Truro father makes maple syrup with children as school project

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TRURO – Locals may have noticed some white buckets duct tapped to some trees along Queen Street in Downtown Truro.

While some may have figured out they are there collecting sap for maple syrup, there’s another reason they are attached to trees around the neighbourhood.

“It started when we were out geocaching, a worldwide scavenger hunt,” said father of three and full time student Brad Alexander.

Each participant in the hunt is given GPS coordinates and they venture out into the woods in search of treasure boxes filled with trinkets other have placed inside.

“You can leave something and take something,” explained Alexander, who moved to Truro a year-and-a-half ago from Chilliwack, B.C. “The thing that I took was a spile that someone had left, a spout you put in a maple tree. I thought it would be a great thing to do with the kids.”

Although his children are only four, two and nine months old, Alexander and his wife Jacqui have already started some fun projects with them to get them interested in learning before he begins to home school them.

“When you’re going to home school them, you might as well start right away,” he said.

With the project idea almost all ready to go, the 29 year-old father had one small problem standing in the way of him. He has no maple trees on his property.

“One of our neighbours has one so I decided to go and ask if I could put the spile in the tree and try it out,” he said. “It was just so easy to do. I looked it up online and learned about it and taught the kids. I thought why not ask all of my neighbours?”

Now, every morning, Alexander, his three children and wife go and check the sap collection from 10 different trees, all belonging to his neighbours.

Alexander’s daughter, four-year-old Evelyn, really enjoys collecting the sap with her father. She even had the chance to enjoy some of their homemade syrup last week with her breakfast.

‘It’s great,” she said. “I like collecting the sap and carrying the tools. It tastes good. Learning with Mom and Dad is fun.”

Evelyn may only be young, but she’s already able to explain most of the tree tapping process without much help from her parents.

“Any place where is the lots of sun is where you put the bucket,” she said. “There has to be a big root, an elephant foot.”

“You look for that and you follow it up,” said Alexander. “With a bigger root, there’s more sap and sugar.”

Even some of the neighbours are getting in on the learning experience. Alexander said one of the neighbours in particular was interested in coming out to watch as he and his children were collecting sap.

The family collected about 20 gallons of sap, which they tried to turn into maple syrup. They managed to boil it and even share the final products with the owners of the trees they tapped. There were a few mishaps, a lesson even dad had to learn from.

“It’s a whole new experience for us,” he admitted. “Generally, you’re supposed to boil it outside but we didn’t have a fire pit and we’re renting so we couldn’t build one. I thought 20 gallons of syrup wasn’t too much to boil down inside.”

Because of the huge amounts of steam, mother Jacqui said their walls were dripping with water.

“It still worked,” said the 26-year-old stay at home mother. “We got syrup.”

“But we had to open the windows and leave the fan on all day, and wear our coats in the house,” said Alexander. “But it worked.”

Since the first attempt at making their own syrup, the family has since borrowed a propane burner in order to boil the next batch outside.

With the first batch completed and family and friends reaping in the tasty benefits, Alexander said he has no interest in selling the syrup but will continue teaching his children with similar fun projects.

“We’re just going to eat it.”

With 10 trees already tapped, Alexander hopes to expand to 20 trees in time for next year’s maple syrup collecting season.

For a video, visit trurodaily.com

jturner@trurodaily.com

Twitter: @TDNjocelyn

Geographic location: Chilliwack

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  • Dan Bedell
    April 09, 2013 - 15:06

    I did similar with my children years ago and sent one out the next morning to check how much sap was in the bucket. He came back in to let me know it must have rained overnight because the bucket was full of water, so he dutifully poured it out. I've done this a couple of times since, but now explain first that maple sap looks (and pretty much tastes) like water, which is what 97% of it is, and it takes a lot of patience and boiling to reduce it to that bit of syrup!