The Sap is Flowing!

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This year we are lucky to have a great Upper School student leader who took charge of continuing the maple sugaring club in Upper School. This group’s work began in the Fall and will continue through the entire school year. Three of the Upper School students who have been part of the Maple Sugaring Club since sixth grade jumped right into the year by joining me as we presented our project to numerous educators at the Science Teachers of New York State Annual Conference in November. The students did an amazing job inspiring other educators to begin a maple sugaring program with their students. They enthusiasm for the project was a true inspiration!

In the early months of winter, students contacted a local cheesecake company (Cheesy Eddie’s) who graciously donated food grade containers that we use to store the sap in during the collection process. They also reviewed all of our equipment, sterilizing the buckets, spiles, and tubing, and assembling a list of additional materials that needed to be purchased so we have a more successful season. The supplies were ordered and came rolling in, which got the students extremely excited for the season to begin.

However, the weather stayed cold through January, which is typical for our region. Our first true glimpse of hope came as we approached our February break, so we went into the woods on campus and tapped about 35 trees before vacation started. We were able to collect sap for a couple of days before break, and then a few students came in to help collect during break, when the sap really began to flow.

We have been collecting for a couple of weeks now and have been filtering and storing the sap in the refrigerator until we have enough to evaporate. Our sugar shack is assembled and a few students came out with me today to put another coat of paint on it, which really makes it stand out as we used our school’s color that is a nice shade of blue. The evaporator is in place, and the wood should be arriving next week, just in time to evaporate.

Stay tuned for updates on our progress!

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Waiting for the Right Weather

Written by club members Keira and Lena:

The 2017 maple sugaring season was filled with nothing but success. Three veteran group members presented at a science conference and have caught the attention of colleges throughout New York state. As the 2018 season begins, we are looking for ways to increase our sales, and work on communicating with our community.

The sugaring team has already started identifying the sugar maple trees on our school’s campus. We are on the lookout for a solid four to five day schedule that will give us suitable conditions for tapping. Due to this year’s current weather pattern, we are a bit concerned on whether or not we will be given stable weather conditions to allow us to be prosperous.

However, during the time where the weather doesn’t cooperate, the maple sugaring team buys and replaces old and unusable equipment, and then bleaches and sterilizes the buckets. In the upcoming months, the maples sugaring team will work together in order to rebuild the sugar shack and paint its uncoated walls that weren’t completed, bringing out the sap-evaporator and constructing it, and making sure all of the requirements are met before the maple sap is boiled. Once everything is boiled and ready for selling, the team will bottle and label the maple syrup.

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Maple Sugaring Club 2017

Written by club members: Jack, Alicia, and Chinara

In the Maple Sugaring Club the biggest part was collecting the sap from the trees. We had to know how to identify the Maple trees. In order to identify them we looked at how the leaves grew from the twigs. We had to look at the bark to see if it was furrowed and we also had to examine the edges of the bark. Plus, we had to examine the tips of the twigs.  

Our team made an agenda when it came down to collecting the sap. We had to first mark which trees were sugar maple trees, then we would wrap a pink string around the maple trees. We had to be cautious when it came time to drill the tree. We as a team had to make sure that we tilted the drill slightly before drilling a hole in the tree because if we didn’t it could damage the tree or not let the sap flow out as well. We would drill one and a half inches into the tree. We would then put the spile in the tree and set up the bucket on to the spile or next to the tree for the sap to flow into.

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As far as the boiling process goes we have to evaporate the maple sap until it gets down to a thick syrup.The first thing we had to do in the evaporation process is gather all the sap in one area and filter all of the sap again.  Then we poured half of the amount of sap we had into the pan on top of the wood burning evaporator. Then we continued to just pour more sap into the evaporator, repeating that process until we ran out of sap. We boil 100 gallons of sap in about 18 hours on our wood burning evaporator, ending with a watery syrup. We then need to boil it further until we get to the best thickness. Next we bottle our sap with sterilized bottles. 

At the end of the Maple Sugaring Club we always end up selling our maple syrup to customers. We sell the sugar at our middle school play so the parents and students can buy the syrup during intermission or before and after the play. 

In the maple sugaring club we had a lot of fun. The maple sugaring club defined leadership in a big way. We had our  alumni from last year take on the role as our leaders of the club. Most of us were new to maple sugaring and our leaders made it easier to understand how to do certain things. The maple sugaring club was a great experience for people who like the outdoors. It was also great for people who enjoyed trying new things. There were multiple jobs for people who weren’t interested in one. The maple sugaring club was an amazing experience to everyone in the club.

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Crazy Year For Maple Sugaring

It sure has been a crazy start to the maple sugaring year! The weather was up and down, but never up or down long enough to get the sap moving, so we put off tapping but the students were getting antsy. They finally convinced me to tap one tree to monitor the week before February break.

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Needless to say, we barely collected any sap that week, but the weather forecast for break was drastically different and we knew that we were in for a good week so we tapped a few more. Once the vacation week began, the weather got balmy, and the sap started flowing fast and furious. Chase and Ciarra, two eighth grade club leaders, came in one day to help tap more trees for a total of about thirty taps. Jack, another eighth grade club leader and veteran member for the past three years, was a big help as he came in twice, once with his cousins, to collect the sap that was flowing.

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Even with their help, I was kept busy collecting once or twice a day in order to stay on top of the flow as it appeared that the season was going to be short. By the end of the week we had about 80 gallons in storage and another 15 or so lost to accidental spills or ants.

When the students came back from break, their collecting started back up on a more regular basis. Jack and Thomas were able to help out during their Citizen Science project time as their project pertained to our maple sugaring project, and others stopped in to collect when they could. Tommy, a sixth grade advisee, organized the other advisees and collected during advocacy. During this time, the students had their first encounter with a sugar hungry chipmunk who was found patiently sitting in a bucket of sap waiting for the students to rescue him.

Mike, whose son is a leader in the maple sugaring club, coordinated with me and happily volunteered his time, resources, and knowledge to work with some of the club members to build a sugar shack. He oversaw the club members as they sawed, drilled, hammered, and constructed their very first sugar shack that they will reconstruct each year during the sugaring season. This is a huge upgrade from the pop up shelter with no walls that we used in past years, which provided minimal protection from the elements. Pictures and blog post on this coming soon.

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Maple Sugaring: Sapping Over Time

Another season has ended and the students have learned a lot. This year’s maple sugaring club consisted of a group of hardworking middle school students who took on the responsibility of running the club. While we waited for the perfect weather to tap the trees, we needed to get ourselves organized and ready for when the sap begins to flow. Students began by sorting through the supplies that we had, re-cleaning the equipment, creating a budget for the season, then ordering the necessary supplies to have a successful season.

Pat Sadler from WoodWise Land Company came in and helped the club members identify about thirty sugar maples on campus, which they tagged to make it easier to find once the tapping season arrived. Students learned and/or reviewed the characteristics of sugar maples versus other trees. As they became more comfortable and confident, they ventured off into the woods on their own and were able to tag over thirty trees. Some trees were tapped in previous years, and others were new to the “group.”Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.28.33 PM

The students were very eager to tap the trees and move forward, but it was a long and cold winter. During the next couple of month, students learned the true meaning of patience. However, the sun began to shine and the forecast glimmered of a week or so of warmer weather so I caved in and we went outside to tap the first ceremonial tree with the kindergarten students. The middle school students were so excited to teach the little ones about maple sugaring. I couldn’t have been more proud of my students as they took over the role of teacher.Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.28.00 PM

Once the first tree was tapped, students went out to tap the rest of their sugar maples and hang the buckets and rig the tubing necessary to collect the sap. It was quite a hectic time as they worked quickly during their limited free time during breaks, before school, and after school to gather the sap, filter it, and store it in the school’s refrigerator for the future evaporating day. After less than two weeks, we had collected about one-hundred gallons of sap but the weather turned cold and the sap slowed to a halt. Luckily it was winter break and we were on vacation, making it easier to relax.

Mother Nature decided to be very nice to the club and warm up upon our return, so we were back in business. Students tapped a few more tress and the collecting resumed. After an additional two weeks we had around another hundred gallons to add to our collection and the storage containers were full. The weather had warmed up and the sap slowed to a halt. So out came the evaporator and in came the pile of wood. With that, the long night of evaporating was in sight. The club once again took on the role of teacher as students of all ages visited us as the club members spent the day stoking the fire, adding sap, and skimming the liquid gold. The fire was started at about 7:30 am and remained lit until about 10:30 am the following morning. Club members stayed late into the night and one returned in the morning to help close things down.Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.27.15 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.26.26 PM

Next up was to finish the boiling process on the school stove after school one afternoon. Two club members helped boil the bottles and complete the boiling process of the maple syrup to get it to the correct thickness. What started around 200 gallons of sap ended with about five gallons of syrup bottled in fancy maple leaf shaped glass bottles ready to be sold at the middle school play and Evening of the Arts.

During the few months of this journey, one student made a video explaining the process of maple sugaring. He thought that it would be a great idea to bring the video to Madagascar with me since he is one of my Madagascar Club members, so he sub-captioned it in Malagasy so the students in the schools of Madagascar could better understand what we did. This will be added to our reforestation program with a school near our research station. I can’t wait to see the expressions of the students in Madagascar as they learn about the process used to make maple syrup and of the importance of our trees. Hopefully this will reinforce the importance of their own rainforest trees in their backyard.

In the end, students had made enough money to buy new equipment for the following year and buy t-shirts. So the final step was to create t-shirts. Students created a really awesome baseball style shirt and a polo shirt to wear to school. They submitted their votes via Google Forms and waited for me t surprise them with a shirt after spring break. Little did they know that they made enough money to not only replace equipment and order one shirt, but they were also able to buy the other shirt as well. This was a very nice surprise, and the students have been wearing their shirts with pride around campus. After all, the deserved them.

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MS Teaching LS Maple Sugaring

The seventh grade students at Allendale Columbia School shared their knowledge and expertise about maple sugaring with the third grade students. Each seventh grade student was partnered with a third grade student to talk about the process, then escorted them to the school woods so they could tap their own maple trees. This partnership has been named “Adopt a Tree,” and science teacher Beth Guzzetta is thrilled to have her kids learn more about the topic by teaching Peggy Hellebush’s students. The middle school students look forward to helping the lower school students as they embark on this once in a lifetime collaborative journey.

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Finally Tapping Trees

Due to it being such a cold and snowy winter, we were not able to tap the maple trees until now. So, with drills, buckets, and taps in hand, the eighty Allendale Columbia Middle School students plus teachers and Pat Sadler from WoodWise Land Management ventured out into the twenty degree weather on Saint Patrick’s Day to tap over thirty trees on campus. Excitement filled the air despite the lack of green outdoors.

The weather forecast is looking very good for a run of sap in the coming weeks. Upper thirties to forties during the day and twenties at night. Perfect weather! Stay tuned for updates on our adventures.

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