Alternative Food Sources: Your Backyard Maple Tree

Hurray! it’s maple season, almost.

The whole maple syrup process is so easy that I always wonder why more people don’t give it a try.

Well, now is the time of year to consider adding it to your adventure. It has one of the most inexpensive start ups of any food related hobby. We spent $7 to get started. The result: a years worth of magnificent maple syrup. We don’t have to spend a dime this year, since we’ve already got the taps and tubes.

Super inexpensive start-up yields great rewards

Super inexpensive start-up yields great rewards

I am a lazy gardener. I count on the chickens to turn the compost heap and rid the tilled ground of weed seeds before I plant in the spring.

This lack of oomph is why home maple production is for me. Basically, you drill a hole, let the sap run into a container, dump the container into a pot, cook it waaaaaaay down, and … TaDa! Maple syrup

Here are the basic for when you have a spell of frozen nights and thawing days:

1. You can tap any maple tree with at least a 10 inch (25 cm) diameter or 31 inch ( 77 cm ) circumference. Ideally, a sugar maple is nicest, but any old maple tree will do. Well, okay, not a Japanese maple…though I forget why. All the other kinds seem fine.

2. Drill at an upward angle and gently hammer the tap in ’til secure.

3. Stick a piece of clear tubing from the tap to your container.

We found clear,potable water tubing at the local hardware store and just snipped the lengths we needed.

4. Let the sap run down to very thoroughly cleaned milk jugs.

5. When the jug is full of cold, clear sap it is time to cook it down.

My mother kept a pan of sap on her wood burning stove. Occasionally, she would skim the froth and add more sap. She never allows is to boil — just a light simmer to cook down the sap.

Each night she put it in the refrigerator ’til the next morning. When it finally reached a consistency she liked, she filtered it and poured it into sterile mason jars. The jars sealed themselves as they cooled.

If you are trying this project, you might enjoy the “Sugar Snow” chapter from “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It helps you to understand the basics. Or read it to your favorite little kid.

Here are two web sites that I found very helpful:

How to Tap Trees and Make Maple Syrup

Hobby Maple Syrup Production

Some thoughts:

  • Real maple syrup is nothing like the viscous maple flavored pancake syrup from the store. That has a corn syrup base. Maple syrup has a very thin consistency.
  • We never use thermometers or hydrometers. We use our eyes and tongue to test.
  • The trees that produce the sap that requires the least cooking down seem to be the ones that stand alone, like the one in the picture above.
  • Check your lines for frozen sap.
  • The jug that is on the sunniest side of the tree will produce the most sap and need to be emptied more frequently.
  • Put the lid on the jug to keep the yuckies out, but poke a little hole or two near the top for the air to escape as the sap fills the jug. It will slow down or even stop, if you don’t.
  • If you choose to cook it down over a wood fire outside, cover the pan with some kind of screen or the ashes will land in it.
  • We were very happy with the yield from 10 taps in 4 different trees.
  • All of this makes a great science fair project for little ones. Or perhaps, a good badge adventure for a Scout.
  • Don’t drool into the sap as your stir it. It smells so good! Be careful.
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Published in: on February 15, 2009 at 7:29 pm  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the great addendum. 60 taps… busy boy. no wonder you need the quad. Please come back and tell us about your final yield with this many… how intensive was the labor… how much time you spent a day, etc. 60 taps. I need a nap. *Neighbor nancy marches off to make a fresh batch of coffee*

  2. I would not collect syrup from cutting off branches. It is not good for the tree, and you wont get the same yield as a tap hole. Also after years of doing this the tree will suffer significantly.

    When the tree starts to bud, the sap will turn darker and more “buddy” or bitter I believe.

    The best conditions are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night with a west wind. But if you just tap late Feb into just before the trees bud, the holes will stay open and give plenty of sap.

    On average (depending on sugar content of individual trees) it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Last year my trees had high sugar content and I was averaging around 32-35/1.

    I have about 60 taps this year. I have been using local sugar shacks, as Nancy suggested, to boil down my sap. The deal is, they get half of whatever it produces. This is bc they made the expensive investment, labored to get all that firewood, or paid for the fuel, they also spend the countless hours tending to the evaporator. Its a deal for me, and them!
    Good luck to all you who are trying it for the first time. A valuable resource is http://www.mapletrader.com they have a good forum there of maple producers from the proffessional to the beginner. They also have areas where you can check reports in your state, used equipment for sale and more.

  3. You magnificent inspiration and challenger! Thank you so much. Confession: I used to turn the giant Sycamore leaves into clothing and pretend I was a wood nymph. Stop laughing. I was about 7yrs old and very bored.

    Thanks for all you questions and ideas. Keep shipping them and I will attack them as I can.

  4. This is just completely on this side of awesome. The only bad thing with this, I have no maple trees! Doh!

    Hmmm, what about oak syrup, or sycamore syrup? Any willing testers? 🙂

  5. Do not evaporate on a gas or electric stove top. You will land in the poorhouse. Absolutely not worth it unless it is some homeschool experience for kids…even still…I wouldn’t do it.
    One choice is to find a nearby sugar shack by poking around on the web and asking around at your local county fair. Often the “charge” is half the syrup they yield from your syrup. Take into account gas mileage and wear and tear on your car.

    Another, evaporate over a backyard firepit with “found” wood. ‘Cause it takes a lot

    No need for giant kettles. Just evaporate a little at a time in a roasting pan. Think shallow with a big surface area. Keep adding to it and adding to it. The “waiting” sap can be stored in a very clean air tight container in the shade outside. Maple harvest temperatures are frigid enough for this. We use those big Rubbermaid storage containers. After we are done with sap, the get cleaned and hold bulky winter wardrobes ’til next year.

  6. Fake stuff is just corn syrup with flavoring. Yum. Not!
    Prime VT. syrup is allegedly going for $80+ a gallon this year. Brace yourself.

  7. LOL! We asked the same questions about three years ago. The following year we tapped 3 trees with 7 spiles and were thrilled with the results.
    We chose not to catch it because of contamination fears, I believe. When you tap, everything the sap touches is sterilized from the spile itself to the recycled milk jugs we use. However, all that sap get turned into a years worth of syrup that must be stored for an extended period.

    Personally, I would tap the tree.

    We evaporate it down on the flat top of my mothers wood burning stove. To evaporate on a gas or electric stove would be super costly.

    Yes, the sap will slow down after you get into the summer and as the wound heals. It may drip a little in the fall and next Spring but nothing like what you see now.

    Do you just ache to watch it. For fun, we gathered it just to see how much the pruned branch was losing in sap. About a gallon a day, BTW.

    Try directing that question here: http://www.extension.org/

  8. Okay, we pruned our Maple not knowing about leaking sap. We are young and new to this kind of stuff. We live in Northern Idaho, can we make syrup out of our tree sap from a cut not a tap and will ever stop?

  9. since i don’t have a woodburning stove, i wonder if my only alternative would be to simmer it on my electric stovetop all day long? i was considering crockpot(s), but don’t have any that would hold 10 gallons of sap that needs cooked down. what do you think of my alternatives? can you think of anything else? i wish i had a woodburning stove like my parents used to have…

  10. i am very excited about trying this! i can’t believe it could possibly be so simple (i mean I believe it, but it is very surprising!). I pay at least $13 dollars for a liter of the stuff at the store. and it is delicious & completely incomparable to the other “fake” stuff (Aunt Jemima, etc…)
    thanks for the instructions!


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