Boiling Maple Sap to Produce Syrup
As the season turns from Winter to Spring, many people think only of the lengthening days and warmer weather. Springtime, to me, means one thing – maple syrup! In late February and early March, when daytime high temps are in the forties and nighttime lows are below freezing, maple trees begin sending sap to the buds to prepare for spring growth. This makes it the ideal time to tap the trees for their sap.
Maple sap has many uses. It can be turned into maple sugar or maple butter. It can be drank straight, and is now sold in grocery stores as “Maple Water,” due to the high vitamin and mineral content. But my favorite use is to boil the sap down into syrup, to be enjoyed with chicken and waffles or breakfast sausage.
Producing maple syrup is pretty straight forward. Maple trees are tapped and their sap collected. The sap is then boiled down until it has thickened to the consistency of syrup. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Boiling down at a 40:1 ratio is time consuming and the only major drawback to producing syrup at home, but with the price of real maple syrup (not that Aunt Jemima garbage) so high, it is still worthwhile if you can find the time and have a handful of Sugar Maples on your property.
To start, use a 7/16″ auger bit to drill a 3-inch-deep hole into the maple. This hole should be angled slightly up. Larger diameter trees can handle more holes. My trees, at roughly 24″ diameter, can handle three taps each.
Once the holes are drilled it is time to drive the spiles in. The spiles will direct the flow of sap into your collection vessel. In commercial setups, vinyl tubing is used to direct the sap flow to one central location. This isn’t practical in a home setup, unless you aren’t worried about getting clotheslined by a length of unnoticed tubing. Generally, home systems use metal or plastic jugs hung from each spile, which are emptied into a central vessel once or twice a day.
My setup combines both the commercial production system and the home system. I run tubing from each spile into a single 5-gallon bucket per tree. This way I can empty the buckets less frequently, but don’t have to worry about the excessive amount of tubing criss-crossing my entire yard
Depending on the weather, I can collect anywhere between 5 and 50 gallons of sap per week. If the sap is saved too long it will start to turn sour due to bacterial infection, so I try to boil down to sap once a week. The easiest way to boil is to set up a propane tank and turkey-frier (or two). With an efficient burner you can boil off about 1-2 gallons per hour, using about a half tank of propane.
Once the sap has reduced in volume enough to fit in a smaller pot you can bring it inside. It can be difficult to get to the proper consistency, but this is easier indoors in a smaller pot. You will know when the syrup is done when a candy thermometer registers 7 degrees above boiling. For me living at sea-level, this means 219 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it is here, remove it from heat, strain through some cheese cloth, and bottle it.
Now you just need to figure out what to do with all that maple syrup! If you have tried making your own, please comment below and let us know!