{How To} Tap Your Own Maple Syrup

Editor’s Note: We’re back with a post not to be missed. Dianna and her family boil their own maple syrup from tapping trees around their urban neighborhood. Tapping time is now, so read the post and examine the pictures carefully and get out there and do it! There is a {photo diary} to accompany this post as I was lucky enough to go out with Dianna’s husband Michael to watch him tap the last two buckets of the season. We will continue this series with a follow-up {photo diary} on the 2011 boil. -Christina

We used to live in the country and made maple syrup every spring from the trees on our land. When we moved to town, we noticed many beautiful, mature maple trees in our neighborhood, none of which were in our yard. After a few years of moaning about not getting outside in March to sugar, we asked a couple of our neighbors if they would mind if we tapped their trees. Now in February we run around the block with our portable electric drill and put taps in enough trees to make approximately 3 gallons of syrup in one day’s boil. We give a gallon to the tree owners and split the rest with our friend Russell, who helps us boil and provides the wood for the syruping.

To collect enough sap for the amount of syrup we want, we have to tap four trees, some of which are better than others for sap production. We hang three buckets on a large tree, one on a younger tree. A good sugaring tree must have at least six hours a day of full sun on its trunk so that the sap will be warm enough to run.  You can collect sap when the temperature is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, usually for two or three weeks in March or early April.

This is how you make syrup:
You take a 7/16ths inch drill bit and drill a hole two or three inches into the trunk at a comfortable height for holding the drill. Don’t bother drilling on the north side of the tree, the sap just doesn’t run much there. You then lightly hammer a spile (sap spout) into the tree. For people living in the Saratoga region, you can buy a set of four spiles and hooks for hanging buckets at Agway, or you can order them on-line from Tap My Trees or from Amazon. We bought our buckets and spiles second-hand from the want ads. It is ok to tap the tree several weeks before the sap starts to run. It ensures that you won’t miss the beginning of the season.

Once you tap the tree, you hang a covered three-gallon sap bucket or a plastic milk jug with a hole cut in the side near the top to catch the sap that drips out of the spile.  We empty our buckets every day into wheeled plastic garbage cans that we only use for sap collection.  As long as it is cold at night, you can store sap in the cans in the shade until you are ready to boil.

The sap has to be boiled down to make syrup at a ratio of about 10 gallons of sap to one quart of syrup.  We have a 4′ x 2′ x 1′ evaporator that we bought on e-bay a few years ago, but you can also boil in the biggest pot you have.  A 3-gallon pot of sap makes a little over a cup of syrup.  Friends of ours who make small quantities of syrup boil it down on their grill outside. You can add fresh sap as the old sap cooks down, but it tends to darken the syrup.

We construct a cinder block fireplace in our driveway to hold our evaporator and sit around for hours feeding wood into the fire to boil the sap. People walking by tend to stop and talk to us, which is a nice benefit to doing the boil in town. We keep a cup handy to taste the sap throughout the day to monitor its progress. We often spike it lightly with rum. Russell started bringing meatloaf sandwiches to eat, so now we have a rum and meatloaf tradition that I don’t even pretend to explain.

The tricky part about syruping is not to burn it at the end. We take it off the fire when it is around twice as watery as it needs to be and finish it in two three-gallon pots on the stove in the kitchen where we can watch it and control it more carefully. We have a hydrometer to measure the water content of the syrup, but you basically boil it down until it becomes so sugary that the temperature rises to 7.1 degrees above boiling. Since we live a little above sea level, we bring it to 219 degrees on a candy thermometer. It starts to look different when it is done; the bubbles get smaller. Even though I always think we will be done with the syrup by late afternoon, it usually takes until around 8 or 9 at night. Smaller quantities will obviously finish more quickly.

Once we have finished the syrup, we strain it through fine cheese cloth to get the crud out and hot pack into one-cup decorative jars so that we can give it to people in small quantities. It is way better than cookies as a Christmas present. It keeps pretty much forever.  The real benefit of syruping is that you get to be outside a month before everyone else, you get to play with fire and you get to sit around with your family and friends doing mostly nothing all day long after having worked your buns off collecting sap, gathering trash wood and building a fireplace. It doesn’t get much better.


19 Comments Add yours

  1. Amazing. I am in awe. And so totally jealous! Do you think the NYC Parks Department would allow me to tap the trees in Central Park? Ha!!

    1. Christina says:

      You know what?!?! I was TOTALLY thinking about NYC & its environs when I scheduled these two posts. I lived in Brooklyn for 9 years before moving to LA then back Upstate and I think tapping your own maple syrup needs to be NYC’s new “beekeeping” and new “rooftop” gardening and “backyard” chicken hobby of 2011! Do it! I bet you could do it… I think its worth investigating… Hummmmm

      1. Dianna says:

        It’s probably already too late in NYC, they are 200 miles south of us and in a very different temperature zone. I would think Feb for tree tapping there. I thought aboug tapping trees in Inwood Hill park when I lived there but you would have to sneak off the paths so rangers and vandals wouldn’t take down your buckets. Or get permission.

  2. You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest websites on
    the net. I am going to recommend this website!

    1. Dianna says:

      wow, thanks!

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