Monday, March 21, 2011

Nature Study - Mammals and Maple Syrup

 We have more snow here today that will supposedly turn to rain.  As the first day of spring has passed, we have had one day that broke 60 degrees.  It was enough to make all of us long for spring even more.   We did capture some signs of spring in our yard, however we want to do the scavenger hunt.  So we will post on signs of spring as soon as we can see the grass again.  To continue our theme of catching up, today's post will focus on our "M" theme- mammals and maple syrup.

Our mammal study began with a few overview books on mammals.
We discussed some of the characteristics that make a mammal a mammal.

  • mammals give live birth
  • mammals feed their young milk
  • mammals have hair or fur
We had done some animal tracking several weeks ago which we posted here.  This time around we discussed what we see in our area.  I asked the boys to each pick a mammal that they know have been in our backyard.   I was expecting them to say deer, fox, or moose.  Of course they surprised me with cow and bear.  Two doors down we have a dairy farm, and a neighbor recently saw a black bear.  

I decided that the time had come to have the boys do a mini research project on each of the animals they selected.   
I chose one book for each of them that gave limited but rich information on bears and cows.  

Then I asked each of them to dictate to me facts that they had learned about their animal.  Then they sketched a picture of their animal.  

the cow that "I" drew is eating grass

"T's" bear is catching fish in a stream
I was very pleased with both their recall of information and the drawings.  They are really starting to be "big boys!"  

Our other "M" related study has been maple syrup.  This is our third year doing this as a family hobby.  It is really easy and great fun.  Our church has a very fancy set up with an evaporator and even a sugar shack.  Hopefully I will be able to post on what a commercial production entails.  This post will feature a very homegrown method. The syrup that we produce is very high quality, even without high teach finishers and hydrometers.  

We only tap two trees and generally, on a good year, can end up with about three to four quarts of syrup.  It takes a lot of sap and propane to make it, so it is not a great savings, but we find it worth it.  It has high educational value.  

The first step is to located the trees.  Then you wait to tap them until there are cold nights and warm days.  Once this cycle begins the sap starts to flow.  Warm is a relative term.  In the 40's and sap can run.  It will run even better the warmer it becomes.  The taps can be purchased at farm stores and some hardware stores.  You simple drill a hole and hammer it into the tree.  Here is one of our trees.  
Here is a close up of a tap with sap running.  

We collect the sap in buckets and bring it into the house to be boiled down on the stove.  We use a sieve lined with a coffee filter to take out dirt, bark, twigs, and bugs.  

The best pan to use is a roasting pan, or something shallow and broad.   Commercial outfits use an evaporator with a wide pan for boiling.  I use the stockpot to heat it and them transfer it to the roasting pan.  

(that is a chunk of ice)

You can see how quickly it begins to evaporate in the broad pan.  

The sap itself is sweet and would make a wonderful bottled drink.  It is the perfect balance of sweet and wet.  It is also clear.  As it begins to evaporate the color turns a bit cloudy and yellowish orange.  

Sometime foam forms on the top.  It can easily be skimmed off.  On this batch I ran it through the coffee filter again before I finished it in a saucepan.  

Here is the syrup before it is finished.  It is still watery, but sweeter than the clear.  The final step transforms it into syrup.  Use a candy thermometer to finish the syrup to about 220 degrees.  It is slightly different each time.  

The final product in this case is light amber.  It is early season syrup.  The later in the season the darker the color. We store it in glass mason jars to enjoy throughout the year.  

The boys were very excited to try it on some homemade waffles.  They consider it to be "grade A."  

1 comment:

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

I think your boys did a great job on their research and fact finding about their chosen mammals.

I enjoyed seeing your steps in making maple syrup. I do so love maple syrup and it is a goal of mine to go someday to a sugar shack and experience the big process. Thanks for letting us glimpse into your maple syrup making. :)

Thanks for sharing your link with the OHC.