The Steam has finally cleared! What a January it has been, when it comes to making maple syrup. There had to be some kind of record set in Ohio for the amount of syrup produced in the first month of the year. Locally most of the bigger producers tapped and produced between 200 and 400 gallon of syrup. This was a personal best for most of them in the month of January. For many who tapped around the 12th of January it was the earliest they had ever tapped. Geauga Maple Company and Grossmans Sugarbush in Claridon Twp. Geauga County were both going early. Talking to Jason Grossman at the Ohio Maple Days he indicated that they had boiled 5 times prior to the winter meetings. Sugar Valley Farms in Middlefield, made right at 400 gallon as did the Gingerich Family Sugarbush in Burton Township. The Howel’s Family in Northwest Pa. also had a good early run and made a considerable amount of syrup. Reports were coming in all over New England on Facebook from early tappers with the same results. The easiest way to keep up on the season’s progress in Ohio and elsewhere is to go on the Ohio Maple Blog Facebook page. I will also keep a running summary of events on the 2017 Maple Progress Report.
On the 30th of January old man winter returned with an outbreak of winter weather in NE Ohio. Overnight we received 12 inches of Lake Effect. This will make tapping and working lines harder in this part of Ohio. It looks like a two week lockdown of cold weather with very little time above freezing. Looking at several weather sites, I do not see anything much above 32 or 34 degrees before February 15th. That forecast would parallel what NOAA Weather had predicted for the first half of February. Long Range forecasts predict this trend of below normal temps will continue on into March. This means cold weather up front but cooler weather as we move toward April. This is a good thing if the normal air temp is 45 to 50 degrees in Mid-March it means we will maintain conditions conducive to sap flow. Another good thing is that no day time/night time lows are predicted to be below zero. Tell you how this all works out when we get to the middle of March.
The other thing to consider for the early tappers is will your taps hold up over almost 3 months of exposure to the elements. Again this comes down to what kind of plan you had prior to early tapping. Did you use new taps, did you change out drops and taps or did you install check valves? Is your plan to keep the vacuum pumps running whenever the air temperature is above freezing. For many this is uncharted territory. Last year was similar with cold stretching almost into March and then the season abruptly ended on the 10t of March. Early tappers were really only in for a little over 6 weeks at the most. That would be the length of a normal season. In the east the season started a little later and ran well into April. For those that did tap early the reward was a near normal season in Ohio and a spectacular season in the East. Only time will tell the outcome. I think we stand to learn a lot about the new technology we are using.
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.
It is now the 20th of February and the temperatures have dipped to 20 below zero. In Rome, Ohio, Central Ashtabula County the temps dipped to 39 below zero. Enough already! Last year at this time many of us in Northeast Ohio were 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 extremely 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 record cold record on January 21, 1994. However, that did not affect maple syrup production that year. In 1994 Ohio had one of its better years producing 90,000 gallons of syrup. The only difference was that the cold weather came in January. In fact we had a hard winter in 2008 and had 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 to 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 loose it will need to be reset once the tree has thawed out. Under these conditions it always better to under drive the spout than split the tree. In many cases you will probably need to reset a large percentage of spouts anyway installed under frozen conditions. This is something that large producers deal with annually because the often start tapping early during very cold weather.
The snow in the woods is another thing that you 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 will 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. 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 and the snow will settle 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 big thing is the slow release of moisture from the snow pack. This is additional moisture to be sucked up by the trees creating a sap flow. Something that often occurs in cold weather is that a portion of the sugar bush, that is exposed to long periods of sunlight, southern exposures, will run first and the 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 run very good at 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 tail and a bad practice. It is always best to follow some form of systematic tapping.
A few thoughts on getting around in deep snow cover, aka; snowshoes. I have tried them with mixed feelings. Do not go the metro park, try them out and think this is easy. Walking on a groomed trail is way different than walking in the woods. The size of the shoe required is determined by weight. Use as small pair as you can in the woods to help 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. One other tip, you had better be in good physical shape before you go out. This will be one of the best cardio workouts you will ever experience. 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 they 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 good start to the season and until then stay warm.
Geauga County OSU Extension
OSU Extension Geauga County
This looks like a cold one going into the first part of the season. I do not believe we will see many trees tapped during the month of January. That being said, there are always a few hardy souls in Southern Ohio that venture out into the cold, trying to tap before m Mr. Ground Hog leaves his burrow.
Looking at the 30 day forecast maps by NOAA Weather for the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, the forecast is for more of the same. The weather pattern that has been bringing waves of cold air into the region all winter, appears to be staying in place. We can expect very short warm ups between these low pressure systems. What has set this year apart form other similarly cold winters, is the extreme cold caused by the polar vortex drifting farther south than normal. Some agricultural forecasters are predicting this pattern of below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation to continue through mid-March, with the above normal precipitation continuing for 60 to 90 days. The one thing to remember is that predicting weather more than 5 days in advance is a very inexact science.
In a normal year the low temperatures at the start of February would be, lows in the twenties and highs into the mid-forties. This sets up a well-defined freeze thaw pattern. This pattern does not setup in New England until early March. Their season typically runs through April. Ohio is about a month earlier. If we continue with a prolonged period of cold weather running through most of February, this could have an impact on the season. That would happen only if the weather remained cold and then suddenly warmed up and stayed warm. We saw that in 2009. In 2008 we were cold right into the first part of March with heavy snow. In 2008 we made 125,000 gallons in Ohio. No matter how hard you try, you cannot completely forecast a maple sugaring season. The only weather that counts is the weather that occurs from the time you put the tap in the tree to the time you pull it out. All you can do is get ready and tap when Mother Nature gives you the green light.
This year, early tappers will, most likely, will be tapping into frozen wood. This is very different than the last two seasons which were very mild and producers tapped under unfrozen conditions. Frozen wood presents a few problems. The first thing you need is a very sharp bit. There is more resistance in frozen conditions. The bit will also dull down quicker, requiring a change in bits from time to time. Today many companies make bits that are designed to drill under frozen conditions. This is a very common practice in Canada and the Canadians drive the market. Because it takes little extra force you need to take care and not drill an oblong hole. Producers also need to be very careful when setting the spout. It is very easy to split frozen wood and cause a leak at the top and bottom of the whole. Either one of these conditions can cause vacuum leaks. You need to steady your drill hand and go straight in allowing the drill to do the work. Then tap in the spout very carefully. If you are tapping in frozen wood you will probably need to go back and check the taps once the wood thaws out. Reset where needed. There is a little extra work required when tapping early but you know what they say about the early bird. In this case no worm, but a lot more sap.
Author: Les Ober Geauga County OSU Extension
The recent warm spell had many maple producer fired up and ready to tap. If you frequent the maple chat lines like Maple Trader or Sugar bush Info you heard a lot of speculation on when where and how to tap. There appears to be as many theories on tapping as there are tap holes. Let’s look at the tapping process.
The first thing to remember about tapping trees whether you tap early or late is that you only have one chance to get it right. Making a mistake the first time can screw up the whole season. It is more important how you tap than when you tap. First we need to take a look the trees and determine which ones to tap. To do this we follow a set of tapping guidelines that are published in the North American Maple Syrup Manual. Depending on whether you follow the traditional or the conservative guidelines you will be tapping a tree no smaller in diameter than 10 to 12 inches. This is where a recent study done by the Univ. of Vt. Proctor Lab in Underhill Center VT adds clarity to the ongoing debate. The research work was done by Dr. Abby van den Berg at Proctor at high yield sugar bushes throughout Vermont. High yield was operations with vacuum systems using 20 plus inches of vacuum to collect sap. What Dr van den Berg found out, was that the current conservative tapping guidelines of 12 inches in diameter minimum size was correct for tubing systems using modern high vacuum collection systems.
The study compared the percentage of functional and non-functional wood in the trees of different diameter and applications. Functional wood is new growth wood, the kind you can tap intoand get peak production. Non-functional is the dead wood that is left behind as a result of tapping. This wood is the stained non-productive wood that you see in cross sections of maples that have been tapped. At 12 in. diameter a healthy tree will regenerate enough new growth (90% or greater functional wood) to maintain tree growth and adequate sugar production to maintain tree health. Trees under 12 inches saw a steady decrease in the percentage functional wood at an earlier age. This is important because you want to consistently be tapping into new wood year after. If the percentage of functional wood is on the decline this makes it harder year after year to find new wood to tap into. It could lead to a decline in overall tree health and productivity. A quick way to determine tree size is to use a rope 38 inches in. long. If you get to a tree and you place the rope around the tree and the two ends of the rope do not touch you have a tree at least 12 inches in diameter. There were other factors that could influence the reduction of functional wood.
The standard drop line length recommended and used in this study is 30 inches. It was found that if the drop length was reduced it intern reduced the tapping zone of that of the tree. The result was a decline in the functional wood area at an earlier age. This is very important because as we work on drop lines making repairs or installing new spouts it is not uncommon to see them getting shorter and shorter. This greatly reduces the tapping area on that tree. If you are following the new tap sanitation recommendation of replacing drop lines every other year you can overcome this problem of short drop lines by replacing them with new 30 inch drops. Also consider on trees with very large diameters you may need a longer drop line. Another factor is using the old style large spout. This will increase the size of the non-functional wood for each tap. It is always wise to use the new 5/16 tap if you want to promote tree health.
The study at Proctor used a 1 ½ tapping depth with the 5/16 spout throughout the study. That is the correct tapping depth for today’s maple operations and maintaining that depth can be difficult. One way is to put a piece of tubing over the bit exposing 1 ½ inches of bit allowing you to reproduce that depth each time you drill. Also consider how you drill. Make sure you hold the drill straight drilling a round hole, angled slightly downward. Wiggle the drill and you have an oval shape hole that will leak not only sap but vacuum. Do this enough time and you will be losing vacuum all over the place. Use a sharp bit that cleans the shavings out of the hole. Shavings left in the hole will attract and promote bacterial growth. The spout must be seated properly but do not over drive the tap causing it to split on top and on the bottom. Use a light tapping hammer and leave the sledge hammer at home. Today most producers use cordless drills to tap. It is important to use a drill you are comfortable with, not only the first hour but at the end of the day. The new drills with Lithium batteries are light and are a good investment both in battery longevity and ease of handling.
Establish a tapping pattern that you use every year, such as 6 inches over and 6 inches up or moving to the opposite side of the tree. Do not try to tap a tree year after year on the south side because someone told you it would run early. With buckets expand you dumping zone to include high and low buckets. What is important is getting the job done right the first time. Remember there is pride in bragging you tapped 1000 today if half of them are screwed up. Slow down and make your work count. Here is the website for the Univ. of VT factsheet http://nsrcforest.org/project/sustainable-tapping-guidelines-modern-maple-syrup-production