Unit Plan

Maple Sugaring and Technology


Steve Sauter & Daisy Welch


South Face Farm, Ashfield MA

To see this project actually carried out by high school teachers this year in Massachusetts, check the project diaries at co-author Daisy Welch's Web Site. Wonderful commentary on problems and solutions. 

Internet Lesson Plan

Tapping the trees of the Sugar Maple ( Acer saccharum ), and boiling it down to syrup, is an American tradition. Most people regard this industry as a quaint and nostalgic occupation practiced by droll Yankees with horses and buckets. Technology has changed both the process and marketing of maple syrup, and many of the by products of technology, pollution , new energy sources, materials and new transportation and communication have affected it as well.

In this unit, we will examine these changes and learn how technology affects one focused local N.E. process. The unit is designed for a middle school project that would link science and social studies, and technology education. It can be modified for elementary use, and by adding more depth to the technology component, and more advanced measuring techniques, used at a high school level.


Sugar Maple trees near by that can be tapped.
Various collecting devices and taps
Refrigerated storage for sap.
Contact with a local producer of syrup on-line if possible, by phone if
Access to weather reports
Stove and vent to boil
Internet access
Historical resources on production methods in past

This unit should combine a hands on tapping, collecting and boiling of syrup, and investigation of the relation between weather and sap production. An additional component is a range of topics on how technology has affected the maple industry over time.



Prehistoric-Native American-

 Collection-Gash and trough
Transportation-Walking 4 MPH
Materials-Wood, Stone ax
Market-Tribe or next tribe
Downside-Cold, boring outside, damage to tree.

Colonial 1630-1810

 1557-First written record of syrup production.
Collection-1810 Use of augers (drills) to make hole (less damage to tree) taps and buckets, Shoulder yoke and sled
Transportation-Walking horse or oxcart on rough roads 4 MPH or less with heavier load
Materials-Metal taps and boiler pot, proof , just go to sugar
Communication-Slow mail
Fuel- Wood
Market-Village or shipped as sugar. 1818 maple syrup costs half of the price of cane sugar which must come from West Indies.
Downside-Still cold , boring and outside, but a crop to be harvested when no other farm work can be done.
Additional sources: Old Sturbridge Village Library

Industrial Period-1820-1890

Collection- 1860 First patent for metal taps, 1875 metal buckets, sled
Transportation-Horse drawn better roads some RR
Materials-Sugar House 1858 First evaporator pan patented, glass bottles proof by spoon.
Communication-Faster mails (can we find times for letter between two points)
Market-Mill towns and cities 1880 Maple and Cane sugars equal in price.
Downside-Farmers leaving for mills and better farms out west.

 Turn of Century-1890-1920

 Collection-1916 Metal tubing introduced but proves impractical
Transportation-RR Automobiles and Trucks, Wide spread Improved roads
Materials-Same, larger boilers available. glass bottles proof with thermometer
Communication-Telegraph still faster mail
Market-Larger city population
Downside-Mills begin to fail, fewer working farms. Industrial Pollution begins

 Lanoue Sugar House's Wood Supply, Ashfield MA


 Collection -Same, possibly tractor (mud) Gas fired pumps
Transportation-, Automobiles, truck and RR, tractors
Materials-Metal cans, Tank trucks Maple Grading system introduced. Proof with Baum Scale (?)
Communications-telephone, radio weather report
Fuel-Wood and fuel oil burners
Market-Multi state, retail, to automobile tourists, and bulk to Vermont Maid
Down side-More roads,more compacted roots, farmers fewer. Competition with diluted syrups. Streetlights - maples need to "sleep". Salt on roads. Auto emissions and other industrial pollutants increase.


Collection-Plastic taps and plastic hoses (patented 1959), plastic vats, reverse osmosis, collection pumps increase natural flow of sap.
Transportation- Snowmobiles Truck (RR dead) Possibly plane
Materials- Plastic, Stainless Steel, pumps to force syrup through felt to clean.

 South Face Farm Oil Supply Tanks

Communication-TV, Satellite weather, overnight mail
Fuel- Fuel oil fired burners except during 1970's fuel shortage.
Market- The world, mail order
Downside-Beginnings of pollution's affects on maples 1980's-Japanese go bonkers for bowling and the price of maple for building lanes
skyrockets, many sugar groves are cut down for timber.

 Reverse Osmosis System, South Face Farm


 Collection- Sugaring Operations not using tubing not profitable due to
labor costs
Transportation-Bigger trucks,
Material-Aseptic Packaging (?)
Communication-Contact with buyers via fax and email, weather reports
Fuel- 20% wood 80 % fuel oil
Downside-Acid Rain, more competition, not much peace in the sugar house, what with the cellular phone and the laptop..


This unit should begin with an introduction to the process of tapping, collecting, and boiling of maple sugar. The tapping of the tree will likely generate a concern for the tree which can lead to and investigation of what maple trees need to be productive and healthy. A trip to a sugar operation, either a local operation or to Old Sturbridge Village when this demonstration is going on would be ideal.

Tapping and sap collection

The next step is to actually tap a maple tree. Using a bit and brace and a 7/16 ths bit, drill one or two holes about 2 " deep about 3 feet up, and pound in the taps. If you are using plastic taps and tubing, bring the tubes into a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a lid that has a hole for the tubing. If you are using metal taps, hang a 2 1\2 gallon pail on the hook and cover the whole thing to keep out bugs.
(You can use plastic gallon milk jugs, but on a good day they will run over). It takes 45-60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so you will have to provide a refrigerated container to store it up until boiling day.

Since the production of sap is related to temperature extremes, you should collect this data, by contacting the weather sites on the WWW.
As a comparison, you should get data, via email or fax from a syrup producer about how much sap he has gathered in the same period.

Set up a roster of jobs:

 A Sap collector, A Filterer, A Measurer, A Weather man, A Data collector, and data entry into a spreadsheet so that each child or perhaps a team of two, has a chance to do each job.

As the data grows, the connection between temperature and sap production should be apparent.

When you have gathered about 10 gallons of sap, you can have a boiling day. This should be done inside only if you have a way to vent the quantities of steam that will result. A flat stainless lasagna pan on a barbecue grill can be used as a substitute for an evaporator. . The sap must boil furiously to be reduced. When you have boiled it down to about 1/4 of its original volume, you must use a smaller pan or it will scorch. It will be easier to finish the syrup inside if you have a vent. You may use a candy thermometer, Baum scale, or the sheeting method to test whether the syrup is the right density depending on what density/saturation concepts you wish to use.
When the syrup has cooled enough you should eat it on something. If you are lucky enough to have snow on the ground, or a tray of it in the freezer, you can further boil the syrup to the soft ball stage on the candy thermometer and dribble it on the snow.

Technology Component

Each era should be a separate lesson plan, investigating through a What is New Today In the Sugar Grove ?
It should be run concurrently with the sap and data collection if time permits, but should include sap collection or a visit to a sugaring operation. In a technology education class, each era could produce a variety of data to record over the time periods, such as how far it can be transported, how much labor is involved, the cost to produce the BTUs needed and how quickly the farmer can communicate with his buyer.

Things that stay the same: over time weather (except maybe global warming !) and growing conditions that maples needs for sap production.
Things that change: technology changes and their effects on the sugaring process, both negative and positive: collection, boiling, marketing cost per gallon, people's tastes.

Questions to ask at each point ?

 1. What is the same ?
2. What has changed ?
3. What is an improvement ?
4. What are the downsides ?

 The students should be encouraged to brainstorm ideas at each level and be guided to most of the ideas in the timeline. Any new ideas could be researched as an extension lesson.

Extension Activities:

 get price of syrup from wholesaler as time to communicate to compare with other time periods
get faxed purchase agreement to compare time to move paper with other periods
talk to acid rain monitoring sources.
Compare the amounts of maple syrup in various syrups and taste.


"Sweet Maple" by James M.Lawrence & Rux Martin, 1993, Vermont Life, Vermont.

 Forest Service Research Paper NE-430, 1979, "A Cost Analysis: Processing Maple Syrup Products"

Forest Service Research paper NE-565, 1985, " The Cost of Maple Sugaring in Vermont".

"The Sugar Maple", Sanctuary ,Published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, January/February 1986, Volume 25, Number 4


ALL ABOUT MAPLE SUGARING, a classroom guide and curriculum for teachers was written by The Massachusetts Maple Producer's Association and the Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom program of The University of Massachusett's Cooperative Extension System.

Steven A. Sauter maintains this page. This way to his HomePage. 2/16/2001