Forest Change through Time: A Woodworking Project

My eye caught upon this unique woodworking project at a friend’s house over Memorial Day weekend festivities.  Eventually my appreciation was replaced by conversation, and I’m happy that my friend was willing to share a photograph of his handiwork with the Ohio Maple Site.

He was inspired to create the art piece by 2 primary literature sources.  The first – an article in the academic journal PLOS ONE entitled “Four Centuries of Change in Northeastern United States Forests” – provided most of the tree composition data from 1600 to present at half century increments.  The second – a book chapter entitled “New England’s Forest Landscape: Ecological Legacies and Conservation Patterns Shaped by Agrarian History” was authored by researchers at Harvard and a few other universities.  This second resource provided data on forest cover percentages for the region over the same time span.

To focus more on the art itself, the height of each overall column represents the percentage of forest cover in the northeastern United States, which reached a low point in the mid-late 19th century.  Each individual wooden panel tracks a common tree species or genus through time; from bottom to top: beech, oak, maple, hemlock, birch, pine, chestnut, ash, and fir.  Chestnut notably disappears in the jump from 1850 to 1900 as a result of the chestnut blight, and ash will certainly be affected similarly during this time step from 2000 to 2050 due to the emerald ash borer.

But maple, oh maple!  Maple has asserted its dominance throughout many portions of the northeastern United States, and maple now has more standing stock volume than any other species group region-wide.  And it’s not even close.  The reasons and driving factors are diverse, and perhaps someday we’ll write some posts to address the why of broad shifts in tree species composition.  But for now, let’s just admire a truly unique and inspired piece of artwork that tells a story we can all appreciate.

Author: Gabriel Karns, Ohio State

What to Expect for the Rest of the 2021 Ohio Maple Season

Just like snowflakes no two maple seasons are exactly alike.  No question about it, this season fooled me. After about 5 years of early tapping, along comes 2021.  During December and January, we experienced above normal temperatures leading to what many believed would be one more in a string of early tapping seasons.  Tapping in January has become almost routine across Ohio.  However, just like a deck of playing cards, every deck has 2 jokers.  This winter season we had two meteorological jokers.

The first was the presence of a strong La Nina with its trademark warmer and wetter weather conditions.  Hidden in the background far to the North was the second joker – the always volatile and never popular polar vortex.  A polar vortex is always a possibility during the winter months.  You never know when the jet streams will line up just right and push Artic air southward into our region.  This year we did not experience the full brunt of the vortex like we did in 2014.  The coldest air stayed well to the west of Ohio.  However, we did experience a cold spell that dominated 20+ days of February.

As result of the persistent polar vortex, the start of the 2021 maple season was pushed back until the last week of February and first couple days of March.  Even southern Ohio producers were forced to tap two to three weeks later than normal.  The first of March is not historically an abnormally late starting time for maple season in Ohio.  The one dominant factor that makes this season different is that our weather is still being somewhat controlled by a strong La Nina weather pattern.  The threat of an early warm-up and above normal temperatures are real.  And the first indication of that was the stretch of 60-70 degree temperatures experienced during the middle of the second week of March.  This was enough to trigger budding in red maples and silver maples of southern Ohio.

At the same time, many sugar camps in northeast Ohio set one day records for syrup production.  Sap flows were exceptional after the long cold spell of February.  As of March 12th, the same camps are reporting a half crop entering the third week of March.  The above normal temperatures experienced at the end of the second week, pushed the season close to the brink.  Conditions also caused a dramatic change in syrup grade, and Dark Robust and even Dark Strong profiles have mostly displaced the Golden grade of early season.

The next two weeks will determine the outcome of the maple season in Ohio.  OSU Climatologist Aaron Wilson is predicting a mixed bag of weather conditions for the rest of the month.  There will be some below freezing temperatures but nothing extreme.  For southern Ohio, the trend is for slightly above normal and for northern Ohio – normal temperatures.  Again, we may or may not see those colder low temperatures needed to reset the trees and delay budding.  What is also troubling is the lack of moisture.  2021’s recent precipitation trend is not typical for a La Nina year, and drier than normal conditions are slowly creeping into Ohio.  We need precipitation, snow preferred, to keep the sap flowing, but that key factor is largely missing in the forecast for northern Ohio.  At this stage, we need a hybrid of the two jokers to keep this season productive.

I will keep my prediction for the rest of March to myself, goodness knows the first two months of 2021 fooled me.  That said, I will be able to confidently predict the outcome the 2021 maple season in Ohio on the 15th of April.  What is it they say about hindsight?

 Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

WATCH: Climate and Maple Webinar

The OH / WV / PA maple collaboration produced a great webinar thanks to the expertise of Aaron Wilson, an Ohio State climate research scientist.

Here is a summary of the talk: The maple syrup industry is impacted by both seasonal weather and long-term changes in climate. While the short-term conditions impact annual production cycles and quality, long term changes in climate are having an impact as well. Temperatures across the maple syrup production areas of the US are warming, and climate change extends well beyond just temperature to include shifts in seasonal precipitation patterns and increasingly extreme events. Projections of future climate pose significant risks to the future of maple production across southern zones.

Watch the webinar on YouTube to explore the influence of weather and climate change on the maple industry and discuss the implications for the future.

Tune in next month on December 17th to another webinar in the same Out of the Woods: Enriching Your Maple Business series hosted by Future Generations University in West Virginia.

 

Upcoming Webinar (11/19): Climate Change Impacts and Risks to Southern Maple Production

The maple syrup industry is impacted by both seasonal weather and long-term changes in climate. While the short-term conditions impact annual production cycles and quality, long-term changes in climate are having an impact as well. Temperatures across the maple syrup production areas of the US are warming, and climate change extends well beyond just temperature to include shifts in seasonal precipitation patterns and increasingly extreme events. Projections of future climate pose significant risks to the future of maple production across southern zones. Join the webinar (Register HERE) to explore the influence of weather and climate change on the maple industry and discuss the implications for the future.

Speaker: Aaron B. Wilson – Aaron is an Atmospheric Research Scientist at The Ohio State University, holding a joint appointment with the Byrd Polar & Climate Research Center and OSU Extension. He is also with the State Climate Office of Ohio.

The webinar is part of the Out of the Woods series hosted by Ohio State University, Future Generations University, and Penn State University.

 

 

When to Tap?

The last 10 days of January 2018 had some very good weather for sap flow. If you live in the southern states or even southern Ohio, the decision to tap was a good one because you are never guaranteed a season past mid March. However, the decision to tap early becomes a lot more uncertain for producers further north. I present three maps for your consideration. The top graph is the temperature forecast for NE Ohio from AccuWeather. In my experience, their 30 day forecasts have been reasonably reliable.  The solid orange line is the average historical high temperature for the given dates, and the solid blue line is the historical low average. The broken orange line is the daily high forecasted temperature and the broken blue is the forecasted daily low temps. Once we get past the 5th of February, it appears we are going to drop below normal and stay there through the end of the month. Again this is a 30 day outlook, but it does match up with what all of the local weather stations are predicting.

february Forecast

The next graph is NOAA’s Weather Forecast for February. This Graph is indicating we will have equal chances of being above normal, normal or below normal, at least for Ohio. Looks like the likelihood for above normal weather extends up through New England.

Februar Temp

The last graph is the AccuWeather Forecast for Underhill, Vermont, home of the UVM Proctor Maple Research Center. I picked this location because they do a marvelous job of tracking weather data. The temperature graph appears to be slightly milder than the Ohio graph, with a couple of above normal spikes.  The thing to notice is the sharp rise in daily low and high temperatures at the end of February.

Underhill

I hope this information will help to make your decision easier and that you will seek out these planning resources in future years. Keep in mind that these are long-range forecasts with considerable margin of error.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

2017 Maple Syrup Production in Ohio Better Than 2016

2017 production results were published in the USDA NASS survey on June 9th. For Ohio, the numbers were an improvement over 2016 but only marginally. Ohio produced 80,000 gallons, a slight improvement over the 70,000 gallons produced last year. Once again, 75% of the producing states improved their production, and for many, it was a major improvement.  New York and Maine each added close to 50,000 gallons over last year’s production. The nation’s leading producer of maple syrup – Vermont – again finished right below 2 million gallons.  Vermont is in no danger of losing its crown. Finishing out the top 5 were New York (760,000 gallons), Maine (709,000), Wisconsin (200,000) and New Hampshire (154,000). Ohio continues to slide in its ranking to a disappointing 9th place. However, Ohio producers did increase production over 2016 by 10,000 gallons due to an early start. The earliest start date in Ohio was January 1, 2017, 25 days earlier than 2016. The problem is that when you look at the average start date across the state it was February 11th. That was a problem given the mild weather conditions we experienced in January, and you will also remember we set all-time record highs on February 24th with a balmy 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Ohio’s season ended early around March 16th. Syrup per tap, a measurement where Ohio was once a leader, dropped to 0.20 gallons per tap – a second subpar year in a row for the Buckeye State. By comparison, Vermont recorded their earliest start, also on January 1, with their average starting date February 24th, but had almost an extra 3 weeks of production on average with an average closing date of April 10. Both New York and Maine experienced similar scenarios.

One final statistic that has shown a modest improvement over last year, but is still below 2015, is the number of taps reported for Ohio – 400,000 taps in 2017. For anyone working closely with the Ohio maple industry this statistic is mind boggling given that expansion has occurred in sugar bushes across the state for the last 5 years. The only explanation for this is that a large portion of the syrup being produced in Ohio is going unreported. Another statistic that tends to cast suspicion on the validity of Ohio’s maple production statistics is how Ohio producers choose to market their syrup. In 2015, 44% of Ohio producers sold to the retail market. That number dropped to 30% in 2016. At the same time the bulk sales market expanded from 32% in 2015 to 43% in 2016 (Note: these numbers are always one year behind the current year). Examining market trends of the Big 3 states (Vermont, New York and Maine), the largest percentage of their syrup is sold as bulk (46%, 86%, and 93% in New York, Vermont, and Maine, respectively). It makes you wonder how much syrup is actually being produced in Ohio and is being sold out the backdoor to eastern and western packers. If this true, it is sad because the demand for maple syrup is on the increase in Ohio and the stores are flooded with Canada’s and Eastern states’ syrup.

So what have we learned from the last several maple seasons and how can we improve our maple production?  The one thing that is clear is that during the last five years, we have not experienced consistent “normal” seasons for maple production. The years of 2017, 2016 and 2013 were all warmer than normal, and if you wanted to maintain average production for your operation you had to start early to get the early runs. This was especially true in 2017. The Polar Vortex years of 2014 and 2015 presented their own challenges due to the extremely cold winters and late season starts that we experienced. The fact is, when the weather is right, make your move and tap your trees. In most cases, you will never make up for production lost early in the season by trying to extend the season at the tail end. Another reason to tap early is syrup quality. It is much easier to make a quality product in the first half of the season rather than while fighting increased bacterial contamination and slowing tapholes later in the season. Hopefully 2018 will be a banner year for Ohio maple producers, we are long overdue for a good one.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

The Ohio Maple Syrup Season: Moving Forward?

budded-red

Photo caption: Red Maple in Middlefield Township, Geauga County, Ohio, March 1, 2017

It is March 2nd, and we have just witnessed the warmest February on record in the Cleveland area. The 77 degree day that we experienced on Friday, February 24th, shattered every record for a high temperature in the month of February, and it was also the highest winter temperature in Cleveland for any winter month. The way the month of February ended cast a dark shadow on our ability to make maple syrup in Ohio. Now we are in March and the cold temperatures have come back but where does that leave us?

Many trees have already budded out. All of the silver maple and many red maples that are out in the open have full buds. The sugar maples though have not yet budded and this is one of the main reasons why we prize and select for this species of maple. Given the conditions we have had to date, one thing is for certain – if you have not tapped yet, the potential to make a significant amount of syrup is gone. The next warm spell will likely end the season for everyone.

Now let’s address the producers that have been making syrup and have the potential to make more syrup. If you have red maples, make sure you look at them very carefully or just pull the taps, especially trees in the open such as along a field edge or road side. Several producers with large populations of reds have called it quits altogether due to budding. For those with sugar maples, the potential is there to make more syrup, but you need to be careful not to spoil that sap by collecting sap from red maples too that have already budded.

At this point, a producer’s biggest enemy is bacteria. Everything needs to be cleaned out and drained. You could literally see high levels of bacteria building in the lines and tanks over the previous week of warm weather. Many producers just kept the vacuum pumps running during that period and hoped for the best. Many collected a fair amount of sap due to weather fronts that pushed through. I am certain it paid to operate the pumps keeping lines clear and tapholes as cool as possible. If you shut off the vacuum because the trees quit running, I hope you were using check valves because this would have given you some degree of bacterial protection at the taphole.

Now that the cold weather has returned, what kind of syrup will we make? The answer will come once your fire up the evaporator. If the sap is “buddy”, you will know it. And if it’s not, you’ll most likely be producing a darker grade of syrup. That is not necessarily bad because most producers made a good batch of Golden Delicate early on. If the producer chooses, the two could be blended but taste will determine that. You can blend for color but you cannot blend for taste. If your syrup has a slight off flavor from sour sap or budding, it will show up in the blended grade. There is virtually no way to mask a syrup’s off flavor once it is there, and there is no reason to ruin good syrup that you have already made. That is why some producers already chose to call it quits rather than risking a batch of off-flavored in the sugarhouse.

Producers that tapped in early January have had an average season. The biggest question is, after last year and this year, have we established a new normal for Ohio maple syrup production or maybe the two distinct zones of production in Ohio are just consolidating. I say this because if you produce syrup near the Ohio River, you would normally tap in January. If you live in NE Ohio you would normally tap in mid-February. Maybe we are now seeing a climate shift that will establish a universal tapping date for the entire state. After this year, producers must finally realize one can no longer tap solely by the calendar. If you produce maple syrup in Ohio, you must to be ready to go by New Year’s Day. If the season does not start until February, so be it – but at least you will be ready. Climate change is just that – change, and the only certainty in life is change. We change our systems, we change our tapping technology, we adapt.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

Should I Tap?

I got up this morning (January 12, 2017) and it was 60 degrees! All I could think of was that a lot of my friends who make maple syrup saw the same thing I did and headed straight to the sugarhouse to find their drills. To say the least, 60 degrees in early January is unusually warm and the recent weather pattern has everyone scratching their heads.  The decision of when to tap is one of the most important decisions you will make in any given year – hear are my thoughts on the subject.

First a little science! To quote New York Maple Specialist Steve Childs, we need to know “how does sap happen.” Sap flow is the result of sap rising and falling through the tree’s vascular system known as sapwood. Sap flows to provide nutrients to all of the vegetative growth above ground. Sap flows from the roots to the very tips of branches nourishing the buds that will develop into leaves. This process is on a phenological clock that limits the amount of time that we have to intercept a very small portion of that sap to convert into maple syrup. Once the buds emerge or “break”, sap is no longer usable for syrup production. Sap rises because of fluctuation in spring temperatures that we call the freeze-thaw cycle. As a tree freezes, a suction draws nutrients and water from the ground and through the roots. Once the temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, gases begin to form inside the tree which then pushes the sap through the sapwood all the way into the very tops of the branches. Considerable pressure is produced in the process. In fact, pressures have been measured at 40 psi (pounds per square inch). When you drill a hole in the tree sap leaks out into a bucket and continues until the tree quits pushing sap or it freezes again. We can increase that flow by applying vacuum to the tap with a vacuum pump and tubing. If temperatures stay warm, sap flow will gradually decline; however, sap may flow up to 72 hours without the repeat of the freeze-thaw cycle. Without freezing, the sap level in the tree drops below the taphole and flow stops. Once the temperatures drop below freezing, the whole cycle starts again. This is a very simple explanation of a very complex process.

What else may stop sap from flowing? Once a taphole is drilled into a tree, the maple season clock starts to run. Using buckets and open tapholes, that window of opportunity is around 4 weeks before the taphole starts to heal up and sap flow diminishes. This healing is the result of the taphole being exposed to air and from the growth of bacteria in and around the hole. Air dries out the taphole and supplies oxygen to bacteria that coat the hole with slime eventually sealing off the exposed sap wood – similar to what happens when you get a cut. Blood flows for a while but eventually it coagulates and the bleeding stops. A vacuum tubing system is different in that the taphole is not exposed directly to the outside air and sap is kept flowing under vacuum for a longer period of time. If operated correctly, the taphole will be kept free of bacteria for most of the season. This can be accomplished two ways. First, you can keep the vacuum running continuously whenever the air temperature is above freezing. This keeps the sap moving, keeps the lines clear, and keeps the taphole cool. Producers have found that they can gather enough sap during extended warm periods to make enough syrup to pay for the cost of running the pumps during that period of time. The other method is to us a vacuum system with check valves to prevent bacteria-laden sap from the lines being pulled back in the tree. A tree will draw sap from the lines just like a hose will siphon water from a tank when you turn the tap off. The sap, because it has been exposed to the tubing, has some amount of bacterial contamination – however slight – and will speed healing of the taphole if drawn back to the tree. Check valves close when vacuum is released, and these simple devices seal off the tapholes from sap backflow.

Now to answer the question – “Should I tap during an early warm spell?” My suggestion is first to obtain all the information from a variety of sources that you can about upcoming weather patterns. Next, consider your system. If you are a small producer or a backyard producer looking for the ideal 30 day window, January is most likely too early to tap. Your taps may dry out and you may miss some of the really good runs in late February and March. You could re-tap but that is hard on the tree and is never recommended. The best approach is to watch the weather and be ready to get those good runs in February and March. For those of us who have vacuum tubing. We can stretch the season with taphole sanitation techniques. Watch the weather and tap when the opportunity arises. You may get some very good early runs. If you are going to tap now make sure you change out last year’s spouts and/or use check valves. You have to create a closed system at the tree to prevent taphole healing. If you have enough taps, consider tapping the side of the woods that runs early now and then tapping the later running sections a bit later on the calendar, effectively spreading your season. The best you can realistically hope for is two months before your taps start to shut down. I have personally kept my system flowing from the 10th of February to the 10th of April with the use of check valves and continuous vacuum operation. No matter what you decide to do, it is a gamble. Here is hoping your decision pays off!

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

What Will the Ohio Maple Syrup Industry Look Like in 2050?

(This is a follow-up post to the July 16th post on leasing and evaluating maple stands. It contains more questions than answers.)

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a chance to read in depth the latest edition of The Maple News. What caught my eye was an article about a recent study concerning the health of maple trees in the Adirondacks Mountains of upstate New York. The article documented the relatively slow growth of sugar maples in that region. For many Ohioans reading articles like these, the importance does not always hit home because the article is about someone else’s problem faraway from the local sugar bush. So why should we be concerned? The answer to that question became all too clear after attending a two-day planning meeting for woodlot management at Holden Arboretum.

Holden Arboretum is a nationwide-recognized premier arboretum covering 4000 acres with all types of hard and softwood tree species. Holden’s tree research is highly respected around the world, and the property includes several old sugar bushes and a grove of super sweet trees. One of Holden’s latest projects is entitled the “Working Woods”. It is designed to examine how local woodlots are managed, not only for timber but also non-timber forest products such as maple syrup. The initial meeting was more of an introduction to the project but also provided a chance to share opinions on the subject of forest management. The group sitting at the table included arborists and foresters from several states, commercial foresters, experts from state agencies, and members of the Holden staff. I was fortunate to be selected to represent Ohio’s maple syrup industry and what I took home from the discussion changed my perspective on forest management.

For several years now, one of my OSU Extension projects in Geauga County has been to examine what is happening to the maple tree resource in NE Ohio. This project entitled, “Preserving Sugar Maple for the Next Generation”, is finding out that NE Ohio maple syrup production may be entering a new phase. After World War II just about every farm (most small dairy farms) had a sugar bush. The sugar bushes were small and there were many individual sugar camps per square mile. This gave the appearance of an endless supply of maples to tap. Fast track 50 years later to the year 2000, most of the small dairy farms were sold because their owners could not keep pace with the modern expansion of the industry. Many of the sugar bushes were cut down and replaced with housing developments or other land use conversions. Housing development also increases the demand for home furnishings, and one of the most popular furniture hardwoods today is maple. It is no surprise that Ohio has become one of the leading producers of hardwood furniture in the country, and that industry is centered in Holmes County just 60 miles from the Geauga County. Suddenly with a new interest in the maple tree, and it is not only for syrup production, tracts containing old sugar bushes are being harvested at a steady pace to keep up with the furniture industry’s demand. This would be okay if we lived in an area where there were expansive tracts of timber, but we do not. Instead we live in an area where there are small woodlots, 10 to 20 acres that cannot absorb extensive harvest. To make matters worse, the people doing the logging feel that the only economical cut they can make is a clear cut, and whether perception or reality, selective cutting just does not generate enough revenue to bring in a mill. As a result, northeast Ohio has become the poster child for bad logging practices.

One thing I learned at the Holden meeting was that along with increased harvest pressure maples are now under increased environmental pressure from other fronts. We live in a world of invasive species, natural imbalances, and yes the polarizing term, climate change. As the study from the Adirondacks noted, trees that should be thriving are just not growing at the rate they should due to multiple factors. In Ohio we have also seen increased pressure from wildlife and insect damage on the surface and earthworm damage from beneath the soil. Both have led to reduction in the regeneration of young trees to replace the aging trees that will soon be lost. I have been able to document this at Holden Arboretum over the last 8 years. While recently standing in the middle of one of the Holden Arboretum Working Woods demonstration sites (an Old Sugar bush), I was alarmed at the overall lack of regeneration. The question came to mind – If you are unable to regenerate new growth in a well-managed woodlot inside an arboretum, what are the chances of maple trees coming back in a site that had been clear cut for timber production? The answer to that is all too obvious. Only under the best circumstances would a clear cut woodlot spring back into maple production. Unfortunately in northeast Ohio, Best Management Practices in logging are seldom used. This leaves one to ponder – With 60% of Ohio’s maple syrup currently being produced in northeast Ohio, what will the Ohio maple syrup industry look like in 2050? The bigger question is what will be needed to protect the valuable sugar maple resource.

One result coming from the OSU study is that the risks to maple trees are significantly higher on private property than on public property. There are still good healthy stands of maple trees growing in our parks and on other public lands; however, even those maple stands are under constant pressure from overabundant deer herds.

Landowner education is must for managing private woodlots. Education process starts by showing a landowner the range of options available for woodlot utilization and management. Beyond that, landowners still need to be convinced that the best way to make those decisions is to seek professional help before signing any contractual agreements. This means that certified foresters need to appraise the resource. If they decide not to cut and to pursue non-timber forest products, landowners need to contact someone who can show them how to make that happen as well. As Cornell University Maple Specialist Dr. Michael Farrell points out in his book A Sugarmaker’s Companion,

Often the best way to save a maple tree is to utilize it for maple syrup production.

It is not my intention to dictate what a landowner should do with his or her property. Certainly if they have made up their mind to harvest the timber for whatever they are offered, they have the right to do that. The problem is that what looks good on the surface does not always end up that way and there are often regrets when the process is completed. We need to make sure woodland owners are making informed and educated decisions with all the information on the table. Hopefully somewhere along the way, we will see fewer woodlots suffering the brunt of unsustainable logging practices and more going into maple syrup production. In the meantime, enjoy the hours you spend in your sugarbush and never take the sweet gift of making maple syrup from these magnificent trees for granted.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

How to Handle Extreme Cold Late Season Conditions in the Sugarbush

It is now the 20th of February and temperatures have dipped to 20 below zero. In Rome, Ohio, of central Ashtabula County the temps dipped to 39 below zero. Enough already! Last year at this time many of us in Northeast Ohio were already headed to the woods to tap. In 2014, we had extremely cold temperatures but they occurred in January. None of us will forget the “Polar Vortex”. This was a new weather term and it quickly became the definition of extraordinarily cold weather. This time around we have to go back 20 years to become reacquainted with a very old weather term “The Siberian Express.” This is cold air that is literally pushed across the North Pole and driven deep into the heart of the United States. The last time we had this kind of outbreak was in 1994. We set a cold record on January 21, 1994. However, that did not affect maple syrup production that year; in fact, Ohio had one of its better years producing 90,000 gallons of syrup in 1994. The only difference was that the cold weather came in January.  We also had a hard winter in 2008 and experienced a break out year with 150,000 gallon produced.

The secret to producing syrup in a cold year is to be ready to go when the weather breaks…and it will break. Another thing you may have to deal with is tapping into frozen wood. Trees are like glass, very fragile in cold weather. Drive a spout too hard and you run the risk of splitting the tree above and below the spout. This crack will leak not only sap but vacuum. On the other hand, if your spout is seated too loose, it will need to be reset once the tree has thawed out. Under these conditions it is always better to underdrive the spout than overdrive splitting the tree. In many cases, you will probably need to reset a large percentage of spouts installed under frozen conditions anyways. This is something that large producers deal with annually because they often start tapping early during very cold weather to minimize lost production.

Snow in the woods is another thing that you will have to deal with unless we get a big thaw. The snow can be your enemy and it can be your friend. Snow creates all kinds of problems. Mainlines and laterals can be pinned under the snow and gathering trails may be blocked. In this case, I would much rather have to deal with a few lines under snow than having to clear trails. The amount of snow at the base of your trees is your guide to what has to be done first. With mainlines you may have to do some shoveling in the areas where the lines are close to the ground or if they are pinned by a fallen branch. Be very careful digging out around saddles, you do not want to damage your saddle connections. If you damage a hole where a saddle is connected you will run the risk of creating a vacuum leak. In this case you may have to splice the mainline so that you do not run the risk of a vacuum leak. There is no real good way to seal a damaged mainline at the saddle connection, and these can turn into some of your worst leakage problems. With pinned laterals you simply cut the lines, pull them out from under the snow and reconnect. Try to do this at existing connection points to avoid adding more splices. In many cases the line is down because a limb has fallen on it. This means that all of the connecting points have been stressed resulting in possible vacuum leaks.

In most cases, a few warm days will melt the snow away from the lines. The big thing is to be tapped when this happens. Having a snow pack in the woods can be beneficial in that it will keep your woods cool and wet. A slow melt off of a snow bank will not only keep the woods cool during the day but will promote reflective cooling at night often resulting in below freezing temperatures. A good thing! The slow release of moisture from melting snow is additional moisture to be sucked up by the trees stimulating a good sap flow. Something that often occurs in cold weather is portions of a sugar bush exposed to long periods of sunlight (often southern exposures) will run first and areas that are more shaded like a northern slope will run last. Using the above facts as a guide, get your traditionally warmer areas tapped first and then concentrate on the colder portions. In cold years, the cool areas hold snow longer and tend to run very good towards the end of the season. This can be a real season stretcher. However, do not use this as an excuse to put all of your taps on the warm side of the tree. This is an old wives’ tale and a bad practice. It is always best to follow some form of systematic tapping.

A few closing thoughts on getting around in deep snow cover, aka, snowshoes. I have tried them with mixed feelings. This will be one of the best cardio workouts you will ever experience. Do not expect to go to the metro park, try them out, and then think snowshoeing your woods will be easy. Walking on a groomed trail is way different than walking in the sugarbush. The size of the shoe required is determined by weight. Use as small of a pair as you can in the woods to prevent getting snagged on brush. Yes they keep you on top of the snow but for me it was like trying to walk with a bushel basket on each foot. On our first adventure, my partner and I looked like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo going through the woods. And one of the first things I learned was that snowshoes can quickly turn into skis on a slope. You need to master the side step or risk a dangerous slide into a ravine. Been there done that, not fun! Yes, snowshoes get the job done and will get you across the snow; however, I will leave snowshoes to the thin athletic New Englanders and French Canadians who promote them.

Have a good start to the season and until then stay warm.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension