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.”
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.
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.
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.