Ohio Maple Boot Camp

We hosted Maple Boot Camp at Ohio State Mansfield on June 22-24.  Carri Jagger, Thomas deHaas, and Kathy Smith pulled this post together for the Buckeye Yard & Garden Online blog.

We cannot hold events of this quality without a lot of help and support.  A big thanks to Carri and Kathy, Mike Lynch from CDL, Mike Hogan of OSU Extension, Sayeed Mehmood, Les Ober, Mike Rechlin, Kate Fotos, and Mike Lucero.  I hope I am not forgetting anyone.  And an especially huge thanks to the Brown family at Bonhomie Acres and Stan Hess for opening up their operations for tours and interfacing with Boot Camp attendees.

Here are a sprinkling of photos to supplement what you’ll see at the linked write-up above.

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.

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.

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.

MapleMAPS

The University of Southern Maine’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the Atlantic Corporation recently released MapleMAPS, short for Maple Market Assessment and Planning System.  MapleMAPS provides access to over 20,000 survey responses from across the United States focused consumer preference data for maple syrup and other maple products.  According to the MapleMAPS website, MapleMAPS provides “tools that all maple syrup producers can easily use for business planning and forecasting based on specific market opportunities in their respective and neighboring states and regions, and will lead to benefits such as increased consumption of domestic maple syrup and increased sales and better profit margins for producers.”

Digging in a bit on this end, Ohio was nested with 4 other states – Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin – to form the East North Central region.  While we work more collaboratively with the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it is important to note this distinction when examining the results.

From high level data, such as how much money the average maple customer spends annually…

…to much more specific information, such as this little nugget.  Of all the specific maple products evaluated, Ohio customers ranked maple water as LEAST available – a market opportunity perhaps?

To give you a taste of some of the other data available, here are just a few other bits of information pulled from the MapleMAPS searchable database.

Container material preference – most folks prefer glass and opaque plastic jugs were least popular from a desirability standpoint.

One more – 86% of survey respondents said they consumed at least 1 maple product during the summer, but use was relatively infrequent for most, only about once or a couple times per month.

The MapleMAPS tool is a deep well that can be explored for as long as you have time to dedicate to the database.  And I don’t believe the collaborating partners over-promise on the value of the resource – it is thorough and user friendly and certainly useful.  This is the exact sort of information that can make us all better marketers of our maple.

ACER Research Update: June 2021

We are continuing to make progress on our ACER grant “Freeman’s maple (red x silver) potential for syrup production and resilience in Ohio’s forests.”  Earlier in the month, we collected a series of reference samples from Secrest Arboretum and other locations of pure red maples, pure silver maples, and Freeman’s maples to dial in our approach for identifying individual trees in the Ohio State University-Mansfield research sugarbush via genetics.  The Molecular & Cellular Imaging Center at Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster is processing the tissue samples in order to refine our genetic markers that are particularly useful for pinpointing hybridity of the Freeman’s or “rilver” maple.

How does one use genetics to identify different species or hybrids between two species?

Labs can slice out key segments of the DNA chain from extracted genetic material from plant cells, tissues, and seeds.  Once the right part of the DNA chain is isolated, a process called amplification copies and replicates the genomic material to make the diagnostic markers easier to interpret.  Polymerase chain reaction (PCR for short) is the most common method of amplification.

Try thinking about amplification this way.

You have no doubt used a photocopier in the past.  PCR is just a biotechnology copying machine.  Just as you might use your office equipment to make 100 copies of a single page out of a big book, PCR allows you to make copies of only the DNA piece that holds the information of interest.  There is one key difference (among many!) between your normal office copier and this biotech PCR process though.  A copier makes a stack of copies 1, 2, 3, 4, …97, 98, 99, and 100.  PCR makes copies more efficiently, exponentially actually – 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, …128, 256, 512, so on and so forth.

Enough about amplification, what can we do with diagnostic markers once we have made a whole bunch of duplicates.  Genetic markers are essentially genetic fingerprints.  The unique segments of DNA – the genetic fingerprints – differentiate different species from one another or show varying degrees of hybridity.  These fingerprints can be visualized with another lab process called gel electrophoresis.  Another big word, apologies.  But the main point is this – gels allow us to see, actually see with the naked eye, the genetic fingerprint of our sample and allow us to decide which species or hybrid we are examining.

Above is a panel of genetic fingerprints for differentiating silver maple on the left and red maples on the right.  The image was published as part of a study in 2019.  You can see that silver maples on the left are characterized by two bright bold lines at the bottom of the panel and a third almost halfway up.  Red maples, on the other hand, share the top and bottom band with silver maples, but have a different unique fingerprint with the second marker landing halfway in between.

Enough Genetics 101 for now…the ACER research continues to progress, and we are working toward a more reliable way of understanding how much red versus silver maple genetics are in our “rilver” research maples.

Author: Gabe Karns, OSU Mansfield & SENR

Time Lapse ACER Research

Watch this time lapse video of maple research taking place at the Ohio State Sugarbush located on the OSU Mansfield Campus.

Across 13 racks with 5, 6, or 7 canisters each, the OSU maple team emptied sap to monitor individual tree yield and sap sugar content…daily! The 75 research canisters will help us answer questions about how red x silver hybrid trees (Acer freemanii or “rilver” for short) compare to sugar maple production standards. The PVC canisters are a new design engineered by the team, and vacuum consistently achieved levels in the 22-25 pounds range. A drill pump mounted on a standard cordless drill boosted our sampling efficiency, and a digital Misco refractometer handled sugar readings.

While the data won’t be formally analyzed for a bit, we were surprised just how variable individual trees performed based on sap volume as well as sap sweetness. A couple trees achieved sugar content readings over 3 even at the end of the season. While other trees struggled to break 1.2 or 1.3% all season. For yield, 2-3 gallons a day was average for some trees. Normal for others amounted to just 1 or 2 quarts. The team is pulling down the research equipment now for off-season storage.

Stay tuned for updates.

Author: Gabe Karns, OSU Mansfield & SENR

From the Woods: Another ACER Project Update

Personal point of pride to share this photo of my 9 year old daughter Raelyn holding her first ever recorded datasheet.  She persevered for 4 hours of research last Sunday afternoon and evening to help me empty 75 sap chambers during a small sap run.  It has been a true team effort to pull off the ACER research project!  It seems uncertain right now just long the 2021 season will or will not last, but regardless, the 3 years of this project will allow us to answer some interesting and important questions for Ohio maple.

Ohio Maple Days 2021 Presentations AVAILABLE

Despite being virtual due to COVID-19, 2021 Ohio Maple Days – or more accurately Ohio Maple Day sans the “s” – was a success.  The audience, two hundred or so strong, heard presentations on tapping and updates from our ACER grants in addition to how production might be increased with red maple.  A big thanks to this year’s speakers and an extra round of applause for the committee who worked hard on an event that looked quite a bit different than in years past.  One silver lining to having a virtual event is that the sessions are easily recorded.

Visit the Ohio Woodland Stewards Maple page and scroll to the bottom of that webpage to access the different presentations.  Let us know what you think and send us any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions to talk topics for next year!

From the Woods: ACER Research Update

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!!

Author: Gabriel Karns