Making maple syrup using trees in your yard.
The weather can be dicey in mid March so when we are just about ready for the warm sunshine and crawling out of our warm winter’s den, Mother Nature dumps another 12 inches of snow, sleet, and whatever else she’s got in her pocket at you. This all affects the flow of the tree’s sap.
When the night temperatures are around 20-25 degrees and daytime temp are 35-45 the warming and cooling gets the sap moving and groovin’. You’ll also see the buds forming on the branches. Time to get your buckets ready.
Equipment We use 5 gallon red buckets with lids and taps with long tubes on them that connect poke through a small hole in the lid. The lids are nice, since we have a lot of squirrels in the yard and they like to eat nuts on top of the buckets, less mess to filter out later. We drill holes about 1.5” deep into the southern side of the maple trees at a slight upward angle. This is the warmest part of the tree, which will have better flow. The holes should be a couple feet off of the ground and at least 1 foot apart if using multiple taps per tree. If you hit dark wood, you’ve gone too far. Try to only go into the white wood. This is where the action is. How many taps? Trees that are 12-20” can have 1 tap, 20-30” can have 2 taps. Don’t tap trees under 11” or approx. 40 years old. Then insert your tap with a hammer and connect to the bucket. If you tapped your trees a little too early and nothing is happening, don’t worry you won’t need to redrill the holes, just wait for warmer weather. Since the tree isn’t actively growing you won’t need to worry about the holes closing up. That will happen over the summer. You’ll need a large container to store your sap in before you get ready to boil. We use a 150-gallon water storage container. It is mounted on a trailer so we can haul it through the woods with our ATV. If you are just starting out with a few buckets, keep in mind that 5 gallons of sap will end up to be around 1 pint of syrup. It is important to boil the sap within 12hrs of collection, especially if it is warmer out. The sap is prone to fermentation if it gets too warm. This will effect the taste, color and grade of the finished syrup. Boil Baby Boil Maple Syrup Wood Burner Barrel We use a custom made 10-gallon stainless steel vat with a valve on it for boiling. The vat is mounted on a steel barrel that has been modified into a wood burner. It helps to have a handy husband! If you’re not so handy, you could use a propane turkey fryer. We like using wood since it saves on cost and we have plenty of trees around here. Plus you get to hang out in the sugar shack and smell the wood smoke and enjoy a cold brew. How long to boil? A long long ass time. We boil down the approximately 10 gallons in our shack for 4-5 hrs or so. When it's boiled down to 1-2 gallons, we bring it in the house for finishing for another 3hrs or so. Here I’ll filter it using a couple layers of cotton fabric, about 2-3 times. You can find filters at a maple syrup supplies company or amazon. I filter once before I begin with a metal screen that fits over the hose on the storage tank. Again after it has boiled midway through, and another time once I am close to done. Around 214-15 degrees. This will catch all the sugar sand in the syrup, so it looks nice and clear. If it's not perfect that's fine, it will still taste great! Once I reach 219 degrees I jar it up in my prepared mason jars. Tightly screw on the lids and tip it upside down to kill any germs that may be on the lid. Make sure the lid is on very tight before doing this and use the proper hand protection so you don’t burn yourself.
You should also use a pressure canner for 10 mins at 12 lbs of pressure to make sure there's no bacteria in the syrup. Follow your pressure canner's instructions.
Notes: • Cooking the syrup too long causes crystallization of the sugar. You can end up with rock candy in your jars if it is too dense. • Don’t try to boil all the sap down in the house, there’s far too much water in it and, you’ll likely set off your smoke detectors and fog up the windows.