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Children and Nature Uncategorized

Tapping Time

It has been a strange winter indeed.  If you can even call it a winter.  Certainly the extended periods of cold and accumulation of fluffy white snow that all Vermonters take for granted have been missed this year.  I’m moving on.  It’s Maple Syrup Season!

Tapping-2016-1

The forecast calls temperatures that dip below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day.  That means it’s time to tap!  We are lucky to be surrounded by folks well-equipped to make delicious syrup from their sugar maple trees.  I don’t feel the need to invest time and money into making my own.  For the past few years, however, I’ve chosen to tap one tree at our house and use the sap for fun and delicious kitchen experiments.  It’s exciting to have a fresh ingredient to use after winter months of soups, stews, and frozen and canned veggies.  I encourage anyone who has a sugar maple in their yard to give it a try!

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

DIY Maple Sugaring

winter-maple-branch

sap-drip-sumac-spileUp here in Vermont, our temperatures have begun rising above freezing during the day and falling below 32 degrees at night.  That means it’s sugaring season!  Though specialized technology and expensive equipment have been developed to help large sugar-makers boost their production of luxurious maple syrup, it’s possible to make maple syrup in your back yard without spending much.  One thing is consistent for all scales of syrup production: it takes a lot of time!

hang-sap-bucket

It is early spring.  I’m itching to spend more time outside, am no longer excited by our local ingredients stored or preserved many months ago, and won’t start my garden for several months.  I find that tapping, collecting sap, and experimenting with this sweet ingredient in the kitchen is exactly how I’d like to spend my spare time.

sap-pour

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree

Categories
Home Gardens Musings

Spring in the Back Yard

Spring has finally sprung in Vermont!  We had a beautiful warm weekend to spend in the yard discovering signs of spring and cleaning up remnants of fall and winter.  Plants and animals are emerging after a long cold winter.

Last sap of the season drips out of my sumac spiles
Last sap of the season drips out of sumac spiles
A sweet and tangy batch of sap sumac camomile tea
A sweet and tangy batch of sap sumac camomile tea to start the day
Day Lilly shoots have emerged
Day lily shoots have emerged
I dug up some day lilly shoots and tubers.  Fry firm tubers and shoots in butter with salt.  Yum!
I dug up some day lily shoots and tubers. Fry firm yellow tubers and young shoots in butter with salt. Yum!
chickens-range-free
Chickens range free before the garden is planted.  They’ll eat ticks and grubs and loosen soil as they forage.
Early spring garden treasure hunt! Parsnips survived the winter under a layer of hay.  They are sweet and firm!
Early spring garden treasure hunt! Parsnips survived the winter under a layer of hay. They are sweet and firm!
Early spring parsnip harvest.
Early spring parsnip harvest.
The sour leaves of sorrel have emerged - a perfect fresh garnish for tonight's dinner!
The sour leaves of sorrel have emerged – a perfect fresh garnish for tonight’s dinner!
Our first crocus.  Happy Spring!
Our first crocus. Happy Spring!
Categories
Musings

Is it Spring yet?

snow-pilesI’ll admit it: I loved getting one more big snow storm before spring.  And it transformed into great packing snow, allowing us to build forts and snow creatures when temperatures rose above freezing.  What a lot of building material we had to work with!  Each morning this week when I wake up to sub-zero temperatures, however, I find myself yearning more and more for spring.

Ice crystals still form on the windows, blocking the view of the sunrise.
Ice crystals still form on the windows, blocking the view of the sunrise.

The good news about early spring in New England, is that it signals the start of Maple Sugaring Season.  We’ve had a few days when temperatures rose above freezing, allowing sap to flow.  I didn’t have great luck with my first sumac spile (a.k.a. tap), so I made a second.  I didn’t want my spile to completely plug my hole.  This time I shaved away the bottom tip, drilled a deeper hole into the tree, and didn’t hammer the spile in as deep.  This, I hoped, would allow sap flowing through the trunk to pool up inside my hole and flow out the spile.   I set my bucket under the tap on the ground so that it wouldn’t disturb the spile in its hole.  Success!  I collected about a gallon of sap before temperatures dipped back below freezing.

Sumac-Spile

Here are a few more photos after the last snowstorm, which dumped over a foot of snow. Wild March winds created drifts that evolved through the day and caught the beautiful dark blue of the evening sky.

Drifts

post-driftsunset-drifts

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Maple Sugaring from Scratch: Sumac Spiles

Sumac-GroveLast year I had a lot of fun experimenting with maple sap in the kitchen.  We made sap tea, sap beer, sap poached sweet potatoes, sap soda, and maple baked beans… mmm!  I had borrowed buckets and spiles from neighbors to tap several trees with the students in my after school program.  We harvested more than enough sap to taste test, boil down, and cook with.

This year I missed having  sap to cook with, so I decided to try to tap a maple in our yard without buying any supplies.  Buckets or milk jugs are pretty easy to find around the house.  What I really needed was a spile, or tap.  Using a method common before metal was widely available, I hollowed out the inside of a sumac branch.

Sumac-BerriesStaghorn sumac is a common small tree in eastern North America.  It has big red clusters of seeds that have a great sour flavor and can be used to make tea or a locally sourced substitute for lemonade.  The centers of its branches are very pithy, making them easy to hollow out and make tubing or spouts.

hollowed-tubeMaking sumac spiles was easy, but it went below freezing and I have yet to see if they work well.  With forecasted temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, sap will flow and I’ll find out soon!  For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school, check out this blog post.  For games and activities to liven up and inform the process for elementary school students, check out this blog post.

Cut-into-segments

Poke-out-pith

taper-one-end

tapping-maple-home

 

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

A Short and Sweet Week of Sugaring with Students

I learned an incredible amount from coordinating The Somerville Maple Syrup Project, but in the end, too many of the lessons were about testing my limits and endurance.  This year, however, I was thrilled to be in Vermont and be able to bring a short and sweet week of Maple Madness to my after school students.

What I learned?: Any group of kids with access to sugar maples can participate in fun sugaring activities without requiring any money or superhero feats from the adults coordinating the program.  If you work with a group of young students, I strongly encourage you to build in maple programming next March!  Here’s what to consider:

Materials: Taps, hooks, buckets, and covers (about 4 each); cordless drill with a 7/16″ bit, hammer, measuring tape, and several food grade 5 gallon buckets.  In Vermont, many sugar makers have upgraded to smaller taps or tubing, rather than the older buckets and taps.  Make friends with local sugar makers and your cafeteria director!  A chat with your local maple producers association or neighbors and friends who tap trees may reward you with valuable tips and information.  What random supplies do they have laying around?  Cafeteria directors usually get some foods in 5 gallon buckets.  They also have large stoves with hoods and broiler pans, which will come in handy in the boiling phase.

Tapping:

1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter.  Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter. Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree (for chart, click here)
3) Drill a hole 1.5" into the sapwood using 7/16" bit.  Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
3) Drill a hole 1.5″ into the sapwood using 7/16″ bit. Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap!  Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap! Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid

Collection:

Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing.  Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees
Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing. Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees.

Boiling: With permission from your cafeteria staff, boil sap exposing the most surface area possible.  We boiled in pans on the stove top, with the hood fan on to pull steam up and away.  In 2.5 hours, we’d reduced 5 gallons to 5 cups!  Our final product was very sweet and mapley.  If we’d reduced it further to 2.5 cups, we’d have official maple syrup.

Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans
Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans

Maple-taste-testTasting! and Learning Extensions: We did a group taste test of sap (I brought some to a quick boil to sanitize it), carbonated sap (made with a Soda Stream Machine), and our final boiled almost-syrup product.  We then generated “description words” (or adjectives) that described the smell, taste, feel, and look of sap vs. syrup.  We’ll use these words to write poems for our next After School Newsletter!

Refer to my Maple Syruping with Kids blog entry to get ideas for games, activities, and curriculum connections.  In the end, we had way more sap than we could drink or boil, leaving plenty to play with.  Check out different experimental recipes from my Cooking with Maple Sap post.

sap-syrup-adjectives

Categories
Recipes

Cooking with Maple Sap

Sap flow was heavy this weekend in Vermont.  We’re entering that muddy and delicious season where driving down most rutted back roads is rewarded by the smell of sweet steam flowing out of a sugar shack.

sap-pourWe put in a few taps this year, but we don’t have an evaporator.  Home-made versions generally rely of a lot of wood or a lot of propane, and the cheapest commercial evaporators are all over $1000.  Why not just cook with sap?

We’ve had great luck each time we sneak sap into a recipe to add sweetness.  We’ve focused on foods that use water like tea, oatmeal, beer, and baked beans rather than cakes and cookies.

oatmeal-sapOatmeal: I boiled my oats in sap instead of water.  Topping it with sweet blueberries and sour raspberries and sprinkling walnuts on top made a delectable breakfast.  The oatmeal was mildly sweet.  If you’re used to unsweetened oatmeal, you’ll consider this a treat.  Compared to the flavored instant packets, however, the sap sweetness is much more subtle.

beer-sapBeer: We’ve been wanting to make more beer, so we’re starting out with a few kits.  We divided the ingredients for a Pale Ale batch in half.  For one half, we followed the instructions.  For the other, we used sap instead of water.  We can’t wait for the fermentation to finish so we can do a taste test!

tea-sapTea and Coffee: Tea and coffee are the simplest ways to enjoy sap.  Adding a teaspoon of maple syrup to a cup of water, after all, reverses all that evaporation work.  For tea, all you need to do is seep your tea bag in boiled sap.  For coffee, use a french press so that you can substitute sap for water without making the internal parts of your coffee machine sticky.

Poached Sweet Potatoes: Our left over baked sweet potatoes needed to get sparked up.  I started by bringing 4 cups of sap to a boil in a frying pan.  The large surface area allows for quick evaporation.  I added rosemary, Bell’s seasoning, and garlic powder to the “broth.”  I was surprised by how quickly the water evaporated!  When the liquid was only about a centimeter deep, I mixed in a tablespoon of cranberry sauce and added my wedged sweet potatoes.  After a few minutes with periodic stirring, the chemistry of the broth changed and it became browner and sticky.  Deliciously beyond poached.  Voila: sap-glazed sweet potatoes!

sweet potatoes sap

Next up? Making Sap Soda by carbonating sap and different herbal sap teas in a Soda Stream machine.  Baked Beans by boiling dried pinto beans in an uncovered pot of sap rather than water.  I imagine that the hour+ of boiling required to soften the beans will allow quite a bit of water to evaporate.  And Poached Salmon in sap with ginger and soy sauce.  Comment below if you have other ideas I should try!!

Categories
Children and Nature Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Maple Syruping with Kids

tapped-treeIf you live in an area with Sugar Maple trees and are a parent, teacher, or neighbor of kids, I strongly encourage you to consider “Sugaring” with them.  Maple sap runs during the school year, making a Maple Project the perfect seasonal activity to bring into the classroom.  The learning opportunities are endless.  In the process of sugaring, we encounter:

  • all three states of water (solid ice, liquid water, and water vapor)
  • diameter and circumference measurements
  • seasonal changes in trees and discussion of tree health
  • ratios
  • parts of a tree and functions of the layers of a tree trunk
  • local history and lore
  • many opportunities to use all five senses
  • tools of all kinds: drills, taps, hammers, buckets, measuring tapes, evaporators, thermometers, and more
  • MAPLE SAP and SYRUP!

I’ve included activities most suited to active groups containing a wide age-range of elementary students.  Shelburne Farms’ Project Seasons and your state’s Maple Syrup Producers Association have additional resources if you’re looking for more ideas for your group of students.  I like to start with students in a circle around objects representing key vocabulary like tap, bucket, trunk, roots, measuring tape, and thermometer.  Once we all understand these concepts, we get outside and get moving!

sapSappy Sappy Flow Up My Tree (adaptation of Fishy Fishy Cross my Sea): Learn the function of sap for the tree and consider the impact of tapping on tree health

– Leading Questions: How does food stored in the roots and trunk get back to the buds of the tree so new leaves can grow?  How does a tree know when spring is coming?  At what temperature can frozen water turn to liquids?

  • Have students line up at one end of a gym or basket ball court/open running area
  • One adult stands in the middle, and is the “tap and bucket” – the hole in the tree that we drilled to collect sap. Explain that as sap droplets (students) flow up the tree, from the roots (one end of the court) to the branches (the other end) they bringing food to the buds.  Some sap, however, is “caught” by the tapped hole, and flows out into the bucket
  • The “it” adult, yells “sappy sappy flow up my tree!”
  • Tagged students must stay in the middle of the court, and become “holes” for the next round. All folks that are “it” chant “sappy sappy flow up my tree”, and the remaining group of sap droplets run across the space, trying to avoid the holes

-Group Questions: What happens when there is only one hole? What happens when there are a lot of holes? Does very much sap get to the buds so that they can grow into leaves?  Are there a lot of wounds, making trees more likely to get a disease?  As we will learn next, bark provides protection for the tree.  What number of holes is best for the tree?

HeartwoodSapwoodHeartwood, Sapwood (adaptation of Red Light, Green Light): Learn the parts of a tree trunk and their functions

  • Explain the parts of a trunk using a diagram or tree cookie
  • Give all students a name tag sticker (or masking tape) naming one part of the trunk to stick to their coat.  Review each part’s function, and have each student group think of a motion to depict their new identity (show right arm muscle, then left for strong heartwood, cross and re-cross hands in front of chest for protective bark)
  • Review what temperatures are above and below freezing.  Review that sap runs when it goes above freezing during the day, and freezes solid at night when temperatures goes below freezing
  • Start on one end of your running space
  • Teacher goes to other end.  Explain that instead of playing “red light, green light,” you’ll “Flow” and “freeze” according to the temperatures shouted by the teacher.  If she shouts a number below freezing, students may not move.  If she shouts a number above freezing, students may advance, making their motion, toward the teacher and opposite end of the court

MeasuringMeasuring “Trees” Activity (adapted from Project Seasons’ “Measuring Monsters and Midgets”)

  • Ask: How do we get sap from a tree? (we drill into sapwood (a.k.a. xylem – about 2 inches in), sap “leaks” out hole as it rises from roots to branches)
  • Think about our first running game.  Can we tap any size of tree?  Trees have to be certain size “wide” (not tall): their circumference is measured. Show Circumference Chart.  Have students use measuring tapes to measure their teacher, you, each other, and a bunch of students together. How many taps could we safely have if we were maple trees?

tap-and-hammerTasting Sap and Syrup

  • Yes, these running games make maple education fun.  Tasting maple syrup, however, can’t be beat.   Ask: What is the difference between sap and syrup? 40 gallons of sap must be evaporated to get one gallon of sap! In other words, 39 gallons of water must be turned into steam and go into the air!  What remains is maple syrup.
  • So sap is A LOT of water and some sugar, vitamins, and minerals the tree needs for food to make leaves.  Maple syrup is concentrated sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Taste samples!
  • Extension: have the group generate a list of description words (adjectives) that they might use to describe sap and/or syrup.  Each student can then use words off of the list to write a poem.
Categories
Get Involved!

The Boil Down Approaches

Today while sitting at my desk, I took a moment to mentally step back from the hourly coordination craziness that happens during the syruping season.  Assessing the overall progress of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project this year made me much more positive after a morning of creative crisis management.

Groundwork Interns and Staff Help Tap

Sap collection is going at full throttle despite strange winter conditions.  We filled locally available freezer storage space and are now filling up the walk-in refrigerator at the Winter Hill School.  We have volunteers committed to collecting the accumulated sap each day of the week and an intern working to manage this piece of the project.

Students act out the layers of a tree trunk

Education sessions are in their final week in 20 classrooms across the city.  They’re powered by 19 volunteer educators and a second intern, and they’ve have gone on despite an onslaught of recent sickness.  Our Maple Education intern has run two of four “Maple-y” children’s workshops at the Somerville Public Library, which are free and open to 5-9 year olds.

All permits, an added urban complication to sugar making (must have Public Event, Fire, and Temporary Food Service Permits), are in place for the Boil Down Festival.  A third intern is working on planning this time and energy intensive event and creating a manual so the project can be more easily coordinated in future years!

Want to be part of the collective energy, learning opportunities, and fun?  Here’s how you can get involved or help out:
– Families, attend the  Maple-y Workshops at the Library!
– Volunteer to help make the Boil Down Festival a success – volunteers needed March 2nd, 3rd, and the week of March 5th. Email tai@groundworksomerville.org
– Sponsor the Boil Down Festival – last year Groundwork Somerville drew over 700 people to the Growing Center for this event; do you want them to know about your business or come to your store or restaurant after the event? Email tai@groundworksomerville.org
– Print and post the Boil Down Festival Flier in your neighborhood, office, or school
– RSVP and invite your friends to the Boil Down Festival on facebook

Hope to see you on March 3rd!

Categories
Get Involved!

Maple Tapping Time

Supporters or the Somerville Maple Syrup will be tapping sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Thursday January 26th at 3pm.  Families, neighbors, students, and anyone interested in participating in this fun outdoor event should gather at the bottom of memorial steps across from Anderson Hall, 200 College Avenue. At noon, we’ll climb the steps and begin to tap the trees growing on the sloped lawn to the right of the steps behind Paige Hall and the Lincoln Filene Center.  Attendees are encouraged to dress appropriately to be outside for an hour.

The Somerville Maple Syrup Project is coordinated by Groundwork Somerville in partnership with the Friends of the Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University.  In late January, maple trees in Somerville are tapped and the collected sap is stored for a 2-day public boil-down event in March at the Community Growing Center.  Sap starts flowing when temperatures drop below freezing at night, and rise above freezing during the day.

In addition to daily sap collection, Groundwork Somerville staff and community volunteers teach a 4- week arts and science curriculum to 2nd graders in all of Somerville’s public schools and at the Somerville Public Library.  High school students working in the metal shop provide annual maintenance on the wood stove and evaporator pan they made in 2005.  The syrup produced is given as thank you gifts to key partners, and/or sold in small maple leaf jars at the Groundwork Somerville booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. To learn more about the project, visit www.groundworksomerville.org and select the Somerville Maple Syrup Project page.