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One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we have so much freedom. With only 2 students and a wide open schedule, we can do things that traditional schools cannot. This means that my boys are able to experience a lot of things rather than simply learning about them.
Elementary school students learn about the maple sugaring process, but few get to experience it. My husband and I are both throwbacks of a sort, and it is very important for us to teach our children about our natural resources and the ways that we can care for and use the world God has given us.
Our latest venture, which you’ve seen a few sneak peeks of if you follow me on facebook, is maple sugaring. It’s our first time, and we’ve been so excited about the process! Tap My Trees generously provided the supplies for our project.
A few months ago, my husband and I decided to start making the switch to less processed foods. One of the things we switched out was our regular pancake syrup for real maple syrup. Did you know that, unless you’re very aware of what you purchase, you are probably not eating maple syrup on your pancakes? The pancake syrups we know and love (Mrs. Butterworth’s, Log Cabin, etc.) are mostly artificially flavored high-fructose corn syrup. Many stores don’t even carry the real stuff!
In the midst of this, we had a great discussion with our children about the real stuff, and decided it would be a great project to do together as a family. I’m sharing our experience as we do it–trial and error, and lessons learned. Obviously, I am not an expert. We’ve done this exactly one time. You can get a getting started guide book, or find great instructions on the web. And, Tap My Trees has a lot valuable information on their site.
What you need
We used the Starter Kit from Tap My Trees, it includes everything you need to tap 3 trees. Here is what you need to get started:
- Buckets with lids (the lids keep out foreign objects and rain)
- Spiles (these are the taps)
- Hooks (for hanging the bucket)
- Drill bit (for drilling the hole into the tree)
- Cheesecloth (for filtering floaties out of the sap)
In addition to these supplies, you need the trees. You can use several different types of trees, but the best are Sugar Maples, since they have the highest sugar content. We have one in our yard, but it ended up being too small. The tree should be at least 12 inches in diameter. Some friends allowed us access to some trees on their property a few miles away. Since you’ll be checking them everyday, I recommend choosing trees in a convenient location.
Tapping the Trees
The first step is to drill a hole, 2-2 1/2 ” deep into the tree.
We saw sap running right away.
Next, you need to add the hook to the spile and then gently tap the spile into the tree. Do not hit it overly hard or it won’t set correctly (at least, this is what I understand).
You might also sneak a little taste of the sap…
Finally, hang the bucket, and position the lid.
Here is a video of running sap (and my Eastern KY accent telling you all about it…lol)
Collecting the Sap
Now, you are ready to collect some sap! My boys were so excited to see those full buckets–to be honest, hubby and I were pretty excited as well.
We’ve had an average of 1 gallon per tree per day, but I believe it can vary greatly, based on many factors. Since some days your bucket will be full (these hold 2 gallons each), you need to check them daily to avoid wasting sap through overflowing buckets.
We have collected sap in both gallon jugs (repurposed from milk, OJ, etc.), and food-grade 5 gallon buckets that a friend gave us. You’ll need to sanitize the buckets with a bleach/hot water mix before using them to store your sap.
Though the lid keeps out rain and a lot of foreign objects, some do make their way into the sap and you can use cheesecloth to filter them out.
Here we are using the cheesecloth and a simple funnel that we purchased at the dollar store and then sanitized along with our jug.
You should treat sap like milk–it is perishable. It should be stored in a cool place, around 38 degrees. Generally, in the shade if there is snow on the ground or in the fridge. And it should be used or processed into maple syrup within 7-10 days. And that is what we’re going to talk about next time.
In the coming posts, I will share about boiling and finishing the sap, along with some fun ways to include sugaring in your homeschool. We’ve had a lot of fun with this process and I can’t wait to share the rest of it with you!
I love their passion for spreading the word about maple sugaring.