And, at least in our house, we survived it in the sweetest of ways! We have enjoyed the most delicious unit study ever! We have been making our very own maple syrup!
The Most Delicious Unit Study Ever: Make Maple Syrup at Home
I’m going to be honest here, folks. When we first planned this unit study I thought it would be a fun thing to do one time. I knew, going into the unit study, that making maple syrup is a lot of work. The sap-to-sugar ration is 40:1, which means that you need buckets and buckets of sap in order to make just a wee bit of syrup.
Do you know how, sometimes, on Halloween, you find yourself carving everyone else’s designs all alone in your basement because the kids got bored with the process and wandered off in search of more exciting things?
I sort of thought making maple syrup at home would be like that. I pictured myself, alone in the kitchen, stirring the pot for hours on end. Everyone would be there for the syrup, of course, but not for the hours of boiling.
So, I thought it would be a fun thing to do once just so we could try it and say we did it and all that good stuff that we homeschooling parents do sometimes.
But I am happy to report that I was wrong.
Planning a Maple Sugaring Unit Study
*Disclosure: I received a Tap My Trees Starter Kit for Teachers at no cost and was compensated for my time to write a review. I was not required to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are my own. I only share products that I would use with my own family and that I think others will enjoy.
The Starter Kit for Teachers costs $74.95 and includes:
- Maple sugaring lesson plan
- Maple Sugaring at Home
- 1 2-gallon aluminum bucket
- 1 metal lid
- 1 spile with hook
- 1 drill bit
- 1 12 oz. bottle with lid
- Candy thermometer
If you use Starter Kit with Aluminum Buckets, which contains supplies for tapping three trees.
We only used one bucket this year but plan to get additional buckets before next sugaring season. We want more syrup!
Books We Used
Every unit study needs some fantastic books and boy-oh-boy did we read a teetering pile of sugaring stories, from fiction to nonfiction.
Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Grandpa’s Sugar Bush by
Maple Moon by Connie Brummel Crook
Sugaring by Jessie Haas
Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky
Tapping our Tree
We had an odd winter here in New Hampshire with minimal snow and confusing temperatures. We almost tapped our tree over Valentine’s Day weekend but it was so cold – we are talking Minnesota cold- that we decided to wait until the following weekend.
First, we cleaned all of our supplies. Then, Daddy grabbed his drill and we went to our tree.
The process was quite easy. Simply drill the tap hole and insert the spile.
Next, you hang the bucket and attach the lid.
We’ve heard folks talk about how the sap immediately starts to run but ours didn’t drip right away. It was still too chilly.
The kids were over-the-moon excited to here the plink plink plink of sap. We wondered how long it would take but we didn’t have to wait long!
The Sap is Running!
The very next morning, right after breakfast, we went to check our bucket. And we heard the plink plink plinks before we even peeked inside.
Of course, we all had to try some and it was tasty!
By the end of the day, we had a full bucket!
Collecting the sap was easy.
Be sure to filter the sap through a cheese cloth and then store in a clean container. Some people store their sap outside in the snow, but we stored ours in the fridge. Don’t keep it for too long because it can spoil. We boiled every couple days.
Our First Boil
After 48 hours, our fridge was packed with jugs of maple sap. It was time for our first boil! Before starting, we boiled a pot of water to determine the boiling point of water in our area, as boiling points vary and sap is ready at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water in your area.
My little scientist determined that our sap would be ready at approximately 219 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, he had to record this data before we began. Because we were boiling in smaller batches, we boiled indoors. If you plan to do this, be sure you have a good ventilation system because the boiling process creates a lot of steam.
We started off with two pots and, with time, we were able to combine into one lobster pot. Remember that it takes 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup, so you have to boil the syrup for a long time.
We spent a leisurely day in our kitchen, reading books and homeschooling together.
We started the process at 10:00 am and we had maple syrup by 3:30 pm.
The process doesn’t require too much attention until the very end, at which point you need to pay very close attention. We had our thermometer ready. When the sap is approaching the correct temperature, it can boil over or burn very easily. Do not allow yourself to get distracted (more on that later).
In addition to checking the temperature frequently, you can dip a spoon into the pot to check consistency. Once it hits your goal temp and is sticky, take it off the heat. Allow it to cool for a bit and then strain through a coffee filter.
Sterilize your syrup jar and then transfer your syrup.
Honestly, our first boil was an enjoyable day. The kids’ excitement was palpable. They were impatient at times, but it was worth it. Everyone loved tasting the finished product over pancakes. They never left the kitchen – I had helpers the entire time!
Our Second Boil
In fact, the kids couldn’t wait to make more! Fortunately, we had a week of cold nights and warm temps- perfect sugaring weather! We could barely keep up with the sap over the next two days!
We were more confident for our second boil. We knew what to expect and couldn’t wait to taste our second batch and see if it tasted or looked different than our first.
My husband loves maple syrup. He could put syrup on anything (these are actually his words). We buy our syrup from Costco because my husband, as noted, loves the stuff. Well, he performed a taste test the weekend after our second boil and determined that our maple syrup was sweeter than the Costco brand we have in our fridge.
Within a few days, it was time for our third boil. At this point, we felt like syrup-making experts. This should have been a warning, folks. You need to respect the syrup. Do not get overconfident.
On this particular day, we not only made syrup, but we also made boomerangs courtesy of our most recent History Unboxed focusing on ancient Australia.
What happens next was very sad. There was an incident between one child’s boomerang and our roof.
There were tears.
There was drama.
Daddy got the ladder.
He needed someone to hold that ladder while he rescued the beloved boomerang so I helped him.
And then tragedy struck:
Now, I don’t cry over spilled milk but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel like crying over burned syrup. All that work just to ruin a pot and stink up the house. Let this be a lesson to all those with syrup dreams:
Do not get over-confident. Respect the syrup!
We had our fourth boil and it went so much better than the third! It was a warm week and we were drowning in sap!
We boiled all day and the results were delicious!
Syrup Making is Educational and Delicious
We are going to attempt our fourth boil as soon as we have enough sap and you can bet your britches we’ll pay better attention to the process. We plan to continue making small batches of syrup until the season ends. We’ve already decided to invest in more buckets for next winter. This is the most delicious way to survive February, folks!
Want to see more from Tap My Trees?
Tell me, folks: What is the most delicious unit study you’ve ever planned?
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram
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