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.
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!!
We are excited to announce our new research project “Freeman’s Maple (red x silver) Potential for Syrup Production and Resilience in Ohio’s Forests.” The announcement came in the 2020 round of USDA ACER funded proposals. Click over to the Mansfield Maple tab to learn a bit more about the grant and what you can expect from the project over the next 3-4 years.
Suffice it to say, the grant will be keeping us busy for the foreseeable future, and we are excited to advance Ohio’s role in better understanding, utilizing, and protecting our maple resource. Stay tuned for updates.