You can make maple syrup at home! If you’ve got a sugar maple tree in your yard (or a neighbor who’s willing to share) you can tap it and make your own amazing maple syrup. Join us for this 2 part series on tapping and making your very own homemade maple syrup.
Whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or a more rural area, chances are you have a sugar maple tree somewhere in your yard or neighborhood, they grow over much of North America and Canada. And guess what? You can easily tap them yourself, and with a little bit of planning and effort, produce your own maple syrup.
Did you know?
Every tree has sap, and all sap contains sugar. Different species of trees have varying concentrations of sugar in their sap, and the ones with a higher concentration, like sugar maples, make the best candidates for tapping. When you boil down that sweet sap you get syrup ~ maple syrup! If you live in a part of the country where sugar maple trees grow, and your weather gets down into freezing temperatures at some point in the winter, you can tap your own trees. My daughter Clare lives in Madison, Wisconsin and she and her husband tap their 2 backyard maples ~ she’ll take us through the process in this 2 part series.
Making maple syrup at home requires a little work and planning, but the results are rewarding and sweet! It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup, and we usually collect enough sap from 2 trees in our yard to make about 1/2 gallon of syrup every year. Since the flow and quality of sap can vary year to year and from area to area, your results may vary, but if you have sugar maples on your property, it’s definitely worth a try!
How to identify your maple tree
- You’ll need to determine whether you have maple trees, specifically sugar maples. You can tap other kinds of maple tress, but sugar maples have a higher sugar content in their sap, so you get a better yield of syrup from your sap. Sugar maples have the classic 5 lobed leaves shown in the photo below, here are more details about how to identify them.
- If your sugar maple is at least 10 inches in diameter, it’s big enough to tap, so even young trees can be tapped.
- You can tap other species of trees, too, like birch and black walnut. The amount of sugar in their sap is much lower, but still tasty!
What you’ll need to tap your tree
I recommend getting an inexpensive maple tapping starter kit, they’re available on Amazon, and there are a few different choices. You can go with metal or plastic taps (spiles) and buckets. You’ll also need a few basic tools:
- Electric drill
- Drill bit (the size will depend on the taps you use, usually 5/16 or 7/16 inch)
How to know when to tap
- Sap starts to flow in the spring when the days are above freezing and the nights are still below freezing. That’s typically sometime in March here in Wisconsin, but this year we had some warm weather earlier so we started in late February. The right time depends on where you live, and also varies year to year, so keep an eye on the weather!
- You’ll need a least a few days to a week of weather like this for the sap to start flowing, and then you’ll want to make sure it’s going to stay like that for a little while before you put your taps in — don’t get fooled by a freak January warm-spell!
How to tap your tree
- You’ll want to drill your tap hole on the south-facing side of the tree. The south side of trees generally get the most sun, making them the warmest side, and the side where sap flow will be the best. Note: when done properly, tapping won’t harm your tree, and the hole you make will heal up nicely on its own.
- To install your spiles, drill a hole about 1 1/2- 2 inches deep into the tree a few feet above the ground. Your hole should be slightly angled up so that the sap can flow down into your bucket.
- Next, insert the narrow side of the spile into the hole and give it a light tap with a hammer until it feels snug.
- Finally, hang your bucket on the little hook on the spile, make sure the lid is affixed, and you’re set!
Collecting your sap
- The sap will drip directly from your taps into your bucket.
- How often you’ll need to collect your sap depends a lot on your trees, your climate and the particular year. Some years might be slow, some years you might be emptying your buckets twice a day!
- Sap can spoil so if your weather is well above freezing during the day, you want to make sure to store your sap somewhere cold, like in a freezer. If you have a large volume of sap, having separate chest freezer can help. If it’s cool enough outside, however, you can simply store your sap outside as you collect it (it’s fine if it freezes.)
TIP: You can actually drink your sap as is, too. It’s a faintly sweet, clear liquid that’s supposedly super healthy! The Koreans call it “Gorosoe” (‘good for the bones’) and have been drinking it for centuries. If you want to try it, I recommend bringing it to a boil first to remove any possible bacteria. You can read all about it here.
How to concentrate your sap
To turn sap into maple syrup, you have to boil off a lot of the water to concentrate the sugars in the sap. This can take a lot of time and energy. After trying this our first year, we settled on an easier process, the freeze concentration method. The basic concept is that you can greatly concentrate your sap by freezing it, partially thawing it, and discarding the part that remains frozen. The reason this works is that the sugary portion of the sap melts first, so the part that remains frozen is mostly water. This will greatly reduce the time it takes to boil your sap into a rich brown syrup. Neat, huh? Here’s how we’ve done it:
- Collect your sap, and freeze it either outside if your temperatures are low enough, or in a freezer. We use empty plastic gallon jugs for this, but you could also use ziplock bags, or whatever works for you.
- Partially thaw your sap by leaving it at room temperature until about 1/3 has melted. Pour off the melted liquid and keep it, throwing away the frozen portion. This is the first concentration.
- Freeze the concentrated sap that you saved again. (We label our containers of syrup so we can remember which batches have been through one round of concentration, and which have been through two.)
- Partially thaw the concentrated sap again at room temperature, and this time allow 1/2 of the sap to melt. Keep this melted portion and throw away the part the part that remains frozen.
- Keep your twice-concentrated sap cold or frozen until you’re ready to boil it into syrup.
Up next: boiling your sap to make maple syrup! (Check back in 2 weeks.)
There are lots of great resources available on the internet, try checking out your local state university extension for information specific to your area.