It’s finally springtime in Vermont! The third graders at Westminster Center School are betting that the maple tree in the school play yard will yield some sweet sap for boiling into maple syrup. We talked about what the kids already knew about ‘sugaring,’ a Vermont tradition….that Sugar Maples yield the sweetest sap, that sap runs best when the temperature at night is below freezing but in the day is above freezing, and that it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to boil down to one gallon of maple syrup. Half of the class had already had some memories of sugaring, but no one knew that a group of maple trees connected by lines for sap collection is called a “sugar bush.”
We drilled a 7/16 inch hole in the tree and we ‘set’ our taps by hammering a spout and a hook into the tree trunk. Sap came pouring out before we could even attach the bucket! The students put one bucket on the side of the tree that gets a lot of sun and one on the opposite side. They wanted to test out their theory that the sunny side of the tree would yield more sap. We’ve rigged up an outdoor boiler, with the assistance of our principal, Mr. Tullar. He brought in a deep fryer from home. The students will record the process of sugaring next week. (MORE SUGARING NEWS TO COME!)
We have a true friend in Russell Allen, Orchardist at the Connecticut Valley Orchards in Westminster. He regularly donates apples to our healthy snack program here at school. He has a grandson who attended school here and is now a Westminster farmer. This week Russell visited our garden to show me how to prune our apple and pear trees. He brought a small saw and some pruning sheers and a wealth of knowledge to impart about the care and nurturing of our small garden orchard. He is a born teacher.
He first drew an outline in the snow, the illustration of “a perfectly pruned tree. It looks somewhat like a Christmas tree………wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, with plenty of space between the branches,” he said. “But this is not a perfect world, so we’ll do what we can to make our trees look as close to this as possible.” The trees were planted by a graduating sixth grade class about six years ago. To date they haven’t produced any fruit. Russell recommended that we fertilize some of them. Some trees didn’t need anything but pruning this year. Fruit trees need a well balanced fertilizer, primarily rich in nitrogen. The ground around the trees needs to be fertilized as far out as the perimeter of the tree. I’ll get to that when the snow is gone. The tender trunks also need cuffs around them to protect them from gnawing rodents.
Russell left one Honey Crisp tree unpruned and pointed out that most of it had reverted to a wild state after years of neglect. There were about five main trunks in addition to the one that had been grafted to make the original Honey Crisp tree ( the scion). “How can we make this wild tree into an example for the children to understand?” he wondered. “I know. Tell them that this is what would happen to you if you didn’t go to school to learn.”