Guest Blog by Desmond Armstrong
The season may be coming to a close shortly, but it’s not too late to tap those beautiful maple trees and collect that wonderful sugar water, a.k.a. sap, and make some maple syrup. It’s also a great time to get set up for next season. My wife and I finally took the plunge and started tapping some maple trees on our property about 5 years ago. We started out just wanting to produce enough maple syrup for ourselves as well as enough to give away as gifts to friends and family. We have since added more taps and, in the process, found that some of our trees are high producers (high sugar content ratio in the sap). Our large producing trees are old, have huge canopies, are not crowded by other trees, and have a large girth. We have come to enjoy working on this project together as a family.
Items needed to get started based on our setup
- Spiles with proper drill bit size
- Tubing (Drinking water rated, I prefer clear)
- 5-gallon food grade buckets with lids
- Pots to boil the sap in
- Propane and stove (we already owned the stove prior to venturing into maple syrup production)
- Thermometer to keep track of the boiling temperature.
- A thick wool or synthetic cone filter.
- A pack of three synthetic cone pre-filters.
- Jars for storing the finished syrup.
- Tarps and possible framework for making a microclimate for boiling the sap down if using propane.
I will run through our complete setup and production process. This is by no means the most efficient way to do things and there are things that we will be adding to our system next year to make it a little more efficient, but hopefully this will give you a boost to try making your own maple syrup. For good sap flow you want the daytime temperatures above freezing and nighttime temperatures below freezing.
It all starts with a spile (the tap). I choose to use a fully enclosed plastic spile. This way I can run plastic tubing (drinking water rated) from the spile end straight into the plastic lid on a five-gallon food grade bucket. I prefer clear tubing so that I can easily see if there are any blockages or if the sap is flowing okay. On the larger trees we run two taps even if more are technically okay. The number of taps that are safe for a tree is based on the girth measurement. I prefer to play it safe and only use two taps for larger trees and one tap for the smaller trees. By having a fully enclosed system to collect the sap we can keep the sap clean of debris and bugs. We change our buckets once every 24 hours, or more depending on the flow.
The spile should be placed about three feet off the ground and either over a main root or below a large main branch. The hole for the spile should be drilled in between 2-2.5” and at a slight upward angle so that the sap runs down. You want a drill bit that matches your spile size. It is generally recommended to place spiles on the south side of the tree. If I am only placing one tap in a tree, I will try to keep it south facing but if I am placing two taps, I will put one facing southwest and one facing southeast.
To boil the sap down we use a large standing dual burner propane stove. Yes, boiling over a wood fire would be more efficient and cheaper but with my wife homeschooling five children and my work schedule, this is what works best for us. Next year I will be setting up a reverse osmosis system to help make our setup a bit more efficient. One of the things I do to make the propane run more efficiently is to create a microclimate. This way the wind does not affect the stove and it allows the temperature in the microclimate to be a little warmer than the outside air temperature. By doing this we drastically reduce our propane usage. This setup is on our front porch, so we can easily keep an eye on the boiling process.
When our sap is a couple of hours from becoming syrup, we run it through a synthetic prefilter and then bring it in the house to finish it off on our propane stove in the kitchen. This allows us to keep a close eye on the boiling sap/syrup because, at this point, it can boil over quickly, and we would lose all the syrup and have a major sticky mess to clean up. We keep a candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pot that we are boiling in so that we can keep a close eye on the temperature of the boiling sap.
Once the sap reaches 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, 219 degrees Fahrenheit in our area based on our elevation, it is now syrup. We take the syrup right off the stove hot and pour it through a synthetic prefilter that is inside another thicker synthetic filter. After filtering, we pour the hot syrup into mason jars or whatever type of bottle we want the maple syrup stored in. We then put the lids and rings on the mason jars and put the jars in a canning water bath to seal them for shelf stable storage.
This is an awesome and rewarding process! We look forward to and enjoy making maple syrup every year. Those pancakes, waffles, bacon, and sausage always taste even more amazing drenched in maple syrup you made yourself! I hope this D.I.Y. setup helps encourage someone that is on the fence about trying this themselves. It is a straight-forward process and will not break the bank to get started.