It’s that time of year again. It’s maple syrup season! I think most people realize that maple syrup comes from maple trees but that is all they really know. There is so much more to it than that. There is quite a bit of science to it.
First– Maple syrup comes from maple sap that is boiled down to remove most of the water but leaving the sugar.
Second– It take approximately 40 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup. Wow! Huge ratio for sure.
Third– The weather has to be just right. The sap is gathered in the late winter/early spring when it start flowing again but before the trees really need it for leaf growing. The temps need to be roughly in the 40s/50s during the day and in the 20s at night. Basically, above freezing during the day and below at night. Once the buds pop on the tree, maple syrup season is over as it makes the sap bitter.
Fourth– To get the sap from the tree, you have to drill a hole in the side of a tree and insert a spiel. This is called “tapping the tree.” You then hang a bucket below the spiel to collect the sap. Sometimes it is full, sometimes it barely has any sap in it. It all depends on the weather, the tree, etc. The tapping does not hurt the tree. (You can also use plastic tubing that all runs to a central location instead of buckets. This is far easier if you have a lot of taps.)
Fifth– You can boil the sap on pretty much anything. But having the right equipment makes it easier. The pans hold the sap, the box that holds the fire is called an arch. The whole thing together is called an evaporator (as you are evaporating the water away to make the syrup). We use a barrel or oil tank cut to make an arch. We someday would like to own a purpose built arch but they are pretty expensive. They are more insulated so you don’t have to worry about getting burned. You can get pans and arches in all kinds of sizes. The one we use is pretty small but it is the one available to us. We hope to have something bigger in the next few years. We also hope to sell syrup in the future which means we need a bigger evaporator. The more taps, the more sap, the syrup….the bigger evaporator you need to keep up with it all.
Sixth– To go from sap to syrup, you have to boil off the water. Then you have to get to approximately 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, so roughly 219 degrees F. (You should check at what temp water is boiling at that day to get a more accurate number.) When it goes over that you risk burning the syrup, making candy, turning it into sugar, etc. It can get a bit intense when you’re getting close to syrup.
This year we made 11 gallons of syrup off of 99 taps (some trees have 2 taps due to how big they are). Last year we made 10 gallons off of 56 taps. Last year’s season was longer. This year has been odd weather-wise. We might have a little bit more this week due to how the weather is. Or we may not. We’ll just have to wait and see.
So there you have it. A pretty basic but thorough run down of how to make maple syrup. Here are some pictures of our set-up. We hope to have a sugar house build in a couple years but for now, we use a canopy and tarps. Not ideal but it keeps the rain off and most of the wind. 🙂