Five Avoidable Mistakes When Maple Sugaring

We are coming to the end of the sugaring season, but if we are lucky, there might be a couple weeks left in 2018. If you’re just learning, glean some wisdom from those who want to save you from a sticky mess!

1. Tap an Actual Maple Tree

Aimee knows a maple tree when she sees one!

Sitting down with my cousin Eric is like having a front seat to your favorite stand-up comedian. Strangely enough we first met at our uncle’s funeral and found life is too short not to laugh at nearly every aspect of life.

We had just moved back to NY and I had several acres of woods behind the house. I wanted to make syrup, so I researched it on the internet. I had no taps or pails, so I bought copper tubing, cut in sections with a sharp angle. I drilled about 12 trees, stuck in the taps, and ran plastic tubing into empty 2 liter soda bottles. The sap ran fast and I had enough to boil in a couple days. I set up in a storage room with a Coleman stove and it took a ridiculous amount of time to reduce, but it tasted great. My new friend came over and I proudly offered him a bottle. Interested, he wanted to see the collection system out back. He cracked up and asked how I picked the trees (he has a Forestry degree). Turned out that I had successfully selected NO maples and had tapped all of the white oak trees on my hillside. Still made good syrup, but it had to be boiled down more because the sugar content was lower.
– Eric D, Elmira, NY

I tapped this pretty sugar maple with an ugly oval drill hole. We estimate at least 5-10 gallons of sap lost during the season.

2. Avoid Leaks Around the Spiles

The most difficult of all sugaring tasks is drilling a strait hole, the appropriate caliber and depth, and fitting a tube into it. But even that can prove challenging. This year I provided ample room for our metal spike by making an oval shape. Then I forced a “good seal” by hammering in the spile and cracking the wood. There isn’t much to remedy this. Collect what you can and simply try better next year.

Freshly collected sap is as clear as water.

3. Don’t Throw the Sap Away

Katie Carlson, a neighbor and church friend, has a humble confession:

So Grant was super stoked about the idea of tapping our maple tree and had been hearing all about it from Mel. He even borrowed a big 5 gallon bucket to start his adventure! So he drilled the tree and stuck his bucket out there waiting for sap. A couple days later he comes back with a pretty full bucket. Not knowing the process or what needed to be done I went on with my business making dinner and taking care of kids. Somewhere along the way he had transferred his sap from the bucket to a big stock pot on the stove. He left the room and was changing a diaper so I, being the great wife that I am, started cleaning the kitchen. I saw the pot on the stove and was extremely annoyed that he had not even dumped out the water or cleaned the pan from the night before. I thought maybe this is his “soaking” process. So not even thinking about it I dumped it all right down the drain. 10 min later Grant came back looking for his sap only to find I tossed all his hopes and dreams down the drain… oops! He looked like I just shot his dog! It’s the look I would have given him had he spilled my freshly squeezed breast milk down the drain… he was devastated! I on the other hand still found it a little funny..

– Katie Carlson, Sioux Falls, SD, wonderful wife most of the time

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Randy demonstrates how easy filtering is!

4. Filter Before and After Boiling

With enough sap, you’ll likely collect insects, twigs and leaves in your liquid. We pour the sap through a cheesecloth, tea towel, or coffee filter before starting the boiling process. Our first year we filtered only the syrup which produced an “off” taste.

5. Don’t Burn Your Syrup

The first time I left the sap to boil down unattended, the smoke alarm went off and freaked us all out. I pleaded with our volunteer fire department not to waste their time coming out- it was just some food burning in the stove.

The SECOND time the smoke alarm went off that week, The GFP apparently felt obligated to save my family from ourselves and came out anyway. God bless the men and women of Garretson’s Fire Department. As they pulled up one shouted “Yeah, I remember being at this place before”. Ouch.

My sister-in-law Trina is a master baker, cake designer and candy maker. Take heart that even she wasn’t able to perfect the art of boiling sap to syrup the first time. Though she watched the simmering pot closely, without warning the liquid instantly turned into a hard candy! Undeterred, she added a few nuts and shared her creation with us at Easter.

Enjoy your homemade syrup everyone! Let us know what recipes you’re using as a result of your new hobby! Stay safe and please keep yourself from being a hot (sticky) mess.


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