Cold Weather Primes Maple Syrup Project For A “Sweet” Season

Al and Susan Polk, of Mullica Township, tap into a tree at the Stockton maple grove. (Photo courtesy Susan Allen/Stockton University)

  GALLOWAY – The cold weather has brought snowfall and icy roads to residents across the state. Although the low temperatures have left some in a cold mood, members of the Stockton Maple Project team are welcoming the frosty air.

  “We are really excited that this year we have great weather conditions. The number of people who have complained about how cold it is outside to me, I’m just smiling,” said Judy Vogel, Stockton Mathematics professor and director of the project. “I just put on an extra layer and walk outside with a big grin on my face.”

  The project kicked off its fourth season of tapping trees on the Galloway campus the second week of January. It’s funded by two U.S. Department of Agriculture grants totaling more than $900,000 to promote maple sugaring in southern New Jersey.

  The frigid weather has provided a great start, as the best way to pull sap from the trees is to have freezing nights followed by above-freezing days.

  Vogel said about 730 gallons of sap have already been collected, which will eventually turn into 7 to 10 gallons of syrup.

  “This is just the start of a very sweet season of tapping,” Vogel said.

  Last winter was the third warmest in New Jersey recorded history and as a result, the team only collected 2,100 gallons of sap and made 22 gallons of syrup.

  “We never really got sustained freezing temperatures,” Vogel said. “We got sap. We got syrup. But it wasn’t ideal conditions of an extended freeze then thaw.”

  Assistant Director Ryan Hegarty said he foresees an increase in production this year. The project has tapped 50 additional trees in the grove.

  In addition, the trees that last year relied on a bucket to collect the sap have now been added to a tubing and vacuum pump system that the other trees use. Hegarty has also installed new, more efficient tap fittings that should increase the sap flow.

  “People think that when you tap a tree, it’s like turning on a facet,” Hegarty said. ‘But you get periods of sap runs and dips when the temperatures get below and above freezing.”

  The project is so much more than just collecting syrup; it’s about helping to build a community on campus and in surrounding Pinelands towns.

A tubing and vacuum pump system makes the process more efficient. (Photo courtesy Susan Allen/Stockton University)

  “We were looking to create an environment where the community wants to get involved on their own and also where we educated people about sustainable agroforestry,” Vogel said.

  Since its inception, the adopt-a-tree program has grown from 65 to more than 100 participants this year. Hegarty said this year the project has given out more than 400 taps to residents and 11 satellite sites have been set up where at least 25 trees are tapped each year.

  The project has also focused on education outreach at schools in the surrounding area. Last year, retired teacher Debby Sommers was hired to develop presentations on the science of maple trees and sap production for K-12 classrooms across South Jersey. Since the start of 2023, she estimates that she has reached more than 5,000 students during more than 100 site visits in 15 different schools.

  The question Vogel always gets is: “How can I buy it?”

  About 20 of the 60 gallons of syrup have been sold at farmers markets, but the operation is too small to consistently sell syrup to the public, Hegarty said.

  Vogel said she hopes to build partnerships with larger maple syrup producers and the food industry to see if the syrup can be used in things like salad dressing or barbecue sauce. Additionally, Vogel plans to apply for a new USDA grant this year to further these initiatives.

  “This project has completely changed my relationship with winter,” Vogel said. “Now, I love it. I want the cold. I really enjoy this moment of the year.”