I received the Tap My Trees Kit for this tutorial and I was compensated for my time in writing. All the opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!
Have you ever thought about making maple syrup? It’s a past time of early Americans and a cultural gem of the northeast United States. We read descriptions of annual sugaring in Little House in the Big Woods and attend maple festivals each spring. Maybe you’ve even been to a sugar shack and seen syrup being made. It seems like an intimidating process, but in an attempt to make it accessible I will share, How to Make Maple Syrup- from Tapping to Boiling and Everything in Between.
Identifying Your Maple Tree
Before you tap, you have to be sure you have the right tree. While you can get syrup from trees other than sugar maples, the sugar content varies depending on the species of tree. Last fall we identified the tree we’d tap. Your tree must be at least 12 inches in diameter before it should be tapped for its sap. Although our yard is entirely populated with sugar maples, most of them are small. We did find one candidate within easy reach and we did a little math to determine its diameter from the circumference we measured.
Materials Needed for Making Maple Syrup
The Starter Kit for Teachers includes one bucket and the other supplies to get started. The directions in the booklet make it easy to read and go.
- Collection Bucket- Which is at the tree to collect the sap
- Drill Bit- The size necessary to drill the whole into the tree. The kit comes with a drill bit.
- Spile- This is the spout which the sap flows over into the bucket
- Drill- to make the hole in the tree
- Hammer- to gently tap the spile into place
- Hook- Which attaches to the spile and holds the bucket to the tree
- Cheesecloth- So you can filter the sap before you boil
- Filter Paper- for filtering the syrup
- Candy Thermometer- Gets placed in the boiling syrup as it gets close to boiling all the way down.
- Containers- for collecting & storing the sap before you boil it and for storing the finished syrup
If you are going to tap many trees, you’ll need more supplies. Make sure you have them assembled before you start because the sap runs fast!
Collecting the Sap
Every day Grandpa puts on his boots and his warm coat and his fur cap and he goes out into the snowy woods and gathers the sap. With a barrel on a sled, he drives from tree to tree and empties the sap from the buckets into the barrel. Then he hauls it to a big iron kettle, that hangs by a chain from a cross-timber between two trees. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods
After you have identified the tree you will tap, you have to wait for the right weather to begin. Tapping weather is typically between February and March. The best days for getting maple sap are days when the day time temperature is above freezing and the night time temperature is below freezing. Ideal temps are 40s during the day and 20s at night.
Get the tap ready and into the tree.
- Clean the bucket, spile, and bit– Use bleach water to clean these materials.
- Mark your drill bit at 2.5 inches– So you know when to stop drilling into the tree. You want to get into the sap wood.
- Drill the spot on the tree– It should be about 4ft off the ground so you can still get to it when it snows. Drill slightly upwards so the spile will aim slightly down.
- Tap the spile into the tree– with the hook already on it. Use the hammer and gently tap it into place.
- Put the bucket on the hook– It’s ready for catching sap!
- Add the lid to the bucket– The lid secures to the top with a rod through it and the spile. This keeps the big stuff out of your sap
- Check on your bucket– Once the sap begins to run things can move pretty fast.
The sap runs clear like water. Isn’t it beautiful? The color of the sap can tell you about the sugaring season too. Once the running sap is no longer clear, the season is coming to an end.
A few tips for successful sap collecting:
- Make sure you check the sap bucket daily
- Check the buckets more than once a day on warm days- if the day is warm and the nights are cold, that’s great sap running weather. We had a hard time keeping up on those days!
- Pour off the bucket into other containers- make sure they are food grade containers
- Don’t wait too long to boil the sap- it can spoil, so you want to boil it down within 7 days.
- Store the sap at 38*- We opted to leave it on our back porch with a lid to stay cold. Just watch it if the temperatures during the day go above 40*.
- Have extra food storage containers on hand- We needed more than our stock pot. With just one tree, I figured we had enough.
Boiling the Sap
Once you have enough sap collected, it’s time to boil it. Based on our experience, here are a few things to remember:
- This process takes a LONG time– It’s not difficult, but it takes a long, long time.
- You’ll need a consistent heat source– We used our stove which is sourced with natural gas.
- If your sap is frozen– Just dump the ice and start boiling. Most of that is water only and it will cut down on your boiling time.
- The process is faster with a wider, shallower pan– The more surface area you have to boil off, the faster it will go.
- Have a pot to transfer to once it boils way down– The last part of the boiling will be done in a smaller pot.
- Keep a large pot warm and ladle into a smaller pot– This was successful for us because we didn’t have a large pot with lots of surface area.
- As it boils down the sap turns more yellow– and it gets thick and bubbly
- It makes your house smell great!- An added bonus
- It produces a lot of steam– Take that into consideration when choosing to boil down indoors. We installed a new stove fan which ventilates from a few different places directly outside. I knew our fan could handle it.
- Determine the finished temperature at your altitude– We are at 1,150 ft above sea level so we determined our target temp to be 217*F. The booklet gives you a guideline.
- Keep an eye on it as you boil the last small batch down– We boiled about 4 gallons of sap at a time and filled about three quarters of the bottle. When you are boiling down the last of it, don’t get distracted!
When the sap has boiled down just enough, he fills the buckets with the syrup. After that, he boils the sap until it grains when he cools it in a saucer. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods
Storing the Syrup
Once you think you have syrup, you can turn off the heat and get ready for the big finish!
- Prepare the filter that comes with the kit– We put the filter paper in a strainer and hung it over a measuring cup.
- Sterilize your syrup bottle– Boil some water and invert the bottle in the water for a moment before pouring the syrup inside.
- Filtering is slow. Keep the syrup warm– There is a film that needs to be skimmed off when the syrup is finished and that’s why you filter. It takes a long while to filter, so be patient!
- Pour the syrup into the jar and refrigerate– When you don’t make much, the refrigerator is good storage. My guess is it won’t have to be stored for long!
Remember that since this is a food product, you have to take care throughout the process to use clean supplies, finishing processing in a timely way, and store in the refrigerator.
They could eat all they wanted, for maple sugar never hurt anybody. There was plenty of syrup in the kettle, and plenty of snow outdoors. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods
Watch out for These Mistakes
It’s easy to hit some snags along the way! Here are a few things to watch out for:
- Collect before Your Bucket Gets to Full– the result is sap being lost to the ground because the bucket is overflowing or too heavy.
- Consider Getting Help as You Empty– It can be a two person job so you don’t end up spilling sap.
- Boiling Down over a Fire– Requires skill in controling the fire and it will leave a smoky taste in your syrup. Must be how it was in the old days!
- Make Sure You Have Time to Boil– You’ll need to do multiple boils in a season. Be sure you set aside the time.
- Avoid over Cooking the Sap– The picture above shows what happens. And it happens quickly. Nothing like destroying the life giving sap from a tree after siphoning it off!
Final Thoughts on Making Maple Syrup
Before the Tap My Trees kit arrived and I had a look through the process, the thought of maple sugaring was pretty intimidating. Now that we’ve done it, I would easily try it again next season. It was an absolutely fun adventure which wasn’t difficult but required a lot of time. It was worth every moment! As my daughter said when we hurried to start and got a little nervous(because of a last minute “we’d better tap today” panic… based on the crazy winter weather our season started early):
Mom, this kit and the directions they’ve given us are designed for people just like us to collect sap and make syrup. We can do this! – Rebecca
And we did.
And it was the best.
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Tap My Trees equipped us for this big adventure! We’re looking forward to tapping again next winter. Will you join us?