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Get sappy! Students research maple syrup sustainability practices

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What would a stack of steaming pancakes be without it?

A lot of work goes in to harvesting maple syrup, but people can end up storing it on shelves at home the wrong way.

Kathy Smith, OSU Extension’s program director for forestry, is producing the household staple in Ohio as a member of the ACER research team.

They have turned 19 acres of The Ohio State University Mansfield campus into a sustainable harvesting site for sap used to produce 100% pure maple syrup.

Smith discussed their research and offered tips on the best ways for storing this sweet stuff so it stays fresh and lasts long in your home.

Teaching sustainable practices in woodland areas

The Sugarbush and the program surrounding it has created many opportunities.

“We proposed a Sugarbush that could teach students the importance of the product and to talk about woodland management,” said Smith.

Through this program, students are able to gain internships and have hands-on experience with forestry. Students learn how to sustainably retrieve sap from trees and are taught how to preserve woodland areas. Students also assist in research regarding the Sugarbush, such as comparative research on sap yield and tree vigor research.

The program also helps woodland owners in nearby communities find opportunities to generate income off their land without cutting down trees, Smith said.

A large issue that is faced when working with woodland areas is sustainability.

“Harvesting sap to make syrup is sustainable. You're not hurting the trees; yes, you're putting a hole in that you're going to harvest the sap out of,” Smith explained, “but you pull that spile at the end of the season. By the time we start tapping again, the previous holes will be callused over.”

One way the team maintains the health of the tree is by never tapping it in the same place. Each time a new tap is needed, it is placed in a spot away from previous taps. This gives the tree time to recover and keeps the tree healthy.

How to store maple syrup the right way

Now that you know how much work goes in to getting the sap out of a tree, how do you ensure that you’re keeping your maple syrup fresh and lasting as long as possible?

Unlike commercial, artificial syrups, 100% maple syrup like the one made on the Mansfield campus needs to be kept cool, Smith said. That means before opening, store it in a cool, dry place. “It has quite a few years of shelf life that way.”

After opening?

“You do want to refrigerate it to keep it from forming different molds,” Smith said.