Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tapping Maple Trees - How To Make Maple Syrup

This weekend begins our sugaring season. That is, turning the sap from our maple trees into maple syrup. We'll use plastic jugs, taps, a drill fitted with a 5/16 drill bit and a large pan for boiling. It's not a complicated process at all, and it's sort of fun too with a long tradition in Canada.

Pics to follow.

Normally you'd tap sugar maple trees because they have the highest concentration of sugar in the sap. But other trees will make syrup too. Regular old maple trees, birch and walnut will all make a delicious syrup if you boil down and concentrate the sap. After all, the sap is basically a sugary liquid that the trees use to store their energy over the winter. And you don't even need any special equipment either. The natives used carved taps or hollow reeds. Today we use plastic taps attached to hoses or metal taps with a hook on them for holding a bucket or jug. The thing is to find what works for you and does the smallest amount of damage to your trees. The basic method hasn't changed, just the equipment.

But why make your own syrup? It's time consuming to say the least.

Well, because it's a good sugar substitute, you can sell it, if you buy it in the store it's expensive, it makes a great gift or bartering item, and it's also then part of your food storage. Once you've bought the taps you can re-use them year after year just like the other equipment.

Ok, so have I convinced you to try it? It's's how.

Determine the best time of year. It's when the night time temperature is below freezing and the daytime is above. Usually in February, March and April depending on your climate.

Locate your maple trees (or birch, walnut, hickory) and determine both the south side and the diameter of the tree. You shouldn't tap a tree of less than 9 inches diameter and then you can put one tap for every 9-12 inches of diameter. Really, the fewer the better for the health of the tree. If there are any large roots or branches on your tree, that's a good area of flow so tap there.

Drill a hole between 20-30 inches off the ground with a very slight upward angle using a 5/16 drill bit and make the hole approx. 1.5 inches deep. Preferably on the south side. Put your tap in and gently knock it into place using a hammer. It'll take a minute but the sap will back up behind your tap and then start flowing down and out of the tap.

Here's where your choices come into play. You can hang a milk or water jug on the hook on the tap or put plastic tubing over it and run the tubing into a central collection tank. Or you can check the trees daily and empty the jugs into a bucket.

Run your collected sap through a filter. A clean pillowcase over a bucket works for this. You basically want to get out any dirt, bark or other bits before you boil so as to not leave a nasty flavour in your finished syrup.

Boil your sap for as long as it takes to reach a temperature 7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than boiling water in your area, which changes with altitude of course. Here near sea level water boils at 212f so we boil until the syrup is 219. Use a candy thermometer for this part. And really keep a close eye on your syrup once it's getting close to 219, it can scorch so easily and be ruined. One other thing to takes approx. 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. That other 39 gallons is going to come off the boiling sap as steam and water vapour and trust don't want that going on inside your house for the 12-24 hours of boiling it could take. So boil outside over a wood fire (free or cheap) if at all possible. Turkey fryers work too. We are going to build a little fire pit with a sturdy support for our boil off this year and hopefully the neighbours won't complain.

After the syrup has cooled for a few minutes, run it through another filter to remove any sugar crystals that have formed. Bottle and enjoy or better yet, trade with your neighbours!

See, I told you it was easy. I'll let you know how it works out for us. Maybe if I get brave I'll tap the trees before Steve comes home this weekend and get a batch boiled down for breakfast on Sunday. I guess it depends on the weather and the sap flow.


  1. Maple trees are usually grown in gardens as landscaping plants owing to its beauty and the extensive branching system. Fast Growing Tree Nursery

  2. Replies
    1. Most hardware stores and feed stores will sell them in late Winter. Also try Lee Valley Tools and online. The taps are cheap and I'd recommend getting a few extra. I split a few by accident every year. Buying in bulk is cheaper so consider splitting a bag with a friend. :)