April 27th is the day many people in Chardon Ohio and the surrounding area have been waiting for all year. Today is the opening day of the 2017 Geauga County Maple Festival. For many this is the first Ohio festival to open every year. A chance to enjoy the festivities , the contests and load up on fair food and of course have more than one maple stir. The maple festival is an opportunity to celebrate the maple syrup industry and what it means to Geauga County. It salutes the men and women who produce one of nature’s most perfect foods. In 2017 two milestones were reached at the Geauga County Maple Festival Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony. For the first time, a prominent maple syrup producing family had a 3rd generation inducted into the Geauga County Maple Syrup Producers Hall of Fame. Also when the awards was announced for the grand champion maple syrup produced in Geauga County a new record was set for the number of times that this award was given to an individual sugar bush.
On April 22, 2017 two members from different sides of the Timmons Family were inducted into the Geauga County maple Syrup Hall of Fame. Robert Timmons father of Richard and George and Roderick Timmons the father of Sterling Timmons were the 2017 inductees. Two sides of the family tree living and farming within a few miles of each other in Auburn Township. Robert’s family grew up on Munn Road Township on dairy farm where they made syrup on a 3000 Tap sugar bush. Down the Road and around the corner the Roderick Timmons family also owned a dairy farm and a 2000 tap sugar bush. Both sides of the family had seen member inducted previously. Roberts’s sons Richard and George and their wives Ruth and Clare were the first members of the family to be inducted in the Hall of fame in 1987. Roderick’s son Sterling and his wife Jean were inducted in 2000. Finally Richards’s son Jim and his wife Penny were inducted into the hall in 2010. More than one maple producing family has had 2 generations receive the honor but up until now no family has had a third generation inducted. It is only fitting that this honor be given to the Timmons family for all the support both sides of the family tree have given to the Geauga County Maple Industry. On hand to receive the honor were two of the grandchildren, one from each side of the family. On hand to receive the award for Roderick was granddaughter, Polly Fenton. Polly’s father, Sterling Timmons moved the family to central Ohio during the mid-nineties when the new St. Rt. 422 was extended through the middle of their farm. Polly remarked that after discovering some maple trees on the new farm, one first things Dad did, was to build a sugarhouse. Today Son Terry runs 500 taps keeping the maple tradition alive. On the Robert Timmons side of the family Grandson Jim accepted the award. Jim’s side of the family, represents, the third, fourth and fifth generations now producing maple syrup. Jim now operates a 4000 tap sugar bush on the home farm in Burton Township. Jim remarked that his grandfather would not believe the way we make syrup today. Congratulations to both sides of the Timmons Family.
This year also marked the first time that any sugar bush has won the top producer award more than more than 8 times. That honor up until this year was held by Rhodes Sisters and their father Anson Rhodes The new honor of 9 grand champion awards goes to Soubousta Farm of Chardon Ohio. The first 4 times the honor was bestowed on the original owner of the farm Ed Soubousta. The last 5 Championship Awards were won by Ed’s Nephew Robert Butler. This is an achievement and a record that may never be duplicated again unless Bob and his partners add a couple more top producer awards to their list of achievement’s.
Last year the entry format was changed and the In County entries are now judged by individual grade. Awards were given for the top 7 entries in each grade. The Top Winner and overall winner of The Golden Delicate class was Soubousta Farm. First place in the Amber Rich class was Tom Salo of Montville and the first place winner in the Dark Robust class was Carl and Karen Defillippo also from Montville. The first place winner in the Out of County entry was The Goodell Farm from Mantua Portage County. Stephanie Bartlett of New bury was your Grand Champion Adult Candy Maker. Winning the Grand Champion Junior Candy maker award was Anthony Barham of Chardon. The Grand Champion Syrups and the top placing syrups in all categories will be auctioned off on Sunday April 30th at 12:30 on the Main Street Stage. The weather looks like it will cooperate with only a slight risk of showers. Come out and enjoy the festival and all things maple.
Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension
Les Ober OSU Extension
There have multiple posts on the Ohio Maple Blog Facebook page concerning the weather and how it will affect the maple syrup season in Ohio. Let me say this at the onset, no one is able to predict the weather long range with a great degree of accuracy more than a few days out and this year has proven that. What I do know is that we are faced with up to 6 days of temperatures above 50 degrees. If that does happen it will be the first time in 80 years for the last week in February. It will also push our trees closer to bud break. Right now we have accumulated 20 growing degree days. A Red Maple could experience bud break at 44 growing degree days (Gdd). That means we have to accumulate 24 more days in Burton Ohio to break the buds on a Red Maple. It is possible that we will accumulate almost one third of those this upcoming week. That being said this will change as we move further south in the state. There are areas right now in the southern part of the state that may very well see first bud break on Red Maples and Silver Maples by the end of next week.
Buds coming out this time of year is very early even for southern Ohio. There are many factors that lead to what I will call premature budding of maple trees. Day time temperatures have the biggest influence on budding. Anything above 50 degrees is counted as a Gdd. However, the temperatures in a woodlot tend to be lower than at the street level. The trees on the street will bud faster than those in the woods. How much snow do you have? Right now we have 4 to 5 inches on the ground and that will keep the woods colder during the first part of the upcoming weekend due to convective cooling, especially at night. The bigger question is how much snow will show up in March? Snow is good not only to cool the trees but slow release moisture for sap flow. How much cloud cover do you have? Cloud cover keeps the warming sun rays away from the tree branches. It is those bright sunny days that move a tree closer to bud break. Northern Ohio has more cloud cover than southern Ohio especially close to Lake Erie.
What will tell the story is the forecast going into the first week of March? Right now it is calling for cold weather. I think the weather pattern that sets up after March first will determine the length of our season this year just as it did last year. Area north of Columbus will survive this warm spell but south of Columbus is questionable. The long range NOAA Weather forecast for Columbus north shows that we will trend below normal up until St. Patrick’s Day after that it will trend slightly above normal. In the Cincinnati area the trend will be to go above normal and will osculate close to the freezing during the night. Northeast Ohio once again appears to have the best chance of making syrup through the end of March due to fact that our average daily lows are in the high twenties throughout the month. If it freezes at night we will be ok.
The good news is that the early tappers have reached the halfway mark of a normal season. The run this weekend will be big one. If you have not tapped you had better get in the woods and get the job done and catch this run. Take what is given to you in the days ahead and be thankful for what you have produced so far. We are definitely in era of change in how and when we produce maple syrup. If this trend continues for one will plan on having everything ready to tap on New Years Days. If it sits for a month so be it but if the weather patterns are right the trees will get tapped. “Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me”.
Les Ober OSU Extension
I got up this morning and it was 60 degrees. All I could think of was that a lot of my friends who make maple syrup got up, saw the same thing I did and headed straight to the sugarhouse to find their drills. To say the least this is unusually warm for this time of year and it has everyone scratching their head. I also looked at the internet and questions were coming into the OMB about whether it is time to tap. This is topic that will be address in depth at the Ohio Maple Days but due to the early warmup I will give you my take 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 in the tree through the vascular system of a maple tree known as sapwood. The sap flows to provide nutrients to all of the vegetative growth above ground. Sap flow from the roots to very tips of the branches nourishing the buds that will develop into leaves. This process is on a phonological clock that limits the amount of time that we have to intercept a very small portion of that sap and make it into maple syrup. Once the buds emerge the sap is no longer useable for syrup production. Sap rises because of a variation in spring temperatures that we call the freeze thaw cycle. The tree freezes, this creates a suction that draws nutrients from the roots along with ground water. Once the temperature rises above 32 degrees F, gases begin to form inside the tree. This pushes the sap up the sapwood the tree up into the very tops of the branches. Considerable pressure is produced in the process. In fact that pressure can reach 40 psi. 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 the temperatures stay warm sap flow will gradually decline. Sap can flow up to 72 hours without the repeat of the freeze thaw cycle. Without freezing the sap level in the tree drop below the taphole and the flow will stop. Once the temperatures drop below freezing the whole cycle starts again. This is a very simple explanation of a very complex process.
What else can cause sap to stop flowing from a taphole? Once a taphole is drilled into a tree the maple season clock starts to run. With buckets and open tap holes that window of opportunity is around 4 weeks before the taphole starts to heal up and the sap flow stops. 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 he taphole and supplies oxygen to bacteria that coat the hole with slime that eventually seals 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 hole 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 will keep the sap moving keeping the lines clear and the taphole cool. Producers have found that they will gather enough sap during extended warm periods and 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. This bacteria laden sap will aid in healing and shutting down the taphole for the season. The check valve will close when the vacuum is released and it will seal off the tap. I discussed many of these taphole sanitation techniques along with the use of check valves in an earlier post on this blog. A side note; for those of you using a 3/16 gravity system, research at the Cornell Maple Program, shows that because you are generating a higher level of vacuum a pull back into the tree occurs. Preliminary research shows that using a check valve will increase the yield in a 3/16 tubing gravity system. I intend to discuss 3/16 tubing in an article to be published on the OMB at a later date.
Now to answer the question should I tap or not tap during and early warms spell. My suggestion is to obtain all the information you can about upcoming weather patterns. Then look at 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 or 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 to opportunity arises. You may get some very good early runs. If you are going to tap now make sure you change out your spouts 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 the late running sections later on, spread the season. The best you can hope for is two months before your taps start to shut down. I have personally kept my taphole open 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’s hoping your decisions pays off. Here is a little additional information that may help to make you decide. NOAA Weather has now released their 3 month forecast for January, February and March. It is now calling for above normal temperatures during the period for Ohio into New England. I will hedge a little but my taps will be in by February 1st.
The Ohio maple Blog launches a new page, “The Backyard Mapler”. I have had several requests for information for backyard/hobby maple syrup production. Hobby maple production is a fun project for the entire family and as many hobby maple producers have found out it can lead to many sweet rewards. This page entitled the Backyard Mapler will be devoted to you the backyard maple producer. I hope it will help to unravel some of the mysteries of maple syrup production and allow you to make a better product. Hope you enjoy our journey through the process of making maple syrup.