In preparation for this post, I received a maple sugaring starter kit for free and was compensated for my time in writing it. All the opinions below are mine and I was not required to write a positive review.
Maple syrup is a uniquely North American tradition in which a sweet syrup is made from the sap of certain types of maple trees. There is a rich heritage of maple sugaring in the northeastern United States and places where sugar maples grow. Maple Sugaring at Home is a fun way to engage with history, botany, physical science, and even literature.
How to Identify a Sugar Maple
The most popular tree to use in making maple syrup is the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). You may also use Black Maple, Red Maple, and Silver Maple trees. These are listed in their preference for tapping depending on the sugar content of the tree’s sap. Sugar Maples have the highest sugar content.
- Gray bark with narrow furrows and irregular ridges, can be scaly- the bark is lighter than other maples
- Leaves are 3 to 5 inch lobed with five lobes, pointed tips, few irregular teeth, wavy margin, yellowish green on top and paler on the bottom
- Leaves turn orange to red in the fall
- Grow 50-70 feet tall- single trunk with ascending branches
- Crown is narrow round to oval in shape
You can use a field guide to double check your identification. We’ve pictured our favorites- yes, they really are all our favorites. We have more! Which guide you choose will depend on what type of field guides you prefer to use. We have a dichotomous key for both summer and winter trees- for use when leaves are on and off the tree. This is particularly useful if you are identifying your sugar maples in the winter. Some of our books discuss the general ecology of trees which we’ve found helpful. For example, we have learned that the forest our home is adjacent to is a beech/maple forest where the maples are currently the dominant tree. During some generations of the forest, the beeches will be large and the maples will be seedlings.
- Winter Tree Finder– for locating your maples in the winter when there are no leaves. This relies on bark and twig references.
- Eastern Forest by Audubon– One of our favorites for the pictures and descriptions
- New York Trees– Obviously meant for NY residents. However, look for a similar book for your state.
- Trees of the Northern United States & Canada– This is a college text book with a dichotomous key. It requires knowledge of the family of the tree to be of use, but the descriptions in the text are wonderful.
- Tree Finder– A simple dichotomous key which you can use when the trees have leafed out.
Maple Sugaring in New York State
We are located in upstate NY and our fifth grader is studying New York State history and geography this year. Maple sugaring at home is a wonderful tie in to NY history. Some resources for you:
- New York Maple– NY’s maple sugaring trade association. On this site you’ll find links to many resources.
- Production of Maple Syrup and Sugar in New York State– a publication from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in 1914.
- Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program– a website dedicated to maple sugaring and syrup from the Cornell Maple Sugar Program. This site has a lot of information on all aspects of the maple sugar industry for use wherever you are sugaring!
While I’ve focused on NY sugaring, there are resources in other states. If you live in a sugaring state, find your state’s resources with a simple Google search.
Materials Needed to Make Maple Syrup
If you’d like to try maple sugaring, what do you need to get started? The basics of the process include collecting the tree’s sap when it begins to run in late February or early March, depending on the weather, and boiling the sap down to a syrup.
- Healthy sugar maple tree at least 12 inches in diameter
- Drill with 7/16 bit
- Spile & Hook- This is the spout the is inserted into the tree along with the hook that holds the bucket to collect the sap.
- Bucket & Lid- To collect the sap when it runs and the lid protects the sap from debris.
For making the syrup:
- Maple sap- collected from the tree
- Heat Source
- Candy Thermometer- which comes in the Teacher Starter Kit
- Hydrometer- which is optional
- Container to store the finished syrup- the kit comes with a glass jar
Benefits of Using Tap My Trees to Teach Maple Sugaring
Tap My Trees is devoted to educating families about the practice of maple sugaring. Their supplies are donated to nature centers hosting maple sugar events and they’ve made quite a few products available for teaching Maple Sugaring at Home.
- The Starter Kit includes everything you need to successfully collect sap from sugar maples and boil down the sap for making syrup.
- You can shop for the starter kit and materials at Amazon as well for those of you who like to shop there.
- Maple Sugaring at Home– Is a guide to making the maple sugar and contains all the information you need for a successful sugaring from identifying the appropriate tree to how weather affects the sap run, when to collect, and how to boil down the sap.
- Lesson Plans are Included– They include a timeline beginning in the winter and go month by month listing the topics for each month leading to the sap collection and syrup making.
- Curriculum Connections Are Made– For each subject area you will know how to make a connection to maple sugaring.
- Focuses on Science Concepts– You’ll be teaching botany, ecology, meteorology, and physics through the process of sugaring.
- Involves History– Encourages the exploration of sugaring history and how the settlers came to make syrup from the sap of trees. Then you can find out how the industry has changed over the years.
- Allows You to Tap More Than One Tree– This starter kit has items for more than one tree, so there are additional buckets and spiles if you have want to tap more trees.
Connect with Tap My Trees
Tap My Trees is committed to sugaring education and they provide recipes and other information on social media. Be inspired!
We’ve visited a friend with a sugar shack in the past and we are excited to try it ourselves this year. Tap My Trees has equipped us for the adventure! I will be posting again after we’ve made our syrup. Who wants to join us?
How to Make Maple Syrup
This is the follow up post which includes our experience with tapping, collecting, and boiling down the sap. Click through to see just how easy it was to use our Tap My Trees kit!