The river bottom behind our house is filled with large maple trees. As if we aren’t already busy enough trying to keep up with all of our kids’ activities and our other projects around the farm, we decided to try to make our own maple syrup after – you guessed it – seeing this great article entitled “Sugar From Trees” in the March/April 2009 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Our beekeeper friend also produces and sells maple syrup on a larger scale and Jesse went to observe his operation last spring.
Last fall, while the trees still had leaves, we identified sugar maple trees and marked them with orange tape.
As the weather started to warm up during the days this week into the low to mid 40′s (“warm” is a relative term when you live in Minnesota), we knew it was time to get the trees tapped. The best syrup is made from maple sap after it first starts to run in the spring. Tree sap starts to flow when temperatures rise above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night.
To tap the trees, Jesse and our oldest drilled holes into the tree trunks and inserted spiles. Sap drips out of the tree during the warm days and into the spile. We purchased plastic spiles on-line from Leader Evaporator, but there are also metal ones. I’m not sure why we got plastic, other than it was more cost-effective.
We also purchased some tubing to attach to the spiles to direct the sap into buckets sitting next to the trees.
The length of the sap run can vary, sometimes ending after only a few weeks. Even though the tree sap flows through fall, once the weather warms up and stays above freezing at night, any syrup made from the sap won’t taste good any more.
We tapped a total of five trees, each with two spiles running into a five gallon bucket. The temperature had already dropped below freezing when they were tapped tonight, so it was not evident whether the sap is running yet. We have a large plastic drum to collect the sap in so that we can refill the buckets. It takes around 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup!
There are a lot of steps that need to successfully be completed between collecting the sap and having maple syrup. We need to collect the sap, keep it cool, cook it down the right amount, and boil it to the proper temperature. I have no idea how this adventure will play out, but it always fun to try something new…even if we don’t really have the time.