Stockton University Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Aaron Stoler was drilling holes 2 inches deep into red maple trees on campus Monday, installing taps and running tubing into simple plastic buckets.
Each tap took about five minutes to install, and should begin producing sap soon. The sap will be cooked down into syrup, he said, using specialized equipment.
“It’s so simple. People have done this since the Native American times,” said Math Professor Judith Vogel, who has been making her own syrup on her property in the Wading River section of Bass River Township for a few years.
Stoler, Vogel and a group of other professors have been awarded a $410,000 federal grant to increase maple syrup production in New Jersey and the larger Mid-Atlantic region by using “novel technology, landowner engagement, and sustainable best management practices,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
The professors are seeking property owners who want to produce their own syrup using the native red maple trees, starting now.
For the sap to run, the weather must cooperate. The temperature must fall below freezing during the nighttime, followed by days above freezing (preferably in the 40s).
That weather pattern freezes the sap in the outside tissues of the tree, then releases it and lets gravity do the rest.
“It’s been a weird winter,” Stoler said of the generally warm winter as he worked. “Even New England has been having trouble with consistency.”
The maples here are not the sugar maples, Stoler said, which have a 2% to 4% sugar content in their sap.
Instead, South Jersey has a lot of red maples, which have 1% to 2% sugar content.
The syrup they produce is less sweet, but still delicious, as a sample provided by Vogel proved.
“Stockton has an amazing resource,” Vogel said. “It has thousands of acres with a lot of red maples.”
She’d love to see the university produce its own syrup to promote the campus, she said.
“We are not trying to compete with Canada,” said Stoler, who is the lead investigator on the grant. “We have two primary goals — outreach and education. We want to show (South Jersey residents) can produce syrup with the trees they have access to, for next to nothing.”
Research will examine sap volume, syrup quality, ecological forest management and return-on-investment, he said.
Maple sugaring is a family-friendly activity that sustains the forest. It could also help with family finances. If a property owner has five or more acres, and meets with a state forester to make a plan and follows it, the landowner can get a rebate on property taxes, Stoler said.
But those with smaller properties are welcome to the study.
“It’s an incentive not to chop down the forest,” Stoler said.
Instructor of Economics Mariam Majd will study what it will take for a syrup industry to be profitable in South Jersey, she said.
“We are approaching it from a variety of directions,” Vogel said.
Stoler will also study the impact of tapping trees on the ecosystem.
Three years of data will be collected and the faculty will use the data to investigate the science and economic potential of a maple syrup industry in nontraditional syrup production regions, such as southern New Jersey.
Other members of the Stockton team are Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Jessica Favorito, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Matthew Olson.
Anyone interested in participating in the pilot program can contact Vogel at Judith.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Materials and training will be provided. Participants keep the syrup and are asked to record yields and allow a Stockton research assistant to collect soil and vegetation samples from the property.