This school year, I have found a new way to connect my two areas of expertise: education and farming.
Because of my connection to the Montessori department at Xavier, I was asked if we might serve as the farm for the middle schoolers at the lab school to visit each month. Maria Montessori thought that these older children should live together on a farm, working as a community to supply most of their own food and other basic needs. Though this live-in approach is not accessible for most schools, visiting a farm regularly allows students to experience some of the rhythms of farm life first hand.
If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?
Each time they come out for the day, I teach students about some new topic. So far we have covered chickens, food laws, bread making, fermentation, potatoes/sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and more. Through a combination of discussion and experience, they are learning some useable life skills and seeing how the work we do shifts through the seasons.
Today we spent the day tapping trees and fermenting.
I spent my Sunday afternoon at the Cincinnati Nature Center learning about tree tapping. The workshop covered everything from what kinds of trees you can tap and when, to how to get the sap out of the trees, cook it down and even bottle it. I learned a lot and was excited to try it out with my friends from Xavier.
During a previous visit, I had asked students to research which types of trees were tappable.
In October, before the leaves fell, we walked the property and marked ten trees that fit into the species list and were large enough. Though we don’t have any sugar maples here, we found box elder, red and silver maples and sycamores. I learned at the Nature Center that these produce sap with a lower sugar content so it’s not as sweet. Oh well, in the spirit of Montessori – it’s process not product!
So with supplies in hand, today we set off to find the trees we had marked in October. Here’s the steps we followed to tap the trees:
- Find a nice flat spot on the tree for the tap/spile.
- Tie a rope above that spot for the bucket to hang on. Tie it good and tight, preferably around a branch that can help support the weight of the bucket.
- Hang the bucket from the rope with a hook and eyeball where you want to put the tap. Remove the bucket to drill your hole.
- Clean your drill bit with alcohol to prevent the spread of disease between trees. Drill into the tree 1.5-2″ deep, keeping the drill fairly straight. Use a water bottle to spray out the debris from the hole.
- Gently tap the spile in to place, listening for when the sound seems to come from the hole tree.
- Hang your bucket back up, push the tubing on to the bottom of the spile and you’re done!
Here you can see the one I did on the red maple in from of our house.
Here you can see students sighting taps on either side of our large silver maple. The part that seemed to take the longest was figuring out how to hang the buckets. The spiles at the Nature Center were sturdier than ours and came with a hook to hang the metal buckets from. The ones I purchased are plastic and have no hooks. I was going to make hooks to hang from the spiles but was concerned they wouldn’t support the weight of the 5-gallon buckets we are using. So we settled on tying the buckets to the trees. This is a learning process – we’ll see how it works when the sap starts to flow!
Here students tapped three big sycamores by the creek.
All work is noble; the only ignoble thing is to live without working. There is need to realize the value of work in all its forms whether manual or intellectual, to be called ‘mate,’ to have sympathetic understanding of all forms of activity.
Now we wait for the temperatures to begin to warm up during the day. For the sap to flow, it has to be below freezing at night and above 40 during the day. The hope is to have a bunch of sap collected by the students’ visit next month so they can experience the process of boiling it down to syrup.
Last month, I showed students how to make bread and taught them some basic info on fermentation. They were so interested in the process and amazed by how many food products are made through fermentation. At their request, I prepared more fermentation fun for this month’s visit.
One group made spicy pickled carrots. These will ferment for several weeks.
Another prepared a drink called “Lavender Fizz” with lemon, lavender, honey, vinegar & water. This will ferment for several days then be bottled to allow the carbonation to build up.
A third group prepared purple sauerkraut, which will ferment until their next visit. We plan on trying to Reuben sandwiches for lunch while we boil down our sap!
All the fermenting recipes can be found in an awesome and highly recommended cookbook called “Recipes From the Herbalist’s Kitchen” by Brittany Wood Nickerson.