Anyone Can Make Maple Syrup At Home
Anyone with access to a single Sugar maple tree can make maple syrup at home. The process of gathering and boiling sap is simple and can be accomplished at home, with no need for an expensive sap evaporator or an entire sugar shack. A few easy-to-source tools and materials can get you up and running your own syrup-making operation this spring!
Maple sap flows best in the early spring when the nights are cold and the days are warm. Since sap only flows for about 4-6 weeks of the year, it is a highly cherished spring commodity. It is truly the sweet taste of spring you are drizzling over your pancakes.
Identifying Sugar Maple By Leaf & Fruit
The highest producer of sap is the Sugar maple. Sap from a Sugar maple tree is about 2% sugar. Sugar maple (A. saccharum) trees can be identified by their leaves, bark, and branches. The leaves have five distinct, wide lobes. The edges of the lobes are smooth but have notches on them. During the spring and summer, the leaves are a light green color with yellowish veining. In Autumn the leaves turn various shades of yellow, red, and orange.
The fruit of the maple tree is commonly known by excited children as “helicopters” but is technically called samara. They include two seeds connected in the center and flanked by dragonfly wing-shaped offshoots making a horseshoe shape.
Identifying Sugar Maple By Bark
Most Sugar maples can reach 60-75’ tall once fully developed. Mature trees have thick, dark, irregular scaly bark plates while the bark of younger trees is smooth and grey.
Identifying Sugar Maple By Branches
The young twig branches of Sugar maple are slender, brown, and slightly shiny and they end in a bud. The buds themselves are sharply pointed and have 6-10 scales.
Tapping A Maple Tree
A tap is simply a hole that is drilled into the trunk of the tree. There are a few guidelines to follow when choosing a Sugar maple to tap:
- Trees with a diameter under 10” are still maturing and should not be tapped.
- Sugar maples with a 10-20” diameter will do well with a single tap.
- Trees with a diameter over 20” can handle two taps.
Taps should be placed about 3 feet from the base of the tree. Taps that provide the most sap are located on the South side of the tree or over the largest root. It is also recommended that the year’s new tap be placed 6+ inches away from the tap from the previous year.
Use a 7/16 drill bit to drill a 1.5-2” deep hole. Then, take your spile (a small piece of plastic or metal that acts as a spigot) and force it into the hole. Spiles are designed to include a built-in hook for your bucket and lid.
Traditionally, metal buckets were used for collecting sap (and they are sometimes still used today). However, plastic buckets are more readily available and much cost-effective. Each bucket should have a lid to keep out rainwater, dirt, and bugs. Although, few crawling or flying insects in the sap are normal and should be expected.
Gathering Maple Sap
Expect to check your buckets daily (or every other day). You may be extremely surprised by how fast they fill up! Once you collect the sap it can be stored outdoors in lidded 5-gallon buckets for about 48 hours before it will either need to be boiled or frozen.
On a busy homestead, it is often hard to find the time to babysit the boiling process for a full day mid-week. We store all our sap in 5-gallon buckets in our chest freezer until Saturdays, when we boil. The method works well and we never experience any adverse effects from freezing. You can also store sap in buckets and pack snow around the buckets for a “freezerless” freeze. One thing to note is that boiling frozen sap will take several hours longer.
Boiling Maple Syrup At Home
The first step to boiling is straining the sap because frequently bits of bark, dirt, dust, and bugs find their way into your sap buckets. Ensure you start with clean sap by using filters specifically for this purpose.
The easiest way to boil sap from a tree or two in your backyard is in an outdoor turkey fryer. It works particularly well if you have less than 20 gallons of sap you plan to boil. Keep in mind, it typically takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. That means if you have 10 gallons of sap you can expect to get one quart of syrup when you’re finished. All that evaporation of water results in a lot of condensation in the air, this is why it’s not suggested to boil syrup from start to finish inside your home.
Boiling Syrup At Home: Turkey Fryer Method
Put the sap into the turkey fryer and turn it on high without the lid until the sap reaches a boil. Then turn the heat down so the sap lightly boils for 6-8 hours or until the volume is reduced considerably and the temperature of the liquid is around 210 degrees.
Boiling Syrup At Home: Finishing The Boil
At that point, transfer the sap inside for finishing on the stove. There, you can watch the sap level closely to ensure it does not burn. You can also invest in a hydrometer to measure the syrup’s density to ensure you have the perfect syrup consistency. Otherwise, keep boiling until the temperature reaches 219 degrees on a candy thermometer, let it boil at this temperature for a an hour or more until it reaches the desired consistency.
- 7/16 tree-tap drill bit
- Tree tap spile
- Sap Bucket and lid
- Outdoor turkey fryer
- Filled propane tank
- Candy thermometer
- Hydrometer (optional)
- Drill a 1.5-2" hole in a Sugar Maple tree that is over 10" in diameter. Drill the hole about 3 feet from the ground, preferably on the south side of the tree or over a large root.
- Force the spile into the drilled hole.
- Hang the bucket on the spile and cover it with a lid
- Allow sap to flow for 5+ days or until the desired amount of sap is gathered. (40 gallons of sap = 1 gallon of finished syrup)
- Strain the sap using fine filters
- Add the sap to the outdoor turkey fryer attached to a filled propane tank and bring to a rolling boil without the lid on
- Reduce the heat so the sap is just boiling and boil the sap for 6-8+ hours or until the temperature of the liquid is about 210 degrees.
- Transfer the sap onto a large pot on an indoor stovetop
- Continue to boil the sap until the temperature reaches 219, boil at this temperature for about a minute
- Let the syrup cool to 190 degrees, and strain into containers.