Maple Sugaring Season in Wisconsin is a little late this year, but sap is flowing now. I started tapping my maples this last week. A little late, but as they say, better late than never. If you live in a colder climate area and are interested in small batch maple sugaring, there’s still time to give it a try.
There are 13 native maples in North America that can be tapped:
- Box elder
- Rocky Mountain
The four most commonly tapped trees are the sugar, red, silver, and black. They have a higher sugar content and are the favorite for producing syrup. The maples that I tap on my property are the sugar, silver and red. With these 3 combined, they make for a very exotic vanilla flavor.
You’ll know when it’s maple tapping time, by the temperature. There are years when sugaring begins in February and can run into early May. When the day time temperature starts to climb up to (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and the night falls below 32, tap one of your trees to if the sap is running. If it is, that’s your signal to start tapping your trees. A good rule of thumb to remember when tapping your trees is they should be at least 10 inches in diameter and chest height with one tap. If your trees are older and larger, then you can have more taps. Make sure the taps are spaced 18 to 20 inches apart horizontally. One tap will usually give you a quart of sap a day, depending on those temperatures and the tree its self.
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. That’s a lot of boiling to remove the water content. So if you really want to get into maple sugaring a person needs to realize it’s a lot of commitment and time. Once you begin the process, there’s no stopping or slowing it down.
When choosing a tapping spot make sure it’s not where an old wound or tap was. Pick a nice smooth spot so your tap will be snug up against the tree. You can also tap all sides of the trees.
The equipment you’ll need for maple sugaring is easy to find, either from a maple supply store, local hardware store or online. I can usually purchase my items in my area because maple tapping is very popular here. If you’re a home taper like me and don’t have large number of trees, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. I personally get 14 taps from my trees, you may get more or less.
Here’s what you’ll need for tapping:
- Power drill or Hand Bit and brace
- 5/16 or 7/16 inch bit (to match your spout size)
- 5/16 or 7/16 in spouts (Either the plastic spout to attach hose to run down to a bucket. Or metal spouts that you can hang a bucket from)
Something to collect your sap: There are 3 ways of collecting home tapped sap, any of the below works great.
- 5 gallon plastic food safe buckets and lids (for both tapping and collecting the sap, always have extra washed 5 gallon buckets on hand)
- Metal Buckets and lids (to hang directly on the tree or you can use the smaller plastic buckets)
- Sap sacks (These are plastic bags that are held by a metal bracket, that hangs on the tree to collect the sap. The bags are reusable, but there is a chance they could spring a leak)
- A filter (When I collect my sap I like to filter it right away. You can skip filtering before cooking. I just like to remove any debris or bugs that may have fallen in my buckets when collecting my sap. The one I use is industrial sized for filtering out large amounts of sap. The reason I chose that one, is it’s wash able and reusable. Most small home maple sappers use the paper filters)
Storing your sap
Keep your sap filled buckets stored in a cool area until your ready to boil it
Evaporating Sap: There are a few ways you can cook down your sap without an Evaporator.
- Camp Chef or other high output propane burner (this is what I’m using at the moment)
- A cinder block evaporator
- An outdoors Wood stove
- An outdoor Fireplace or Grill
- A stainless steel sugaring pan (these pans are low, long and flat. Which helps spread out the sap and makes evaporation quicker)
- Or a very large stainless steel stock pot will work as well.
Once you’ve got everything you need let’s get started.
Choose your trees you’re wanting to tap, make sure they are healthy and no smaller than 10 inches in diameter. Remember when choosing a spot to drill in the tree, make sure it’s more of a flat spot. Drill at a slight upward angle 2 inches into the tree. Then make sure to clear the hole of any wood pulp. The sap will begin flowing from your drilled hole. Gently hammer your spout 1 inch into the hole, leaving an inch behind the spout. This creates a spill way for your sap to flow. Otherwise, it will plug up.
I use plastic spouts when using tubing as shown above. The tubing comes in a big roll and you just cut it to the length that you need for it to reach your buckets.
I like to drill holes either through the top of my bucket lids. This allows the sap to flow down easily. The only issue you may have, is if it rains you risk getting water in through the to hole. This just means you’ll be doing more boiling to remove the extra water content. On some of my buckets, I’ve drilled holes on the top sides of them towards the top lip, but I still prefer the top. I also sometimes just place my tubing right under the lid, not drilling holes at all. Then I place the lid on top with a heavy rock or brick to hold the tubing and lid down.
When cutting your tubing to reach down inside of the bucket, make sure it’s short enough so the tub is not resting in the bottom and above the sap level. The tube can create a suction and pull the sap back up, causing your sap from flowing.
The metal spout above is used for the Sak sap collectors or hanging buckets. I really prefer to use food grade smaller buckets for this.
Just an fyi, if you aren’t able to find the smaller white food grade buckets, go to your local grocery store in their bakery area. They usually have them on hand. The buckets contained frosting or other bakery type foods. Sometimes they will just give them away or charge a small fee. Take them home and wash them out to get any frosting smell out of them. I even run two at a time on the lower rack of my dishwasher.
Always keep extra buckets on hand, some trees run more than others and the buckets may need to be collected twice a day. At the time of writing this I’ve collected 9 5 gal buckets since last Tues. the 19th. Not to bad for small batch sapping. When you’ve collected your sap for the day, try to store it in the coolest area you can. If you still have snow in your area, store your buckets in the snow. You can store it in an outdoor shed or in a shaded area. The sap should be stored at a temperature of 38 degrees or colder. It should then be used within 7 days of collection and boiled to eliminate any bacteria growth.
As soon as you collect your sap and filter it, you can begin evaporating the water from it. At the moment, I’m using this Camp Chef propane stove. It gives me enough room for a large stainless steel stock pot and a steam table pan. I would like to build myself a simple cinder block evaporator one of these days. I just need to find the right place for it and have to plan ahead to buy a cord of wood. Evaporating with wood would be cheaper in the long run and quicker.
I know some will want to be tempted to cook down their sap indoors. This is something I do not recommend anyone do. Your entire kitchen will become a sticky mess! So keep the evaporation process outside.
When you pour your sap into your boiling pan it will be clear in color or with a slight light yellow color. As it begins to boil away the color changes to a caramel and gets darker. This is when you begin to smell that yummy exotic vanilla smell! It makes you want to drink it right out of the pan or have a stack of pancakes.
As the sap evaporated down to a certain level, I keep adding in more sap. Before you know it you’ll have all your 5 gal buckets of sap cooked down. When your sap cooks down and begins to get that tell-tale sign of maple syrup, you’ll take it in your kitchen and finish the last bit of cook down. This is the time you need to be ready and prepared to move fast because the sap goes to syrup very quickly.
If you have your own maple trees or access to some, I hope you can give maple sugaring a try. It’s not difficult, just time-consuming. I’ll be writing another post on the final cooking process as well as the equipment you’ll be needing. Sugaring is a lot of fun and work, but oh so worth it in the end!