How to Harvest Maple Syrup

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Syrup making begins in the winter. In the meantime, enjoy the fall show.
Syrup making begins in the winter. In the meantime, enjoy the fall show. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The practice of harvesting sap from maple trees to make syrup spans back to the early colonists who learned it from the Native Americans. If you have a few maple trees in your yard which provide shade and pretty views, consider expanding their usefulness to include syrup making. The sugar maple has sap with the highest sugar content; however, don't let that stop you from using other types of maples if available. The process can be labor intensive, but the resulting syrup has a taste that cannot be duplicated with store-bought products.

Things You'll Need

  • Brace and bit
  • Spiles, the tubes driven into the trees assembled with hooks
  • Hammer
  • 5-gallon collection bucket with a hole drilled in the top edge
  • Collection bucket lids
  • Clean sap storage buckets
  • A small evaporator or heat source such as a gas stove
  • Large shallow pans
  • Candy thermometer
  • Filter material obtained from a maple equipment dealer
  • Sterilized canning jars and lids

Collect Sap

Identify trees that can be used to collect sap. Sugar maple, silver maple and red maple are good choices. Trees should be at least 1 1/2 feet in diameter and healthy.

In late winter, when the nights are in the 20 degree F range and days are in the 40 degree F range, is the time to tap maple trees. Drill the hole about 3 feet up from the ground and about 2 inches into the trunk on an upward slope. Make sure the hole is on the sunniest side of the tree. The size of the drill bit depends on the size of the spile.

Clean the wood shavings out of the hole and put the spile in the hole with the hook facing out. Use the hammer to firmly tap the spile into the tree; you should not be able to pull it out by hand. Hang the bucket by the hole in the top edge. Cover the bucket to keep rainwater out. Collect the syrup every day and boil it down or keep it in cold storage.

A spile and hook set up with a bucket.
A spile and hook set up with a bucket. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Prepare the evaporator, making sure you have plenty of fuel and shallow pans. Don't fill the container to the rim with sap or it will boil over. Keep the sap at least 1 1/2 inches deep in the pan by adding sap as it boils down.

An early sap boiling set up.
An early sap boiling set up. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Using a candy thermometer, measure the temperature of the raw sap as soon as it begins to boil. The sap is done when it reaches 7.1 degrees above the boil point. Watch it very carefully as it burns easily.

Filter the syrup using clean filter material to remove sediment. Pour the syrup into sterilized canning jars and seal. Make sure the syrup is at least 180 degrees F when poured into the canning jars.

Maple syrup is a traditional complement to pancakes.
Maple syrup is a traditional complement to pancakes. (Image: Alexandra Grablewski/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Tips & Warnings

  • A 10-inch-diameter tree should have one tap. A 20-inch-diameter tree can support two taps. A 25-inch or larger tree can have three taps.
  • Ten gallons of sap will produce 1 qt. of syrup.
  • Remember to remove the spile at the end of the sugaring season.
  • Store raw sap in a cool area or it will spoil.
  • Boiling sap makes a large amount of steam; don't attempt to do this in your kitchen.
  • If the syrup develops mold during storage, discard it to avoid food-borne illness.
  • These instructions are suitable for making maple syrup for home use. A larger or commercial operation would require specialized equipment.

References

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