Tap, Tap, Tap – Maple Syrup Time!

Over the last several years the boys and I have learned to enjoy the debut of spring by working in the brisk sunshine over a hot fire and the warm, sweet steam of boiling maple sap! All of the restless knots of winter work themselves out in the most marvelous of ways – physical labor in God’s creation…and a sweet reward at the end. : )

Maple syrup making is one of a few unique ventures in which only those of us who are foolish enough to live in the sub-arctic northern hemisphere can participate. Of course, if you live in Vermont, up-state New York, Maine, or (cue angelic choir music) Canada you can claim all superiority and expertise in the art of making maple syrup. In Michigan, though, there is still plenty of maple sap to go around and plenty of cold nights and vacillating spring days to bring the sap to our buckets. It isn’t uncommon for neighbors to drive down our muddied road and see kids slurping sap tubes from ancient maple trees like little fairies at a forest soda fountain : )

While I’m not going to go into the detail of a how-to for making maple syrup – YouTube has that covered with about 400,000 video tutorials (which is where I learned) – I thought it’d be fun to share some lessons-learned for those of you who may be curious to try your hand at robbing nature of it’s second-best golden nectar (first-best is found here).

Hmm…I think that the first lesson is:

1. It’s OK to Start Small – that’s good news! If you’ve got a couple of Maple trees that you’ve been harboring a grudge against while you splurt Aunt Jemima on your waffles some mornings, then put an end to it! Grab the following, and you’ll be well on your way:

  1. a bucket, washed-out milk jug, etc

  2. drill & drill bit

  3. Spile (OK, gonna have to buy some of these)

  4. hammer

  5. plastic tubing (best price around!)

  6. (whole kit found on Amazon, yay!)

2. Be Prepared

Last year I was caught off-guard by an early warm-up in the weather. This got the sap flowing early, and I missed about 2 weeks of sap collection. Don’t wait to gather your supplies. Do it NOW for next season, then when the temps get to 40s in the daytime and still below freezing at night – Tap Those Trees!

3. Surface Area Matters!

Our first year, we used a large stock pot to boil the sap in over a wood fire. It was a large container, but the problem was the diameter. The goal is to get as much water to evaporate out of the sap as quickly as possible. For that, you need as much surface area as possible. After spending days watching a boiling pot…boil. I was finally able to upgrade to a large stainless steel water bath (think Old Country Buffet cast-off). This pan is about 5 inches deep and has about 11 square feet of surface area! This simple change in equipment has allowed us to cut our boiling time down by 75% – effectively quadrupling our syrup production in equal time.

4. Feed Your Fire

As I noted above, making maple syrup is all about time. That’s where the cost comes from, not the equipment or supplies, but how much of life someone has had to give to the product! Unless you’re retired, a trust fund baby, or a recent lotto winner, you probably don’t have unlimited time to boil down sap into the liquid gold you’re going for. In addition to a large surface area to enable evaporation, another key to speed up the process is a consistent, hot, efficient fire. I’ve used a smoke stack (6″ galvanized duct pipe) to keep oxygen drawing through the fire and as much hard wood as I can get a hold of.

5. Oh My Nitre!

Nitre and Sugar Sand are symbiotic evil twin gremlins of the sugar shack (there’s a picture for ya). Both of these substances present as a result of boiling the natural minerals found in the wonderful Maple sap. Nitre will show up in flakes on the evaporator pan (think calcium deposits). Sugar sand will appear as the syrup cools after bottling. You may have seen sugar sand as a haze suspended in, or at the bottom of, bottles of finished syrup. So how do you combat these gremlins? Well, the professionals force their syrup through layers and layers of pressurized filters. That’s a bit out of my league, and I’m still fighting this battle. As of this season, I’m filtering our sap right out of the evaporator, then filtering again before bottling. I’m also trying to be careful not to bring the syrup to boil any more than I have to while finishing it. Boiling will always create more sugar sand.

6. The Art of Finishing Well

There’s life application in making maple syrup?? Yep! but isn’t that true in pretty much everything worth endeavoring? While the bulk of the work of maple syrup production is on the front-end – tapping, collecting, hauling, and of course boiling the sap from 4-6% sugar content to around 60% sugar content; the real art of syrup making comes in the last few moments. The sap needs to be watchfully brought to 219 degrees & 66-68 brix (density). After struggling the first two years to get our syrup to be the best consistency, I finally bought a hydrometer. Using the hydrometer to measure the density (brix) of the syrup, as well as making sure I am using a calibrated thermometer have been key to achieving that lovely, palette-coating consistency of high-quality maple syrup.

Check out this awesome illustration of the evaporation process which will turn your sap into high-value maple syrup!

“Variation in Sugar Content of Maple Sap” by Fred Taylor

AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION

University of Vermont and State Agricultural College

Burlington, Vermont

MARCH 1956

β€”

BULLETIN 587

Happy Tapping!

some thoughts, Nathan

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Happy Birthday, Alexander!

I didn’t know motherhood until I met him.

So many nights, I laid my hand on his tummy, and prayed that he would be healthy, that he would be safe, that he would be intelligent, that he would live a long life, but more than anything, I pleaded that he would love God all of his days.

This handsome has been my honey boy for 13 years! I had loved him since May of 2004, but on Sunday morning, January 23, 2005, our joy was full when a bundle of softness and red fuzz was graced to us. God’s blessing of good health and a curious mind has always characterized this lad, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the gift of his life. Alexander didn’t mind if I shared a letter I wrote to him at the start of a new school year. He was 7.

Dear Alexander,

You are a gift from God! We were so excited when we learned that you would be a boy because we wanted your name to be Alexander! It is Yayo’s name, and it is a strong, manly name. Alexander means “defender of the people.” We pray for you daily that you will always love God and defend His Word above all else. Remember to let your light shine, so others may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven and that even as a child, you are known by your deeds. Defending those that are younger and weaker brings joy to our hearts and glory to God. We love you so much, Alexander Scott Kirkpatrick! We are so happy that God gave you to us as a blessing to our family!

With lots of love,

Dad and Mom

Photo credits: Maria Wild

with love, Damaris


Our Very Own Holly

Who remembers when Scrooge wakes up thrilled by Christmas morning, calls to the boy in the street to buy him the biggest goose at the market, then heads to Tiny Tim’s house to surprise the little family with the most opulent celebration they had ever experienced? Well, it wasn’t a goose that showed up on our doorstep last week, but maybe the next best thing – a Christmas PIG!?

Meet Holly, Larry’s next best friend (if the sheep will allow it)! A farmer from around the corner, who operates a petting farm (with a fantastic business model – it’s mobile. He brings the farm to you, and his 20 ft. trailer actually looks like a miniature barn and silo!), apparently wanted to relocate his little ‘wilbur’ after the petting farm season wrapped up. So, what a blessing, we are now the proud (and rather clueless) owners of our very own 3 month old Yorkshire sow.

Last Monday was welcoming day at First Fruits for Holly. I raced home from work, threw some chore clothes on, and helped our farmer friend get Holly acquainted with her new pen in the barn. With little time to prepare, we just converted the old sheep pen into Holly’s pen. Alexander and William were a big help in getting the pen to work. While sheep often get a bad wrap for being “dumb”, it is actually quite nice for the shepherd – sheep stay put. They stay in a pen with little complaint. Pigs are a different story. Our temporary home for Holly (now 17 pounds) will do for a little while – we took some salvaged galvanized roofing sheets that were laying around, set them on edge on the barn floor, and screwed them to the inside of the pen. Now Holly can root around all she wants, she can squirm and squeal, but she won’t be able to get out of this pen for a while. This is definitely a temporary measure, though. At a weight gain of 15 pound per week. Holly will need a permanent pen with both physical and mental (electric) barriers pretty soon. Right now we’re thinking that, if we get a break in the weather, we can run some quick fencing around the garden plot and let Holly till the garden for us until planting season. I scored an electric fence charger off of Craigslist (the go-to farm supply store). I have the fencing and posts – now just for some sun to melt the foot of snow (my mental barrier)!

And, really, this is how so much in life happens. There is certainly virtue in planning and preparing, but sometimes you just have to ‘go with it’. You can probably think back to twists and turns of your own family’s that follow this rule. Sometimes you figure things out along the way, together. And those are the real-life adventures – the best times and the best memories that your family creates and owns. I have a feeling that the “…remember when you and Mom…” and the “…I can’t believe we ever…” conversations that Damaris and I look forward to having around cups of coffee with our kids many years from today will now include stories of Holly, our Christmas pig.

some thoughts, Nathan


Future Men

If you have or have had the blessing of raising boys, I hope you’ve enjoyed the boyishness of them! When our boys were little, nurturing them seemed natural, but as they’re getting taller than me and far stronger, I find myself praying for wisdom! I’ve sought out much wisdom in raising boys because my childhood memories offer no sage guidance. I wasn’t raised in a rambunctious house or amongst the shepherding of little men. Yet, God has given me to these sons and these sons to me, and I seek to find blessing in this relationship for each of us.

But boys are different, and God intends for them to serve and glorify Him differently than girls. Accordingly, Nathan and I aim to see and raise our boys as future men. Hopefully this doesn’t strike you as chauvinist or gruff. Masculinity is not tough to the extent of rude. It isn’t lacking in respectful communication. Not gross or uncourteous. Teaching boys coarseness or callousness to the point of harm is as destructive as not teaching them the purposes of manhood at all.

We teach our children the same general principles and responsibilities especially while they’re little. Both boys and girls learn to obey, share, help. Of course they are taught to make their beds, empty trash bins, wash dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher), dust, sweep, and vacuum. At the same time, Nathan and I know that there is distinction in God’s design for boys and girls, so we also strive to reflect those distinctions in how we train them.

Boys intuitively know honor, and they can thrive under authority that doesn’t drive them to resentment. Cutting remarks will not foster this strength. There is one thing in particular that we teach our boys that we don’t teach our girls. It goes back to the original garden – we teach our boys to protect others, especially those who should be able to rely on their protection. They begin with their sisters.

This is a distinct responsibility and even young boys can be trained to rise to it. The manifestations of it as they grow is that boys will open and hold doors for others, walk on the sidewalk between a girl and traffic, carry bags for mom w/o her asking, push the grocery store cart, when its overloaded, shield those who are weaker from verbal or physical abuse – essentially what I Peter 3:7 says: treating women as honored creations of great value, and John 15:14 says: giving of themselves for the aid of others.

During our trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, we hiked some steep trails that required really good shoes and expert skill (of which I have neither!). Not only that, but for most of our excursions, I had Baby Samuel (10 months old) strapped to my chest in his baby carrier! One late afternoon hike took us trekking down an old ski run. About halfway – and a dozen switchbacks – down the run, I felt my feet begin to slip on some granite shards. Suddenly the harness of Samuel’s baby carrier was jerked from behind and held taught. Alexander had noticed me slipping. He reached out and held the back-strap of the baby carrier the rest of the way down the slope. I was quietly proud in that moment – experiencing the fruit of some of the lessons we had been teaching and witnessing one of the boys protect without request.

God allows these little affirmations throughout our trials of faithfulness. Nathan and I wish you the same quiet joys of his grace in your endeavors, too!

Nathan & Damaris


Family Currents

Found a new favorite family game – PIT! The kids have loved shouting out their trades like they’re on the stock exchange. Well, new to us, anyway. I think the game has been around since paper-rock-scissors was invented ; ) This box that’s been a staple out our cabin is from 1964.


William was gifted a pair of military aircraft models for his birthday. Alexander is more then happy to help him put them together & paint ; )

(He also reminds me they are a ’45 P-51 and a Navy Corsair)

I forget sometimes how helpful models can be to get kids (boys) focused on an activity, with a goal in mind, using their problem solving and creativity skills!


We’ve been making plans for summer! The kids get excited about the possibilities and we talk about the value of planning in order to be stewards of our time. Michigan summers can be short, let’s make the most of it!


Prolific Petunias! The summer Nate and I were married, my mom had petunias blooming on all of her window boxes in Madrid. We have brought at least a couple of flats or hanging baskets each year since. It’s fun to see their spurts of blooms throughout the summer.

with love. Damaris