Often times we have a preconceived notion about what is possible or even typical. We tend to quickly purge the creativity out of our children just as it was removed from us when we were young. It doesn’t matter if it is as simple as the correction a child gets during coloring time for making the grass purple or the sky green, or as complex as a systematic structure by which we place an ever decreasing value on the arts. Either way, we gravitate toward the normative controls that make our life more uniform and as we so often misunderstand, and misjudge, easier. All that said, it is many times the development of the focus by which we, and ultimately our children will see and evaluate the challenges/opportunities posed to the in the world. So, what happens when a family reads a book like “Miracles on Maple Hill” by Virginia Sorenson. It could very well be a book that proves to be a good family read and you move on to another book that meshes well with the curriculum you have designed for your children. What if the book spawns an interest in the application of what was read? Well, that is exactly what happened with our family. It just didn’t happen immediately. It was a seed that was planted and eventually sprouted and grew.
As a family we thought it might be interesting to look at the possibilities on the farm as far greater than what we typically see that lead to an exploration of our wooded area and a greater understanding of the opportunities that exist for a business through what is typically low to no revenue ground. We were able to delineate opportunities for items like ginseng, gathering nuts like pecans, hickory nuts, walnuts, but it was the recognition of the abundance of maple trees that brought back to mind the opportunity from a great book.
We found the production of maple syrup to be a fairly simple operation for a family to understand. A great resource for us was Maple Syrup Production for the Beginner by Anni L. Davenport. This 6 page paper from the School of Forest Resources at The Pennsylvania State University really gave us a comfort level with the process.
Our experience producing maple syrup was fascinating and a relatively inexpensive venture for our family. We found buckets, lids and spiles for sale on ebay for about $7.00 each. Our initial purchase of 30 units was reasonable and was within the bounds of what we could manage on a daily basis. Please note, once you tap your maple trees, the flow of sap will start within seconds and will continue until the temperature rises high enough that the tree starts to bud. You will want to plan ahead and make sure you have some way to store the sap you are collecting. It is not uncommon for a tree to provide a few gallons of sap each day. The sap, much to our surprise was a completely clear liquid with just a hint of sweetness. Without the help of our friends at Griffith Gardens we would not have had access to some of these very important resources as we collected, stored and began to boil the sap. It is shocking to know that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup. Essentially you are boiling the water off and retaining that 2% – 4% sugar content in the sap. This can be accomplished through a gas fired, wood fired or electric system to create a boil. Just remember that surface area is your friend. You can see in the pictures the wood fired system we used to make syrup from the sugar bush at Crawfish Creek.
In our experience, the production of maple syrup allowed a book to come alive. It allowed our family to take on a project that combined skills oriented learning, the liberal arts and real world experience. Ultimately, it’s projects like this that help our children with the “exploration gap” because their learning should be built in such a way that it requires them to think and apply knowledge to complex problems.