|Click photo for more info on Sugar Maples|
So let's get started. First you need trees. But what kind of trees? Well any in the maple family really, but we stick to the common ones Sugar, Silver and Red. Sugar Maple has the highest sugar content in its sap and have a longer sap flow which makes them the preferred tree to tap. So now that you have found some maple trees, what do you do?
Well first you need to look at your tree and measure it. Your tree should be about 2 1/2 foot around at 4 foot from the ground in order to put a tap in. Anything smaller then that, let it continue to grow. The bigger round a tree is, the more taps you can put in it. We usually only put two taps per tree. Remember, you are taking something from the tree, don't be greedy.
Once you are ready to tap your trees you need a drill, taps, and buckets to get started. We use 1/4" pex tube to make our taps, so we use a 1/4" drill to make our holes. Drill a hole in the tree about 3 1/2 to 4 feet from the ground at a depth of about 1 1/2" to 2". Once we tap (hammer in the tube) we put a nail above it to use for hanging our "bucket." We us both soda bottles and milk jugs as buckets. We simply twist wire around the neck or handle of the item and then make a loop that will slide on and off the nail for emptying. Some days there is a lot of emptying going on! LOL
But now your wondering, when do I tap my trees? Trees are tapped in February and March and sap flows for about 4-6 weeks. The flow of sap is HIGHLY dependant upon the weather. The sap usually doesn't flow until after a hard freeze. Last years winter was so mild here, we didn't even bother tapping our trees! Once the day time temp starts hitting 40 degrees it is time to put in your taps. The best sap flow is freezing at night with bright sunny 40 degree temps during the day. If the day time temp is not above freezing or the night temp doesn't go below freezing you will not see sap flow.
Once your taps are flowing, you can store your sap in 5 gallon buckets or a plastic trash can till your ready to boil. If there is snow still on the ground, we pack snow around the buckets. Collected sap can be held in buckets if the temperature do not go above 40 or 45 F. Warmer than that, the sap will support bacterial growth and spoil.
Once you have collected your sap it is time to boil it down. The nice thing about freezing nights is you will notice a layer of ice on top of your buckets, remove it, this eliminates water that would later have to be boiled off anyway. Use a shallow pan to boil the sap in. Boil it in an area with good circulation, as a large amount of moisture is turned to steam. In other words if you don't want the wall of your kitchen to get messed up, do the boiling OUTSIDE. Near the end of boiling the syrup will have an oily appearance. The temperature should be about 220°F.
Once you have syrup you will need something to put it in. We use canning jars. The shelf-life for maple syrup in a properly filled and sealed container is over one year. The shelf-life for maple syrup once it is open is about six months in the refrigerator.
Those my friends are the basics. Oh don't worry, I know you have lots of questions still, like how do I make my own equipment and how do I properly fill and seal containers of syrup. Deep breath, we will get to it, I promise. But for now, go find your trees, get your drill and prepare for the fun. Once your ready, follow along on our sap to syrup adventure on the Making Maple Syrup tab on our blog where we will get to covering all those questions you still have!