Tapping Maple Trees
Mud season is when the old-fashioned buckets and the new-fangled tubing used for collecting maple sap make their appearance up and down our street. We don’t tap maple trees for syrup, but some of our neighbors do–and so does my brother. Here is how he got started making maple syrup.–Editor
It all started at the hardware store. There I was, checking out, and I saw a basket with a dozen or so maple taps on the counter. I realized instantly what they were, even though I had never seen one before. At the time I was homeschooling my son and I thought “What a great project we could do together.” He could learn where one of his favorite foods comes from, and how it’s made. I bought six taps, having no idea why I should buy six, and not one, or all twelve. It just seemed right. Once I got them home I realized, “I need buckets.” A quick trip to the local stores revealed that they did not carry maple syrup buckets, and nothing I found was quite right, but I bought something, because I wanted to get started.
How Do You Get Started?
And how do you get started? You drill a hole in a tree – preferably a maple tree! There is nothing like the first time you see a mixture of wood shavings and water wrapping around your drill. Now, I said water, but, of course, it is sap, and a lot of people have mistaken ideas about what sap is. Some people think sap is syrup and they can just hold their plate of pancakes under the tap and breakfast is served. Some people think of pine pitch when they hear the word sap and think it will be a sticky mess. Maple sap is mostly water. It looks like water, it smells like water. You can discern a little sweetness to it, but just a little. It takes 30 to 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. Does it gush out? No, it drips out. It makes a wonderful symphony when you’re standing amongst your trees and the drops are all hitting their just-emptied buckets.
How Much Does Each Tree Produce?
Another question I get is, “How much does each tree produce?” I would say about 10 gallons a day is the best I’ve ever seen. Half that is much more common. Still, if you’re following the math, six taps, five gallons a day – you’re producing 30 gallons of sap a day. What are you going to do with it? Obviously you want to boil it down, but how? The time-honored method for all beginners is the spaghetti pot. It’s a good way to start, because the investment is zero. It’s a very slow way to make syrup, however, and most people who make syrup a second season have found a better way.
The Better Way To Boil It Down
I will skip my intermediary step and tell you that I now make my syrup in an evaporator, the same tool the professionals use, but scaled way down for the hobbyist. But even at the hobby level evaporators are not cheap. Mine cost just under a thousand dollars. They are made in small numbers, and they contain a lot of stainless steel. I’ve included some pictures of my evaporator, but if you imagine a woodstove with the top removed and replaced by a stainless steel pan, you would not be far off. The pan is divided up into channels, so that rather than having a 2′ by 3′ area for the sap to jumble around in, it is actually in an 8” by 9′ channel. This allows the sap-becoming-syrup to organize itself. The dense, almost-syrup gravitates to one end and the light, still-just-sap gravitates to the opposite end. You add new sap at the light end and draw off syrup at the dense end. I’ve left out a thousand details, but that’s the gist of it.