I grew up in Upstate New York and have been accustomed to field trips to Maple Syrup Farms throughout grade school. Since moving to South Dakota, I realized the Great Plains doesn’t have an abundance of Sugar Maples, we do have large numbers of Silver Maples and Box Elders which also produce satisfying syrup!
Two years ago was my first year tapping Silver Maple trees, but I discovered some Red Maple at my workplace and Sugar Maple at my friend’s house (Alison Rainbow pictured above). Please see 2016’s post, however, this year promises to have even more syrup due to accumulation of time and experience. No I didn’t spend two weeks or Horticulture School nor a night at a Holiday Inn Express- I just watched a YouTube video and would like to share my experience with you! See how I did it and please share your experiences on GleanforGood.net
What you Need
A Maple Tree
Yes, this is obvious, but you need a healthy tree in the maple “family”-at least 12 inches in diameter. If you don’t have access to maple trees at your residence, consider asking around like I did. Close friends, relatives, churches and businesses often use maples as ornamental landscaping. Tapping the trees is frankly an inviting curiosity and rarely is turned down, espeically if you plan to share the harvest. Also, tapping trees at least 12″ in diameter does not harm the tree.
I say find a tree in the maple “family” because many don’t realize how many types of trees endemic to this area are related.
Sugar Maples have the highest sugar content and require the least amount of sap for syrup production. A whopping 40 gallons are required to make 1 gallon of syrup. But also in the Maple family are Silver Maple and Box Elder trees which are very common in this area and their syrup tastes terrific. The only drawback is the sap is lower in sugar content therefore requiring 60+ gallons of tapped sap to make the same 1 gallon of syrup. Furthermore the tapping season is shorter than the Sugar Maple.
You will need a few other materials that can vary in cost. You will need a drill bit, drill, hammer and buckets. But we have a way to make this easy for you!
On a budget
This is the video that inspired me to tap the tree for less than a DIME per tree!
This is the “world’s cheapest DIY tap” according to MI gardener. The featured video described what to purchase. All supplies are available from typical harware/garden stores like Menards, ACE Hardware or Lowes and recycled materials like (food grade approved) 5-gallon buckets or a used gallon ice cream pail. I made maple syrup last year without breaking a sweat and recycled all of last year’s supplies to multiply my efforts.
Willing to spend a bit more
I love Tap My Trees for aluminum pails, metal spikes and an easy how-to booklet that makes it all simple. They are much more expensive than the YouTube Mi Gardener site but the set-up is attractive and might give you more confidence moving forward.
When to Start
Nothing looks better for a syrup tapper than below freezing at night at above freezing during the day. Above is this week’s forecast with a full week of production in the forecast. Above is my Weather Channel app for my location that tells me the sap is flowing.
Do I have to do this alone?
Absolutely not! Above are volunteer 1st graders from Children’s Home Society who helped me tap trees across from their residential home, set up buckets and cheer when the sap immediately started dripping. No longer a chore, I fully enjoyed time outside with these kiddos.
We chose South facing sites that were convenient for the kids (anywhere from 1-3 feet above the ground). Ideally, the tap hole would be above ta large root or below a large branch. Always be sure to avoid any damaged area of the tree.
This is the video from one of the young students who was excited to document the event.
Some of my favorite questions from the 5 and 6 year-olds: “Do we just tap the trees with our fingers”? (We actually use a drill.) “How much syrup does each tree make”? (between 5-15 gallons per season) “Can I PLEASE drill the next hole”? (Didn’t you just drill the last tree?) “Will we use an ax”?!? (Unfortunately not but we do get to use power tools!)
How to you make syrup from sap?
We collected sap daily from pails and plan to boiling sap down once weekly until the end of the season. the sap should be collected daily and stored in a refrigerator (38 degrees Fahrenheit or colder).
Fill your pot (I used a stock pot) three quarters full of sap. Boild down until it takes on a golden color and then boil until the syrup sticks to the spoon and thickens to form an “apron” when poured.
Small amounts of sediment will be present in your syrup and should be filtered through cheese cloth or a coffee filter. We sterilized a bottle and placed the syrup in the fridge right away. Kids from Children’s Home Society will be having their own syrup for breakfast tomorrow!
Will My Syrup Taste Any Good?
Dr. David Graper is Professor of Horticulture and has been with SDSU since 1990. In 2006 he became Director of McCrory Gardens and the SD Arboretum, located in Brookings, on the campus of SDSU. While attending the November Mitchell Technical Institute’s Local Foods Converence, Dr. David Graper invited attendees to taste test two varieties of South Dakota syrup, one Vermont Sugar Maple syrup and Log Cabin syrup (rumored to be tapped from telephone poles). I challenge anyone to tell the difference between a Silver Maple from South Dakota and the Vermont version for which we pay a high price. Box Elder trees produce a honey-like syrup that is distinct in flavor but wonderful. I am certain that the syrup we gather this year will be fabulous and Dr. Graper seems to agree.
Lastly, you don’t have to boil your sap to syrup. According to Business Insider: Maple syrup water tapped from trees is the next coconut water. Read this interesting article to know how to save yourself even more time!
I will continue to document adventures from this year’s locations including The Boys and Girls Club of Sioux Falls.
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