I’m currently LOLing over the title of this blog post. I laugh at my own jokes so you don’t have to ;). We are well into the month of March. In the midwest, there’s often a lull this time of year. It’s when melting snow and dirt make a sloppy mess along the roads, aka “snirt.” It’s also when everyone is longing for mother nature to make up her mind about weather — sunny and 50 degrees one day, snowy and 25 degrees the next. For outdoor enthusiasts, the trails for cross country skiing may start to mellow and we can’t forget, ice fishing season is officially over.
But when the season starts to calm, I think it’s an excellent time to slowww down and try something you’ve always wanted to do but never had time. For me — that’s making my own maple syrup. Mmmmm. I’m drooling over the thought of sweet and savory waffles drenched in syrup. Last year was the first time we tapped the maple trees in our yard. It was a new experience and we learned some tips along the way.
According to the USDA, Minnesota produced 14,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2017. Dang! Last year’s season started February 12th and ended April 28th.
What supplies do I need?
- Collection container with a lid (I use a 4.5 gallon jug)
- Collection spouts and tubing line for taphole
- Drill with 7/16″ bit for standard spouts or 5/16″ bit for newer small spouts (spiles)
- Bungy cords to secure containers around tree
- Metal pot or containers with lid for sap storage
- Large food-grade stainless steel boiling pan or wide pot and heat source for boiling down the sap (I use a turkey fryer that was passed onto us)
- Candy thermometer
- Wool, cheesecloth, or other filter for filtering finished syrup while hot.
- Storage containers, like mason jars, for the finished syrup
When do I begin tapping?
Generally, between March 15 to April 20. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sap runs best when daytime temps are in the high 30s to mid-40s and overnight temps are below freezing.
What trees can I tap?
Sugar maples will produce the sweetest sap. But you can also collect sap from red maple, silver, maple, and boxelder. Learn more about identifying maple trees for syrup production. Trees should have a trunk diameter of at least ten inches at four feet above the ground.
How does the sap turn into syrup?
Sap turns into syrup by boiling. Sap is basically sugar water from trees. When you boil it, the water boils out and leaves behind this delicious sugar. The University of Minnesota Extension office says around 40 gallons of sap produce one gallon of syrup. If the sugar concentration is above average, it may require less sap to produce syrup.
- Drill a hole in a tree, 2 – 4 feet above the ground. I like to drill the hole straight in rather than at a downward angle. It depends on the type of spout you use. The hole should be drilled to a depth of about 2 – 3 inches.
- Use a hammer to lightly tap the spout into the hole. Do not hammer the spile too far into the hole as it may cause the wood around the hole to split – resulting in lost sap flow.
- Place tubing into end of spout.
- Drill or puncture a hole onto the lid of your collection container. Place lid on container and place tubing in through top of the lid.
- Bungy container to tree. I do this to secure the container, just in case! You never know if it will be a super windy day.
- Empty sap containers once a day and process sap immediately or store in a cool place out of direct sunlight until you are ready. It is recommended that you have at least ten gallons of sap before you start the evaporation process.
- Setup turkey fryer or some sort of outdoor stove (wood-burning is a bonus) outside. It gets sticky when the sugar boils off so outdoor is the way to go.
- Pour sap into large cooking pot or pan. As water boils off, add more sap. As the sugar in the sap becomes more concentrated, the temperature of the boiling sap will rise. When the sap darkens and the bubbles become smaller, you are approaching the final stages of boiling.
- At this point, pour the sap into a smaller pan and continue boiling on your indoor stove. When the temperature of the sap reaches 219 degrees, the sap has become syrup.
- To finish the syrup making process, strain the hot syrup twice through cheesecloth or felt, pour into jars and refrigerate. For longer storage, you can also use mason jars and can the syrup.
*I follow these instructions almost exactly. It’s a mix of my own directions mixed with instructions from the Minnesota DNR.
Don’t have any maple trees on your property? There are events happening in Minnesota that allow you to give maple syruping a try! Happy tapping!