All posts by Jordan L

Bean Lab Report

Throughout our spring ecology course here at Smokey House we participated in a month long experiment where we recorded bean plant growth with added variables to determine if the plant’s growth rate would be impacted. My experiment was to observe and record bean growth between three separate plant’s where one had no sugar added, one that had one teaspoon of sugar added and one that had one tablespoon of sugar. These three plant’s were watered three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. All of the plant’s received approximately the same amount of water and sunlight. On the 26th of April we completed our experiments and culminated data about our findings.

My findings were that the bean plant that received the same amount of sunlight and water than the others but had no sugar added grew the tallest in stalk length at 20 centimeters. However, the bean plant that received the smallest amount of sugar at one teaspoon grew to a close second at 12 centimeters. Lastly for our third bean plant it grew a whopping zero centimeters and gave our room a funky smell due to the fermenting sugar.

The denouement of my experiment was that the bean plant without any additives grew the tallest and perhaps the reason for this is because the plant had easier access to the nutrients in the soil and sugar could have made it more difficult for the other plant’s to do this. The second plant with only one teaspoon grew to a total of 12 centimeters although it grew at a much slower pace than the plant without sugar. As for our plant with one tablespoon it didn’t grow at all and the reason for this could be because there was simply to much sugar for the bean to absorb other nutrients from the soil. We did however, miss an entire week of monitoring our beans due to spring break and this could have been a confounding variable in our project although I have a small amount of doubt that it had a considerable impact on growth overall. I’ve concluded albeit the bean plant’s can grow with a minimal amount of sugar, I find it better to let nature do its magic and add none at all.

Exploring New Territories

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Treading new territory and going into the unknown is one of my favorite pastimes and is remarkably more interesting whilst having expeditions through the forest. Today we had the opportunity to explore the depths of the mountains and the mysteries that lie beyond. Our mission was to hike out into the smokey mountains to the vernal pools, where amphibians such as frogs and salamanders congregate during the winter. Once the snow and ice melt these organisms come out of hibernation and lay eggs during the spring.

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These habitats teem with life and are a great deal of fun to investigate. Though we didn’t have the pleasure of viewing the frogs and salamanders as we anticipated we did however, have the pleasure of soaking our boots of cold water trudging through the snow along the way. Should you ever decide to head out into the woods for a walk on a favorable and less snowy day, be on the lookout for for shallow pools of water because you may be surprised about what you may find!

Benthic Dwellers

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Though it is very common that there are organisms and micro-organisms that habit streams, rivers and lakes, it may catch you off guard how many there actually are! Today at the Smokey House center we had the chance to get our feet wet and our hands dirty. We partook in a lesson where the objective was to identify different types of organisms we found lying beneath the water that are visible to the human eye, also referred to as benthic macro-invertibrates. To my surprise we managed to find more than expected. The group of us pulled up dozens of organisms such as caddisfly’s, stonefly’s, aquatic worms and black fly’s. Everyone enjoys being in the water but few know how many different creatures dwell below them, chiefly during the winter.

History of Maple Sap Evaporators

The First Maple Syrup Production

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Sap being boiled in a log
  • Logs were filled with sap and then hot stones were added to boil the sap.
  • Hot stones would continue to be added until there was a large enough quantity of syrup produced.
  • Myths suggest that eastern woodland Indians such as the Iroquois began boiling sap that the Creator had provided for them.
  • In 1775 a young colonist was captured and witnessed the Indians boiling what is now know as maple syrup.

History of The Evaporator

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Settlers pouring sap collected in buckets into a kettle
  • —Written accounts of sugaring date back to 1557, the exact origins are unknown.
  • —Multiple kettles were adopted to decrease the boiling time as well as the quality of syrup.
  • —What is known is that maple syrup production began officially in the 1700’s.
  • —In 1858 D.M Cook patented the first evaporator pan
  • —In 1864 David Ingalls patented a evaporator pan with baffles in the bottom to help channel the boiling sap.
  • —In 1872 H. Allen Soule or Vermont designs the first evaporator with two pans and a metal arch or firebox further decreasing boiling time.
  • —Europeans introduced metal kettles which became common place and decreased boil time.
  • —Written accounts of sugaring date back to 1557, the exact origins are unknown.

First Maple Production Innovations

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  • Flat bottom pans was one of the first major innovations to boiling sap.
  • Increased surface area allowed for unprecedented evaporation speeds.
  • The flat bottoms pans were also enclosed and helped keep out wood ash.
  • Both increased fuel and boiling efficiency.

Modern Evaporators Today

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A modern evaporator boiling sap
  • Incorporation of deep channels or “flues” to again help decrease boiling time.
  • Enclosed heat source underneath the pans doubled the efficiency of fuel and heating times.
  • Reduced fuel and time also decreased production cost and thus decreased syrup prices.
  • Wood is still being used however, alternative fuel sources are used such as: Fuel oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas.

(Sources) : NORTH AMERICAN MAPLE SYRUP PRODUCERS MANUAL, Maple History Timeline

The First Draw

There are many steps to making maple syrup. It is a long, tasking, and grueling process. Though I have only just been introduced to how everyone’s favorite pancake topping is made I’ll try my best to summarize.

As everyone knows, maple syrup (implied in the name) is a product of maple trees, and the reason for this is because the maple tree has a naturally higher sugar content than other trees such as birch. To convert sap to syrup however, starts as early as January in the woods at the foot of a maple tree. There are various ways to harvest the sap from the tree, which include the traditional way where you hang a metal bucket to a tree with a metal “spile” also referred to as a “tap”. But, the more commonly used plastic piping has been found to be the most efficient. It connects directly to a tree with a plastic tree-safe tap. This step takes quite a bit of time; the reason for this is because the sap tends to freeze in these plastic lines on its way to the sugar house. Although there is a vacuum that helps pull the sap, it isn’t always flowing continuously. As a result of this, the bacteria has more time to eat the natural sugars which has a direct effect on the sugar content of the sap and increases the amount of time it takes to boil the sap into syrup.

In continuation, once the sap makes it through the plastic lines is deposited in a metal storage container similar to a vat. It then gets piped up and into the sugar house where all of the boiling is done. At this point the stage is set for the conversion from sap to syrup. Sap is put through a micro filter to gather all of the dirt and other materials and then pours down into another vat-like metal storage container. The then filtered sap goes into the evaporator and spends a period of time boiling down until the sap is turned into syrup.

The amount of time to convert the sap to syrup varies and has a lot of variables: how much or how little sugar content the sap has, at what temperature you’re boiling at, and how much sap you may have. After most of the water has been boiled out of the sap and the sugar content is high enough for it to turn in to syrup, you have come to a conclusion. Your last step is to strain the syrup one more time through two big filters (pictured above) to get the rest of miscellaneous materials out of the syrup.This is the first drip and now you have your tasty final product.

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It is then graded on its color. The taste is based on the coloring as well, a lighter more yellow color may have a more vanilla taste opposed to a darker more amber colored syrup that may have a darker stronger and more smokey taste. In theory, making maple syrup is not a complex operation. In fact, syrup production is mostly just physically demanding, labor intensive, time-consuming, and messy. Even though not everything is black or white there are many steps and variables to take into consideration. Making maple syrup is a long, tasking, and grueling process. However, the payoff is well worth it and has given me a new-found respect for the men and women who make us our favorite breakfast topping.

Syrup of the Smokey House

As someone who hasn’t lived in the state of Vermont for long, being outdoors and disconnected from the city life and rush of Florida and Chicago is quite a refresher. Coming to Smokey House Tutorial Center my first time is equivalent to experiencing your first Christmas as a child. Being so far away from civilization has a charm that I can’t quite describe. The air, ambience, peacefulness, and environment here is like nothing I’ve experienced. On my first day we took a tour trudging through and viewing snow covered gardens, maple sap tanks as well as the farm store.

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I also had the pleasure of viewing things that the other groups had been up to such as the quinzees that the students had built, which are essentially igloos but instead of ice it is snow that is made into a big pile and left to freeze, then is dug out, on the frozen pond a week prior to my arrival. If you’re a outdoors person or just enjoy a change from time to time then I heartily recommend that you look into the Smokey House Tutorial Center. Here you will get a chance to tap maple trees, learn survival skills and experience learning from a different point of view with more hands on work and the luxury of doing more out of the classroom work. In any case, the Smokey House Tutorial Center is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn some valuable information that I wouldn’t pass up for the world.