Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Agriculture - A to Z April Challenge

The past year has been highly unusual for weather. Last winter, the temperatures were unusually warm; and during the summer and fall there was a drought. This has a direct effect agriculture - from crops to animals.

In Minnesota, one of the common things we see in the spring are sap collection buckets attached to maple trees. Minnesota is the state with the most-northern latitude, and the state furthest west that produces maple syrup.

Many taps are on the maple trees at a nearby farm.

Usually, the maple syrup season in Minnesota begins in mid-March and runs through mid-April. During that time, maple syrup farms tap their maple trees for sap. As a side note, since the temperature has been about 20 degrees below average, we noticed that local farms were not tapping during most of March.

Once farmers collect sap, they can convert it to syrup by boiling it. Most of the water boils out of the sap, leaving behind the sugar and flavor. Usually it takes 30-40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce one gallon of pure maple syrup.

We did a couple of activities related to maple syrup a few days ago.

Circumference and Taps

Maple syrup and sugar makers get sap from maple trees. A hole is drilled into the sapwood of a tree to the depth of 2-3 inches. When the weather conditions are right, the sap flows out of the hole.

A tree must be a certain size before it can be tapped. The height of a tree doesn't matter - it's the circumference that is measured.

Using the chart below, the girls determined how many taps would be needed if the trees were maples.

Circumference Chart
(inches around the tree)

30 inches = 1 tap
53 inches - 2 taps
72 inches - 3 taps

We went around to various trees (not maple trees) on our farm and measured the circumference of them.

Sophia and Olivia measuring the pine tree in the backyard.

They had to work together to get the circumference since they couldn't reach around the trees by themselves.

The circumference of the pine tree measured 68 inches.

Trees do have to be a relatively fair size before they can be tapped. The apple tree - which the girls use as a climbing tree in warmer weather - barely squeezed by the 30-inch mark necessary for tapping (if it were a maple tree).

Measuring the apple tree.
It was over 30 inches, so it would be the size of a maple tree 
that would have one tap in it.

We were surprised that no trees in the backyard were 72 inches in circumference.

Measuring the ash tree in the backyard.
Cooper (the puppy) wanted to be a part of the process.
This tree was large enough that - if it were a maple tree - 
two taps could be placed in it.

We were curious to know how big a tree is that has a 72-inch circumference. So we ended up heading over to the west pasture and taking a look at the biggest oak tree on the farm.

The oak tree in the pasture was so large that 
the tape measure wouldn't fit around it.

 So, we found one on our farm that exceeded that: it has an 83 1/2-inch circumference!

For the oak tree, we had to measure the section that 
exceeded the length of the tape measure. 
This tree was 83 1/2 inches in circumference.
If it were a maple tree, it could handle three taps.

Talking about Economics

We talked about how if there is less maple syrup this year and the demand is still equal to what it has been in the past what would happen with the price of maple syrup. "The price would go up," Sophia said.

This ties into the book we've been reading about economics: Whatever Happened to Penny Candy. It's an excellent book that easily explains economics to upper-elementary school children.

Searching for Taps

We drove by a nearby farm that we know has tapped in the past to see if there were collection buckets and taps on the trees. Sure enough...there they were.

We stopped on the side of the road and looked at the metal buckets and taps.

Sophia noticed that some of the trees had two taps on them (one on each side of the tree). Even though it is recommended this year that farmers put only one tap in per tree (no matter what its size) due to the drought, apparently some farmers are continuing with what they have done in the past.

One tree had two taps.

Sophia remarked that she was surprised that they were doing this considering the drought and the recommendation that there be only one tap per tree this year.

Perhaps there won't be a shortage of maple syrup after all!


Rinelle Grey said...

It's been strange weather here at the bottom of the world (Australia) too, though it was kind of a benifit here. Our mulberry tree, which usually fruits in spring, got confused by our very late summer rain, and is fruiting a second time as we come into winter!

Rinelle Grey

Rebecka Vigus said...

Stopped by to say Hi during the challenge. Loved your article very informative.

Jarm Del Boccio said...

We home educate our two teens, and we plan to use the "Penny Candy" book next year for economics. I forget that maple syrup can be harvested in other places besides Vermont. Thanks for sharing!
Just visiting from A to Z...

Crystal Collier said...

Wow. That was super informative. I will never look at my bottle of maple syrup the same. =)

Shan Jeniah Burton said...

Hi Ann!

We unschool our two, 8.5 and 11.5, in upstate NY. We've toured a local preserve where they tap, but no one talked about circumference!

I will share this with them, because they love to measure things, and one is particularly nature oriented, and the other quite interested in economics.

And for Crystal Collier, new York actually produces more maple syrup than Vermont does!=)

Lexie C. said...

Wow that was really interesting! :)

Betty Alark said...

Yes, that was very interesting and very informative! I'm sure the girls had a great time and learned alot! I did!

Thanks for sharing that lesson!