our pump house and where the majority of our taps start on main lines 4, 5, and 6.  I’m sure that will be a learning process complete with a couple of bumps in the road, but the goal is to perhaps install a couple lift options to show producers different ways of overcoming this common challenge in Ohio maple woods.  More on this last point later!!

Ohio Maple Day – Weekend Recap

Ohio Maple Days was a great success again this early December with a wonderful slate of speakers and solid growth over last year’s attendance.  But before we get to Saturday’s main event, there was a lot of excitement that cannot be overlooked from that Friday.

On Friday afternoon, over 30 people participated in an exceptional value-added maple products workshop in Ashland University’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen.  Several maple producers – namely Galen Smith, Dan Brown, Jen Freeman, and Fred Ahrens – demonstrated how to make delicious (and yes there was PLENTY of taste testing!) maple candy, maple cream, maple sugar, and maple cotton candy.  Contributions from numerous others behind the scenes must be acknowledged, and I even got to participate by contributing a maple venison breakfast sausage link exhibition at the end.  All participants left full of good bites to eat and full of knowledge, tips and tricks to either get into the value-added products game or improve their already developed skill set.  It is always so much fun to participate in a workshop where the speakers, as well as many of the attendees, are interacting back-and-forth with one another from beginning to end.

Friday evening’s main event was spearheaded by the Ohio Maple Producer’s Association – “One Sweet Gathering.”  Raffles and trivia night carried the audience through lots of maple-themed questions and more participants than not left with one or multiple prizes.  This event has become one of my favorite as it affords us an opportunity to interact with everyone in a low stakes environment – there is no agenda that has to be accomplished, no itinerary that is dependent on staying on time.  Lots of great conversation, laughs, and of course excellent food and drinks carried the night, and OMPA was able to raise a substantial sum for the OSU maple research program – an extremely generous gesture to push for more and better work on their behalf!  Thanks!!

For Saturday’s main event, Aaron Wilson – Buckeye Universe’s State Climatologist – keynoted with an excellent hour-long talk discussing the implications of El Nino’s resurgence on sugarmakers.  Regulatory updates and labeling requirements from Ohio Dept. of Agriculture, the latest on spotted lanternfly, and a primer on tubing and vacuum systems from Mike Lynch of CDL rounded out the morning’s agenda.

The chefs at Ashland University continue to outdo themselves and offered up yet another showstopper of a lunch.  As entrees and desserts were enjoyed, Roger & Suzie Gortner and Paul Snavely from the Snavely Sugar Shack were overwhelmed by congratulations on receiving the Charles Keiter Award.

Saturday afternoon offered a split agenda with a Beginner or Advanced track.  Spot checking attendance in each, most talks were roughly half and half throughout the final sessions.  One highlight for us was sharing the Sugarhouse Videos created at Gingerich Brothers & Sperry LLC, Seldom Seen Farms, and Double G Maple.  Those short videos will be featured in the digital Maple Toolbox which is almost completed and will be available soon.  Other Advanced talks focused on NRCS cost-share programs for enhanced sugarmaking sustainability, crop tree management in a sugarbush, and coupling gourmet mushroom cultivation with your maple woods.  The Beginner track started in the obvious place – how to identify different maple species, and it then progressed through different sap collection methods, a crash course on evaporators and reverse osmosis, before concluding with economic and enterprise planning.

Last but certainly not least, I have to give a shout out to Galen Smith for leading a team of folks to host the John Berry Memorial Syrup Contest.  Bruce Kavanagh took first in the Delicate class, Goodell Family Farms for Amber, and Aggie from Gingerich Brothers & Sperry led the Robust class.  The Dick Schoor Award for best syrup from a new or small producer was awarded to Bruce Kavanagh, and the Hilton Farly Award was won by Aggie Sperry.

We hope you can join us next year (actually this year…Happy New Year!) on December 6 for the 2024 edition of Ohio Maple Days!  SAVE THE DATE!!

Ask Santa for a New…Hydrometer!!

This year’s Ohio Maple Days welcomed back the free hydrometer testing service that folks had come to expect from Dr. Gary Graham’s days of leading the annual Ohio maple event.

As part of the tri-state (OH – WV – PA) ACER grant, we built out at least 1 full hydrometer testing kit for each state to ensure accurate hydrometers are in the hands of maple producers in order to produce top-quality maple syrup.  A big thanks to Carri Jagger for leading the charge on this initiative, we figured that she and I tested somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-90 hydrometers during Saturday’s program.  These are rough estimates, but I would guess around half the hydrometers tested within +/- 0.2 Brix of perfect.  1 out of every 10 hydrometers read heavier densities than they should have, and the remainder – close to 3 or 4 out of every 10 – read light compared to the standard.

For a bit more complete explanation and how to make sense of the Hydrometer Testing Bookmarks, let’s explore a couple scenarios.

The first scenario is that your hydrometer reads the exact same as our standard testing hydrometer.  This bookmark shows a best case scenario and this is exactly what that means.  We chose to test everyone’s hydrometer against a test solution of 60.0 Brix.  In other words, we mixed a test solution to read 60.0 Brix on our standard hydrometer and checked everyone else’s instrument against the truth of that standard.  Choosing 60.0 Brix as the test line is somewhat arbitrary, we could have chosen 62.0 or 64.0 or 65.7 if we were really feeling inspired.  The bottom line is that within a certain range, an inch is an inch, and if your ruler is really truly measuring 24″ where it says 24″, the same ruler should also be spot on when measuring something 30″ long as well.  The same concept applies here.  Known density is 60.0, your hydrometer reads 60.0, and your glass, paper scale, and hydrometer is in great condition.

Heavy Syrup LLC and Wimpy Syrup & Co. are both less than ideal hydrometer testing scenarios.

Wimpy Syrup & Co.’s hydrometer is reading heavy even though their hydrometer is in good condition from a wear and tear perspective.  The effect of having a hydrometer that reads heavy is that you’ll likely be producing syrup on the underside of optimal density.  In other words, you’ll pull your syrup off early because of the heavy reading and may not finish all the way up at the perfection standard of 66.9 Brix.

Heavy Syrup LLC has the opposite issue.  Because their hydrometer is reading light, syrup will probably get left on the evaporator a tad long and finish at a higher density than the industry standard.  Hence, we can see that the directional error in hydrometer reading leads to syrup that finishes in the opposite direction.  A heavier reading than truth leads to lighter syrup. Lighter readings lead to heavier syrup.  The additional issue with Heavy Syrup LLC’s hydrometer is that the paper scale has become twisted, likely as a result of a glue dot detaching, eliminating any hope of accurate density readings in the future.  Throw that hydrometer away.

Hopefully this post sheds some light on why hydrometer testing is important.  A big thanks to all the producers who brought one or two or five hydrometers to be tested.  We will plan to offer the same service at Ohio Maple Days going forward and add a second testing beaker for sap hydrometers at next year’s event.  Syrup density is one of the key diagnostics to ensure we produce quality maple syrup and accurately reading density is an important skill as a sugarmaker.  If you have a hydrometer that you know is off, toss it in the garbage and ask Santa to put another in your stocking ASAP.

 

North American Maple – Massachusetts Recap

Just about this time a month ago, I was in the middle of the North American Maple Syrup Council’s International Conference hosted in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  To take a deep dive into maple syrup for a few days, it felt appropriate to surrounded by maples showing off their fall color and driving through towns with “Established By” dates in the 1600 and 1700s.

Thursday was tour day, and attendees had two different itineraries to choose from.  Although I had to miss out on the 3rd and 4th stops of the tour, the first 2 alone made the time worthwhile.  Maple Corner Farm generously opened its doors to their state-of-the-art new sugarhouse and restaurant/cross-country skiing outpost – they are a living testament to how revenue diversification can support a robust business plan.

The second stop to Ioka Valley Farm was equally impressive as they are one, if not the, largest maple producer in the state of Massachusetts.  The lunch they served up from their restaurant was excellent, and all the tour hosts were eager to answer questions and dialogue with anyone curious about their operations.

The early departure reason that cut my tour short was to be back for the maple specialists meeting that afternoon at 3 PM.  Climate change and how to adapt under those pressures was the topic of discussion, a fruitful one at that.  It is an honor to work alongside respected colleagues at other institutions to brainstorm research ideas that have practical why does it matter moxie.  Of all the topics covered, sugarbush management received the most attention and votes of priority.  What does that mean?  Building a house that does not blow away or shift off its foundation as tree health, vigor, recruitment and distribution are stressed in the future – in short, resilience.  Thursday was end capped with the Taste of Massachusetts banquet and great social exchanges between all who gathered.

Friday felt more like work as I was on the hook for a research presentation highlighting the last 3 years’ work on the red x silver maples and the single-tree canister work.  2-3 concurrent sessions carried the day, and dinner featured the maple contest awards, Hall of Fame inductee announcements, and more stimulating back-and-forth with fellow attendees.

If Friday’s presentations were more research focused, then Saturday’s talks could be characterized as more how-to and hands-on practical.  The quality of presenters was evident throughout, and it’s hard – having now been to one – imagining not attending every single one of these events that my schedule will allow into the future.

Welcome Jake!!

We are excited to introduce Jake Nicholson, Ohio State Extension’s new Maple-Christmas Tree hire, to the Ohio State Maple site community.  This non-timber forest products position has been a long-time in the making, and we are thrilled to welcome Jake to the team.  Jake is a former student, and personally speaking, I was excited to see his name in the hat and enthusiastically supportive of his hire.  Recently, I was able to spend a couple days with Jake at the North American Maple Syrup Council in Massachusetts, and I tossed 5 questions Jake’s direction; below are his replies.

Tell us about your background.  I know you pursued a major in natural resources – what was that exactly and what drew you to that career?

My first job was working at Camp Lakota, a local scout camp back home in northwest Ohio as a staff member when I was 15.  It became such a transformative experience for me, both in helping me to grow personally and in learning how much I loved being outdoors.  From there I was hooked, I wanted to learn about conservation, preservation, management, all of it; but most importantly I wanted to share that passion with as many people as I could.

Not to get too personal, but do you a significant other?  Kiddos?  Pets?  Both?

I am recently married to my wonderful wife Maria.  We have two pets, a goofy golden retriever named Ryder and a very friendly, but judgmental gray cat named Jasper.

What excites you most about maple?

Oh, so many things, to start with I absolutely love the community I have met so far. Everyone is so welcoming and willing to share what they know; their generosity is overwhelming, and I look forward to visiting more sugar shack and bushes soon.

What your favorite talk from the North American Maple Syrup Conference in Massachusetts?

The Best Practices in the Sugarhouse practical skill workshop was my favorite talk. As wonderful as all the talks I attended were, most focused on the big picture of sugarbush management. Glenn Goodrich did an amazing job of presenting actionable advice to make the best syrup possible once the sap is in the sugarhouse.

If there is one thing you want maple producers to know about you, what would it be?

As steeped in tradition as this industry is, it must be strange to have someone in my position who was not brought up within it. I want to assure all the maple producers of Ohio, big and small, that I am determined to get up to speed with the realities of modern sugaring. I am already taking steps to do that and am incredibly grateful for the way that so many of you have opened your sugar shacks to me and taught me about how you do what you do. I look forward to many more visits in the future and creating programs and resources to promote this industry to future generations.

Now that you’ve gotten to know him here, go out of your way to introduce yourself at Ohio Maple Days on December 8th and 9th up in Ashland.  If you still need to register, visit the link for Saturday’s main event and Friday night’s banquet social organized by the Ohio Maple Producers Association.  Friday’s confections workshop is already sold out and at capacity, but keep your eyes open for additional offerings on that topic in the future.

Welcome Jake!!

2023 Syrup is Going, Going, Almost Gone…

We are so thankful for our loyal base of Ohio State maple syrup fans.  In fact, our repeat customers do such a good job of cleaning out each new inventory release, that there is very little leftover to share with potential new customers.  This year, 80% of our released stock sold within 2 weeks including every single one of our special 5-year commemorative glass etched bottles.

We do have some OSU maple syrup left.  If you are interested, please visit the OSU Maple Store through the Woodland Stewards website and purchase quarts for pick-up (either on Columbus or Mansfield campus) or doorstep delivery.  Time is of the essence as we are down to just 75 or so jugs remaining.  The proceeds from syrup continue to support excellent hands-on, field-based student internships in the sugarbush and in the broader Ecolab at Ohio State Mansfield.  Thanks!

U-Kentucky/Ohio State Partnership Event

Mixing Big 10 and SEC schools generally results in a brouhaha – not this time.  The University of Kentucky and Ohio State’s Maple team partnered to host a well-attended workshop last Monday evening just across the Ohio River in Boone County, Kentucky.  Strategically located to attract new and existing producers from southern Ohio and across Kentucky, 70 folks showed out for the event.  Beginning outdoors at the Boone County Nature Center, speakers covered topics ranging from maple identification to sustainable tapping practices and showcased demonstrations of different sap collection methods (buckets, bags, tubing) and a steaming boil on the local evaporator.


(Image Courtesy of University of Kentucky)

Along the way, attendees participated in a discussion of different grades and tastes of maple syrup profiled by a couple taste tests.  With a side-by-side comparison, many people were surprised just how different the same basic product – pure maple syrup – can taste.  That taste bud tease led us back to the Boone County Extension Center for a catered City BBQ meal and more presentations on value-added products, a couple short videos on sugarhouse design, and an excellent round of Q&A and conversations that lingered well after the event officially ended at 7 PM.

Many thanks to all who attended, and we look forward to continuing this partnership to expand the good news of maple across the southern tier!  To join up with your local community of maple producers, everyone should strongly consider joining their state association.  The Ohio Maple Producers Association annual event is Friday and Saturday, November 3-4th with Detailed Agenda here and a link to Register here.  The Kentucky Maple Syrup Association is also hosting their Maple School on Saturday, November 4th at the Berea Forestry Outreach Center and there is a button to join their ranks at the bottom of their webpage.

WV Maple Event Opportunity

Southern Ohioans have a great opportunity to slide across the Ohio River to join a wonderful maple event scheduled for October 14th in Wayne, West Virginia.  Just across the water from Lawrence County, OH, our partners at Future Generations University and West Virginia University are putting on a workshop titled “Forest Management for Sap Production: Why You Should ‘Think Maple’ .”

Lunch is provided and the workshop goes from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM and features sugarhouse and sugarbush tours at Tom’s Creek Maple.

Specific talk sessions are as follows:

  • Managing for sap production / Managing for timber production / or both!!
  • Sap collection systems
  • Managing a woodlot for sap production (hands-on and forestry tech talk heavy)
  • Integrating other forest farming activities into your sugaring operation
  • Forest health threats to maple
  • Technical resources through the OH/WV Maple Toolbox

Slots can be reserved by emailing syrup@future.edu.  Don’t miss out on a great learning opportunity to learn from syrupmakers in the far southern tier of what Ohio producers can expect to encounter in maple sugaring.

More Benefits of Maple: Monthly Maple REVIEW

September’s REVIEW piece bangs the same exact drum as our August post.  Put simply, the benefits of maple syrup are VAST, and this article by Faez Mohammed and team expand the discussion beyond nutritional to also include pharmacological and sensory attributes.  how do big trees make baby trees and what factors promote or inhibit that process.  In case you are interested in reading the full article which was published just over a month ago, “Nutritional, pharmacological, and sensory properties of maple syrup: A comprehensive review” is available here.

While this article is not presenting new research, the authors are doing the hard work of sampling the existing literature and drawing together a synthetic summary of what many many others have discovered in the past.  95 total research articles factor into this particular review.  Here are some interesting facts and tidbits that I found interesting as I read through the paper.

1) A major reason that maple syrup has a long list of nutritional benefits and something like white granulated sugar has a long list of known negative impacts is that maple syrup is NOT processed by humans as a refined sugar, instead maple syrup is processed as a source of carbohydrates.

2) Maple syrup is often compared to other natural sweetener alternatives.  Maple syrup contains 60.5 grams sugar per 100 total g.  This is less sugar than honey (68 g), molasses (74.7 g), and of course high fructose corn syrup (75.7 g).

3) When we say something is an antioxidant, we are referring to a substance that reduces free radicals that are loose like a “bull in the china shop” wreaking havoc on cells and cell membranes.  For something to arrest and capture free radicals is to possess antioxidant properties.  Maple syrup is known to have antioxidant properties that come primarily from 2 types of compounds.  Without getting overly technical and going into specifics, early season syrup has anti-oxidizing properties due to 1 set of compounds, and syrup made from sap harvested from the second half of the season relies on a different type of compound to chase down and capture free radicals.  That is cool!!

4) When we say something has antiproliferative properties, we are referring to a substance that keep cancer cells from multiplying quickly and without impediment.  It turns out maple syrup has these properties too!  But some maple syrup is better at slowing the growth rates of cancer cells than others.  Past research has found darker color maple syrup has a greater ability to slow harmful cell production than lighter grades of syrup.  Certain phenolic compounds register higher in darker colored syrup, and it is believed these substances are the active agents at play in antiproliferative defenses.

5) If you can get your hands on this article, it is absolutely a great resource.  I could list a number of additional points that reflect the general tenor of #3 and #4, but suffice it to say this post would grow real long real fast.  Again, here is a link to the abstract and research article in full.

I want wrap up this REVIEW by focusing on a small subsection within the larger article titled “Effect of maple syrup production processes on its nutritional value and component bioactivity.”  In other words, what should the maple syrup production process look like to enhance and bolster the nutritional and medical benefits of finished maple syrup product?  Here are a couple quick takeaways in closing.  Antimutagenic (preserving DNA integrity) properties seem to be highest in the earliest lightest color syrup made in the season.  Darker syrup grades are better equipped to fight cancer cells.  Drying syrup (making some value-added products) reduces total phenolic content (the agents responsible for antiproliferative defense) and antioxidant capacities.  This is my own two cents, but I get the growing sense that investigating the intricate and minute details of maple syrup in terms of its chemical structure, molecular compounds, and different properties, traits, and characteristics is like a medical explorer penetrating the deepest and darkest most remote corners of the tropics where previously undiscovered plant species may hold the spark to the next game-changing pharmacological revolution.  Remarkable stuff!!

 

 

PA Maple Boot Camp Recap

Maple Boot Camp rotated over to Pennsylvania for 2023 after we hosted it last year in ’22.  The agenda delivered a wealth of information to 20+ lucky attendees who came from backgrounds of “I’ve never tapped a tree before” to “I’m looking to expand into that medium-large producer category.”  Speakers from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania served to make Boot Camp a huge success – a special thanks to Mike Lynch of Baer Brothers Maple for hosting the in-field workshops in his sugarbush and sugarhouse.

Kate Fotos, Les Ober, and Mike Rechlin taught a maple grading seminar to attendees who elected to show up early for a pre-Boot Camp workshop.  Day 1 covered discussions of tree identification,  site and woods evaluation, sugarbush inventory, and tree health assessments, and spanned indoor sessions with outdoor hands-on lab time.  After a wonderful catered dinner, Steve Childs tackled night one of value-added maple products and demonstrated maple sugar and maple cotton candy.  Here is a link to the New York State Maple Confections Notebook that is a testament and legacy to his lasting impact on the maple industry across the region.

Day 2 kicked off with a flipped itinerary to accommodate weather conditions that were less than favorable.  Kudos to everyone’s flexibility and Scott Weikert’s boldness to turn the agenda on its head.  It is hard to imagine the day going much better than it did!  While night two of maple confections featured maple cream and maple candies back in the meeting event space, the vast majority of the day took place in the sugarbush at Baer Brothers Maple.  Sap collection methods and detailed demonstrations of installing and maintaining main line, lateral line, and drop and spout configurations filled the morning.  After a bagged lunch, best practices related to tapping and sanitation practices took center stage.  Semi-structured lectures interspersed with lots of hands-on demonstrations and opportunities for workshop attendees to try their own hands at different skills and techniques carried the day.

While I was not able to stick around for the third and final day, everyone once again caravaned out to Mike’s sugarhouse to see his reverse osmosis and evaporator set-up.  This is such an important component of workshops, but due to time of year, sometimes gets the short end of the stick.  Not this time.  Mike had his system primed with water to get all the steam and the burn which takes an off-season experience to the next level.  Attendees were lucky to enjoy an afternoon closing session on financial planning, operation economics, sales and marketing from one of the best in the industry – Mark Cannella from UVM.

Planning for Maple Boot Camp version West Virginia is already afoot for 2024 – as details begin to fall into place, you can be sure we will share all of the relevant details!