Category: Learn

05 Feb 2021

The Magic of Maple

The Magic of Maple

Have you ever wondered about the origin of maple syrup? Before it was that sweet, sticky, delicious flavor puddled on your favorite breakfast dish—before it was bottled on a shelf in the store—before it was boiled down into a more sugary liquid—before it was dripping into a bucket—back when it was just a watery sap, flowing in a maple tree in the forest. You may have heard of some stories of how people discovered and came to use maple sugar: a sap surprise from a tomahawk into a tree; observing animals licking sap from holes in trees. There are many versions of stories and myths, but they all revolve around the relationship between humans and trees.

The first part of this relationship is getting to know your trees, specifically the sugar maple. At a glance, the tall, drab-colored trees all look the same during the leafless, winter months. Many maple trees have a somewhat pinkish hue, but the bark and color change depending on age. If you’re new to maple tapping, we recommend planning ahead and identifying your trees when they have their leaves or buds-it’s much easier! Once you have found your sugar maple trees on your land, it’s important to keep the trees healthy, because healthy trees are happy, sap-flowing trees. A few key tips to keep your trees healthy are: a tappable tree must have at least a 10 inch diameter (the size of a basketball); sanitize your equipment; mark your drill with tape at 2 inches to make sure your hole is the right depth; spread out tap holes so the old ones can heal.

Maple season relies on optimal sap flow, which happens when there are freezing temperatures at night and above freezing during the day. We all know Ohio weather keeps us guessing, so this temperature pattern can occur anywhere from January to March. Our animal friends like ants, flying squirrels, or woodpeckers will lap up sap straight from the tree. You may find yourself doing the same after you encounter sap dripping out of the spile of your first tapped maple tree. However, it’s actually only 2% sugar and 98% water! The key to making syrup is concentrating the sugar, and this is done by removing water through evaporation. Humans have used a number of tools over the centuries to boil down the sap- from hot stones in a carved out log, to metal pots over an open fire, to our modern day evaporators.

At Greenacres, we use a small-scale evaporator in our ‘sugar shack.’ The evaporator is fueled by a wood-burning stove, kept as full and hot as we can get it. We haul our buckets of sap from the maple trees and pour them into the evaporator. As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of sap for the water to evaporate and turn from 2% sugar to approximately 66% sugar. In fact, it takes 40 gallons of sap to create 1 gallon of maple syrup! It also takes a lot of time and effort for the whole process, but luckily it involves the sugar shack. 

The Sugar Shack

Can’t you just smell the heavenly scent wafting around the sugar shack? It is one of the best wintertime experiences that we can think of. The cozy warmth of the fire, steamy room, and sugar molecules dancing under your nose simultaneously trigger your brain into daydreams of maple cookies, pancakes, and drizzled maple popcorn.

What a special relationship and process, straight from the trees. If you don’t want to dabble in your own maple tapping, come to the Greenacres Farm Store and try the syrup we make from our trees. It is available each year typically between late February to early March. Thank a maple tree the next time you see one!

01 Feb 2021

Asian Jumping Worms

Asian Jumping Worms

Asian Jumping Worms have been found throughout Ohio, with confirmed sightings in multiple counties, including Hamilton. This invasive species poses a threat to Ohio’s naturally rich biodiversity.

The Asian Jumping Worm (AJW) life cycle is similar to the European Earthworm (EE) life cycle. Both hatch in the spring from their cocoons, mature in the summer, mate and lay cocoons in the fall, and the cocoons over winter. Unlike EE which live several years, AJW are an annual species and will die after the first frost. The cocoons of AJW are very hard to see compared to EE cocoons because they are much smaller and roughly the same size as mustard seeds (Fig. 1). AJW only dig a few inches below the surface, whereas EE dig deeper. AJW feed on organic matter much more aggressively than EE and can alter the soil much faster. In addition, they excrete hard pellets that look like coffee grounds and change the texture and structure of the soil (Fig. 2). The changing soil composition results in fewer native plants and reduces biodiversity. With the reduction of native plant competition, invasive plants have a much higher chance of success.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Management and Prevention

  • Only buy materials that have been heat treated to 40–55 degrees Celsius (104–131 degrees Fahrenheit). This heat treatment kills cocoons.
  • Never buy or move any materials that may be suspected to have AJW or AJW cocoons.
  • Make sure to always clean any soil and debris from all equipment before leaving an area suspected of having AJW. Cocoons could be attached to you and your belongings.

If Found

If you find AJW on your property, please report it immediately:

  • Remove as many as you can and put them in a bag. Sun the bag for at least 10 minutes, longer is preferred, and throw it in the trash.
  • Submit reports on the EDDMaps website or phone application.
  • Visit this link and submit a report to the Ohio State University.
  • You can also send an email, with photos, to your county extension agent.
27 May 2020

Life of a Tadpole

Life of a Tadpole

You step into the warm sun on a late spring afternoon. As you walk along the edge of a shallow pond, you hear the distinctive ‘PLOP’ of a frog jumping to the safety of the cool waters. You glance down into the water and see the surface looks as if it is almost alive- the surface is writhing and wriggling in the shallows. Upon closer inspection, you see hundreds, if not thousands of tiny tadpoles!

Tadpoles have captured the attention and imagination of all ages, from toddlers to adults.

It’s hard for us to grasp how that tiny squirming speck will one day become an adult frog or toad. Did you know that Ohio is home to 15 species of frogs and toads? Every one of those species must seek out a water source and go through complete metamorphosis: from egg to tadpole to froglet to adult. One of our loudest and largest residents exemplifies the stages of a tadpole quite well. Let’s check out the life cycle of our bullfrog!

On a warm spring or early summer night, a female bullfrog can lay up to 20,000 eggs! She will lay these eggs in different clutches with varying amounts of eggs in each. As those tiny tadpoles start to take shape, they hatch out in one to three weeks. Interestingly, the amount of time needed to emerge largely depends on the temperature. The warmer it is, the faster the tadpoles will develop. Once the tadpoles hatch out, it’s growing time. Young tadpoles spend their days munching on dead vegetation and occasionally other dead tadpoles! Tadpoles breathe using their gills, which are covered by a skin flap to protect this sensitive organ. Those gills don’t stick around forever. At just four weeks, tadpoles start to develop lungs. However, their gills do not disappear until they are almost ready to transition to an adult frog. Could you imagine being able to breathe in two different ways? Tadpoles get to “test drive” their lungs long before they depend on them. If you ever see tadpoles swimming to the surface and darting back down, then you are witnessing a tadpole learning to breathe from its lungs.

Bullfrogs have an unusually large range in development and can spend anywhere from one to two years as a tadpole. While some of our local toads and frogs can develop as quickly as a couple of months. A bullfrog tadpole eats everything it can get its mouth around, up until the magic happens. At first, just a small nub will appear at the base of the tadpole’s body. As that nub grows little by little each day, look closely, there are probably small webbed feet attached to that pollywog! That first set of tiny webbed feet will grow into long and powerful back legs, built for hopping and swimming. As the back legs are becoming fully recognizable, other changes start to happen to the tadpole; front legs sprout, the tail shortens, and the body of that tadpole is no longer a rounded lump, it is elongated and now has structure. At this stage, it is not quite a tadpole, not quite a frog…it’s a froglet! Froglets have fully formed lungs and can be spotted hopping around the edges of the pond. It will not be long until the froglet’s tail is absorbed into its body and finally becomes a frog.

It’s no wonder tadpoles induce such wonderment to all audiences. The next time you are chasing a frog around a pond or wetland, be sure to look for those cute little tadpoles too. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find one with legs! If you would like to learn more about tadpoles and see them in their different developmental stages, watch this video or check your knowledge with our ‘Bullfrog Life Cycle Activity’ coloring page..

15 May 2020

Discovering Fossils

Discovering Fossils

Millions of years ago, Ohio’s landscape looked much different than it does today. A warm shallow ocean covered the land and strange creatures inhabited these waters. These creatures, including filter feeders, a few scavengers, and even predators, all roamed the ocean during the Ordovician time period, which was over 450 million years ago. Over time these warm shallow oceans were replaced by mountains and forests as Ohio’s land moved north of the equator. The Cincinnati area is known for having the most Ordovician fossils. This was due to an uplift that happened in the Earth’s crust, which caused a special feature called the Cincinnati Arch. This lift allowed many of the fossils normally found deep within the layers of the earth to push upward to the surface so that we can find them. Now, you can find clues to the ancient past by looking at the limestone and shale rocks in the Cincinnati area.

These ancient fossils are the remains of past life. In Ohio, fossils are everywhere. They are found in all 88 counties of the state. The fossils found in Ohio are special because amazingingly enough, they are OLDER than the dinosaurs! Fossils are useful to us in many ways. They are evidence of animals of the long-distant past, they show the appearance of different life forms and they are the documents from which development of life in the past can be traced. Scientists from all over the world travel to the Cincinnati area to view these special fossils.

One example of a fossil you can find in Ohio is the trilobite. Trilobites are one of the earliest forms of the group arthropods. The name trilobite means “three-lobed”, based on their body plan. Trilobites were predators on the ocean floor and they came in many different sizes and shapes. Some can be so small you need a microscope to see them and some can be up to two feet across. In Ohio, our state fossil, Isotelus Maximus, is a trilobite and is one of the largest species we find. Many times when we find them, they are rolled up in a ball, meaning they had used their hard exoskeleton for protection. There were many species of trilobite, but all are now extinct. However, a close relative of the trilobite is a horseshoe crab. If you are looking to find a trilobite, look in the layers of shale rock where you are more likely to find an unbroken, whole fossil.

Take some time to explore and see if you can find a fossil treasure. Take time to think about what the animal may have looked like or how it may have moved and hunted for food. Challenge yourself to find the smallest individual fossil or try to find a rock with the most fossils embedded in it. Use our fossil guide to look for all the different types of fossils we have here in Ohio or try the Greenacres ‘Ordovician Sea Floor’ Coloring Page. Take time to learn what is under your feet as you explore the fossils of Ohio. Happy fossil hunting!