Thursday, February 28, 2013

Discover Maple Syrup

By Christina Bellas, Farmpark Interpretation & Education Manager

What is a harbinger of spring that comes from a maple tree? What special edible liquid is boiled to more than 200 degrees and comes from a maple tree? What has the same calcium content as whole milk and comes from a maple tree? Maple syrup! In our program Discover Maple Syrup, offered mid-February to mid-March, children in kindergarten through fifth grade discover the science behind the maple tree and how we use its sap to produce maple syrup. 

Did you know that a maple tree can’t lie about its age, its tree rings or growth rings give its age away? Children are able to investigate a tree cookie (a slice of the tree trunk) where they can count the rings and discover other interesting features of the tree’s life. Tree cookies can show harm done by weather or bugs many years after the damage occurred. By looking deeply into the tree itself and studying a tree trunk diagram, the children find that maple trees produce sap as food for themselves. How we gather and process that sap is where a visit to the Woodland Center sugar house comes in. There they see how technology plays a big part in the production of maple syrup, from the spile in the tree where the sap comes out, to the tank that holds the sap, to the equipment that boils it into the sweet golden syrup we all love.

While touring the Woodland Center students learn sugar making terms. We “tap” a tree to gather the “sap;” we hope for just the right weather forecast, cool nights and sunny days, so the sap will ”run;” and the “sugar house” is where all the “boiling” takes place. A “reverse osmosis” machine removes water from the sap and our wood fired “evaporator” holds the sap while it’s boiling into syrup. A computer monitors the evaporator and draws off the sap when it becomes the right syrup consistency.

The students learn that it’s all about the trees when making syrup. Farmpark is located in an exclusive section of the world where maple trees grow and thrive. The land of maple sugaring is limited to the northeastern section of North America, occurring only in the late winter/early spring of the year and production depends greatly on just the right weather conditions. In a classroom, it’s sometimes hard to describe to the students about the flowers, leaves and seeds of the beautiful sugar maple tree, but at Farmpark they can see the maple tree in action. Though we might not have the goose that lays the golden egg, we do have the trees that provide the golden syrup.


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