The Botany of Syrup

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Any kid will tell you maple syrup is special, but how special? Is tapping a maple tree like putting a spigot in the trunk? And why maple?

In a wonderful book I’ve written about before by Nalini M. Nadkarni called “Between Earth and Sky-Our Intimate Connection to Trees” she writes of how botanists and tree physiologists have been looking at how sap is produced within maple in the last couple of decades. Like many things, the wild world of maple syrup seems like a freak chance, a perfect random combination of physiology.

A tree’s goal, aside from reproduction, is to feed itself-it’s tough being an autotroph, and a whole lot of work. Photosynthesis takes place all summer long, making sugars for respiration, growth, reproduction, and a little extra. This extra, in a sugar maple, gets stored as starches within the sapwood of the tree. The sapwood, as the name sounds, is the area of the trunk and branches where water and sugars move around, located within the first couple rings of the wood.

As my winter term class hopefully remembers, Sugar maple is one of our “live slow, die old” species of trees. These trees are more shade tolerant, in life for the long haul, and have the foresight to save extra sugar for lean times, such as the introduction of shade or competition. Other tree species, such as Poplar, live fast and die young, and burn through all their sugar like a hyper 3 old, just as prone to growth spurts as an Aspen in the spring.

Early spring brings sun, a little higher in the sky, and better able to warm. Cats in our house know this, moving away from the woodstove and into little patches of sunlight on soft surfaces. Trees know this too, as the sun warms the bark and the wood. The air may be below freezing, but tree surfaces and interiors could be well above freezing. Once the wood gets to be above 40 degrees, enzymes turn these stored starches into sugars, mostly sucrose, and the sugar is now within the sap. This explains the magical sugaring temperature of 40, any warmer and this process stops.

The other freak chance miracle of maple is getting the sap flowing out of the tree. Not all trees can do this. Water is moved throughout the xylem of the tree by capillary action and transpiration, meaning the leaves need to be on the tree for water to move very effectively. That  would ordinarily make for tough sugaring in March and April, except in Maple.

In maple trees the space around the wood fibers is filled with gas, not water like most plants. When the temperature drops, this gas contracts, making space for the sap laden with sugar in between the cells. So water can move upwards from the roots by capillary action without the benefit of transpiration from leaves. This water freezes at night between the cells.

The day brings warm temperatures, melting this ice and expanding the gas, forcing water down the branches into the stems and trunks of the tree. The taps put into tree trunks to collect sap pierce the xylem all this sap is moving through, and water flows down the tap into the bucket or plastic line.

Interested biology students should read another blog, The Botanist in the Kitchen, http://botanistinthekitchen.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/maple-syrup-mechanics/ , and a cool roadtrip would be the Proctor Maple Research Facility of my old school UVM.

 

Last Chance Seniors!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 2.17.44 PM

New to the library, April edition

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In addition to the recently announced Annual Reviews of Economics and Chinese Newspaper Archive, more new library collections are rolling in:

Research Databases

Encyclopedias

Journals, etc.

Starr_Library

Nope, nothing new in this photo. Starr Library, 1945

HR Update: This Week’s Employment Snapshot

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

There are currently 10 faculty positions, 39 external job postings (regular, on-call and temporary), and 1 internal job posting on the Middlebury College employment opportunities web sites.

Employment Quick Links:

Faculty Employment Opportunities: go/faculty-jobs (on campus),http://go.middlebury.edu/faculty-jobs (off campus)

Staff Employment Opportunities:  go/staff-jobs (on campus),http://go.middlebury.edu/staff-jobs  (off campus)

Please note – to view only internal staff postings, please use the internal posting search filter that was highlighted in this MiddPoints article.

On-call/Temporary Staff Employment Opportunities: go/staff-jobs-sh (on campus),http://go.middlebury.edu/staff-jobs-sh (off campus)

Ajami: when life bears no value

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Ajami is a skillfully produced movie with an intense plot developed through the use of exciting cinematographic approaches.

The narrator of the tragic Israeli-Palestinian tale about human suffering is a young boy called Nasri whose family is deeply troubled. His uncle gets into a conflict with a local gang which then attempts to kill him and his family. Nasri’s older brother Omar (19) becomes the oldest man in the family and is, thus, responsible to resolve the issue according to the popular scripts of the culture he comes from. Aiming to kill Omar, the gang members kill his cousin instead. When the local respected restaurateur Abu Elias helps to solve the conflict, Omar’s family is asked to pay a huge amount of money to ensure its protection. Together with 16-years old illegal Palestinian worker Melek whose mother needs to be operated, Omar decides to sell drugs in order to provide for the payment. When the two are caught by police members Nasri shoots at a policemen in order to protect them and gets killed.

Ajami is an insightful, encapsulating the senses movie presenting the realities of life in Israel and Palestine. Violence, corruption, and revenge create the all-consuming feeling of powerlessness shared by characters and public alike.

The characters in the movie are left to struggle alone in a world which does not value the life of others’. A world in which people lack moral limits and do not feel remorse as they advance at the expense of others’ wellbeing. The ties and empathy depicted in the movie lack transcendence beyond the realms of nationality, religion, culture and family.

The society presented in the movie operates on the principle of the wilderness. The stronger the better. Survival of the fittest. But being “strong” or “fittest” in the context of the world drawn by the movie does not include being ethical or moral. In fact, all characters in the movie respond to the challenges of their environment by compromising their values in one way or another.


Staff Council Meeting Wednesday, April 9th

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Please join us for our monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 9th. Our guest speaker this month is Mike Thomas, Associate Vice President for Finance & Assistant Treasurer.

 MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STAFF COUNCIL

Agenda

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

9:00 am to 10:30 am

Crest Room

9:00 a.m. Open meeting and introductions

9:05 a.m. Guest Speaker Mike Thomas

9:35 a.m. Approval of minutes

  • March 2014 Meeting

9:40 a.m. Committee Reports

  • Community Council
  • HR-6
  • Publicity and Events Committee
  • Safety and Environment Committee
  • Election Committee
  • Staff Development Committee
  • Compensation Committee
  • Web Prioritization Committee

10:00 a.m. Old Business

  • Employee “Perks” Update.
  • Retirement Transition Update
  • Boston Trip details

10:15 a.m. New Business

  • Updating the MCSC webpage
  • Set ice cream social date

10:30 a.m. Adjournment

The Week’s Headlines

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Here are the week’s headlines from the News Room:

Middlebury Voices in the News: Supreme Court, North Korea, Natural History

Spring Symposium: A Day of No Classes, Tests, or Homework

Distinguished Poet A. Van Jordan Blends Film and Poetry in Middlebury Classroom

College to Host ESG Investment Panel

Middlebury Hosts Farm-to-School Food Summit [Video]

Middlebury Awarded $800,000 Mellon Grant for Digital Scholarship

Reporter Who Covered Pope Francis Will Speak at Middlebury on April 8

View past stories by visiting the News Room page.