If there were only one part of the sugaring process I could have you experience it would be smelling the sweet steam as it rolls up off the boiling sap. A whiff of the sweet air leads to actually tasting the maple favor in your mouth. It’s wonderful, amazing – absolutely unmatched by any other cooking experience. This experience alone would motivate anyone to tap into the precious resources of their backyard.
This week I wanted to outline for you the process of making maple syrup so you will know what is ahead. You should be saving jugs at this point for sap collection. You may also want to go ahead and order your taps shortly after Christmas so you are prepared for the season to start. It is possible to make your own taps if you would like to have a wood working experience for the kids. Follow this link to obtain the taps you will see in my photos. So how many taps do you need?
This part is where you get your kids doing math. Maple sap or maple water is 30-40 parts water to 1 part sugar. So if your goal is to make 1 gallon of syrup you will need to collect 30-40 gallons of sap. To scale that down, you’d need 2 to 2.5 gallons of sap to make 1 cup of syrup. For some families that is a much less intimidating project. Rink Mann wrote Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide, which is a fantastic resource. Mann advises you set one tap for each quart of syrup you would like to make.
You can tap Red Maples, Ashed Leafed Maples, Silver Maples and Sugar Maples. At this point, if you do not already know your trees, you’ll be doing some forestry work and identifying your trees by their bark as the leaves are long gone. This is a fantastic outdoors adventure for your kids. Sugar Maples are preferred as they have the most concentrated sap. If you do not have the trees you need on your property look around your community. We’ve found it isn’t difficult to get permission from others to tap their trees- especially if they can get a taste of the final product.
Taps will be set once winter is drawing to an end. When the temperatures begins to swing from above freezing during the day to below freezing at night. This is when the sap flows. Have your kids research how the sap flows through the sap wood- very interesting. Some old-timers religiously stick to particular dates on the calendar to set their taps- generally late February into March. However, we tapped at the beginning of February last year due to unseasonably warmer weather patterns. As it turned out, our timing was perfect and we had tremendously high yields within the first 24 hours. The first flow of sap will produce the best syrup!
Mann suggested the following guidelines for taping trees:
- Do not tap trees less than 10″ in diameter
- Trees greater than 18″ in diameter can have 2 taps
- Trees greater than 28″ in diameter can handle 3 taps
Once again, this is a chance to work on math skills and measuring with your kids.
We walked our tap line every day or so pouring the sap from the jugs on the trees into jugs for transportation. We stored our sap outside on the north side (cooler side) of our home in a large plastic container until we would boil it down on the weekends. While it’s a good idea to make sure your storage containers is food safe, don’t be overly concerned with how clean your container is as your sap will boil for hours. It is important however that stored sap remains cool as it can spoil.
Your taps can be pulled once you’ve had your fulfillment of collecting sap, when the trees stops yielding sap, or when sap becomes cloudy (which can happen at the end of the season). Once the tap is pulled, it’s advised you place a wooden plug in the tap hole as a bandage for the tree. This will reduce the tree’s risk for disease. You will see your syrup become darker as the season progresses. Have your kiddos find out why. There is a flavor change which will occur as well- but it is all delicious!
Weather you set out with a specific goal for your final yield or whether you know how many taps you will be able to set and figure your potential yield from there let your kids work through the planning during the month of January. Get your taps ordered and continue to save 1 gallon jugs for sap collection. Get ready for a totally awesome cold weather activity!
I will continue to keep you posted with useful information for this project. And of course, I will let you know what we are doing on the homefront to prepare for sugar season.