Saturday, March 10, 2012


Yesterday we joined the FRC home school group at the Blandford Nature Center for instruction and a tour of the sugar bush.   We started our tour with a slide show, and learned "sugarbush" refers to the forest or woods that contain the sugar maples that are tapped for maple sugar.

We then went outside and learned how to identify a sugar maple from the other trees in the sugarbush.    Three important things to look at are the leaves, the opposing twigs, the buds, and the bark.
She is showing the kids a sugar maple branch with opposing twigs

Once we find the sugar maple tree we have to make sure it is big enough to tap.  A tree that is 10 inches in diameter can have one tap, 18 inches can have two taps, and 25 inches can have three taps.   A tree that is 10 inches in diameter is usually 40 years old, just to give an idea of how long it takes to have a "tappable" tree.

What they use to measure the tree's diameter

Next we learned how to drill a hole in the tree, insert a spout, and hang the bucket.  (We practiced on a dead tree).  But then we went to the trees that had already been tapped and got to watch the sap run and even let it drip on our finger so we could taste it.  What does it taste like?  Water!  96-97% of sap is water, the rest is sugar.   We also learned that sap runs best when it freezes at night and warms up during the day--freeze up, run down; freeze up, run down...

Everyone gets a chance to crank the drill in to "tap" the tree.

Hammering in the spout
Getting a taste of the running sap

One of the many, many buckets of sap

In order to concentrate the sugar we have to boil the water off.  We first saw how the Native Americans that lived in Michigan first must have done it, then went to the sugarhouse to watch how they do it today.  Both places burned firewood for their heat.   It was so cold yesterday that it was nice to be by the fire!

As we entered the sugarhouse we saw/looked in the big storage vats for sap.

It was hard to see in the sugarhouse because of all the steam leaving the sap.   The sugarhouse worker showed us the various stages of syrup as it has been heated, and we could see the color changes that occurred.  He said that they can't rely on color change alone and use a hydrometer to measure the density of the syrup.  If the hydrometer floats than the syrup is ready to be poured out of the heating vat.
Kind of hard to see the various sections in the heating vat for the various stages of syrup because of the steam.
Pouring the "almost done" syrup in a container with the hydrometer to see if it floats.
From there it is essential that the syrup is filtered as it contains lots of sugar sand.  The worker said the sugar sand looks and tastes just like the sand that you would find on the beach at Lake Michigan and we wouldn't want that on our pancakes!  After that the syrup is rewarmed and put in storage containers.

An example of the filter is on top of the 40 gallon barrel (the side of the metal container is cut away to see the white filter)
Note the barrels on the above picture.  The large one holds 40 gallons, the small one is a one gallon barrel.  This was a great visual for us to see that for every 40 gallons of sap, only one gallon of maple syrup is produced!

Anna in front of the sugarhouse
 The last thing we did was taste the syrup.  After tasting it the kids were begging for pancakes and maple syrup for supper!

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