Six Simple Steps to Make Your Own Maple Syrup

Mel demonstrates the perfect technique in tapping trees. 

Four years ago was my first year tapping trees. Year one I Started at a neighbor’s sliver maple grove, and tapped sufficient sap to produce 2 quarts of syrup. The following year I discovered some Red Maple at my workplace and Sugar Maples at several friends homes. These last two years have expanded to the East and Downtown Campuses of The Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire. Like Mel, pictured above, several of you risked a couple hours of work to try tapping for yourselves. Please see 2016’s post. This year promises to have even more syrup due to accumulation of time and experience.

1. Find a Maple Tree

Yes, this is obvious, but you need a healthy tree in the maple “family”-at least 12 inches in diameter. I say find a tree in the maple “family” because many don’t realize how many types of related trees are endemic to this area.

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Sanford 4th and Sycamore Clinic, Sioux Falls, SD Maple trees in the summer
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Sanford Clinic 4th and Sycamore; Sioux Falls, SD;  Maple trees yielding sap in winter

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 two drawbacks are this:  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.

The best time of year to determine tree types is the summer. But don’t fret if you start your search in the winter!

Look for trees with the following characteristics:

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Bark

Dark Grey and smooth on young trees. Mature trees spork dark brown bark with vertical grooves and ridges.

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Twigs/Buds

You want slender, reddish brown twigs with opposite paired arrangement of buds leaves (meaning they are aligned on opposite sides of the branch)

Leaf and fruit

Look for evidence of last season’s leaves. They have distinctive appearance… think Canadian flag. Fruit looks like the helicopter-winged seed you threw in to the air as a kid and then watched it spiral to the ground.

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.

2. Collect Your Tools

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. If you’re wanting to buy a starter kit today, check out Fleet Farm’s supplies. Both are more expensive than the YouTube Mi Gardener site but their set-ups are attractive and might give you more confidence moving forward.

3. Wait For Ideal Weather

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Nothing looks better for a sap collector than below freezing at night at above freezing during the day.  Look for a forecast of highs in 40’s and lows in 20’s. Check out your Weather Channel app for temperatures in your location.

Another reminder of the alternating freezing/thawing conditions includes melting icicles. Next time you see drips from icicle tips, remember that sweet sap is flowing through your trees as well!

4. Tap The Trees

Choose a healthy area of the tree, south facing, that is convenient to drill (anywhere from 1-3 feet above the ground). Ideally, the tap hole would be above a large root or below a large branch. Always be sure to avoid any damaged area of the tree.

Angling slightly upwards, drill a hole between 5/16” and 7/16” in diameter and 2” deep. Trunks between 10 and 20 inches in diameter should have no more than one tap per tree. A second tap may be added to trees between 20 and 25 inches in diameter. Trees over 25 inches in diameter can sustain three taps. No tree should ever have more than three taps.

Empty buckets daily to either refrigerate for a later processing time, or start boiling down your sap right away.

5. Boil Sap Into Syrup

We collect sap daily, refrigerate (38 degrees or colder) only if we collect small quantities from the day. We then empty the sap into electric roasting pans or crock pots to slowly evaporate off the water.

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Once the liquid takes on a golden color, we then boil until the syrup sticks to the spoon and thickens to form an “apron” when poured. Confirm the syrup is ready by using a thermometer. The completed syrup boils 7 degrees above water and over time should increase from about 212 degrees Fahrenheit to 219.

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.

6. Enjoy!

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Mel and daughter Emmeline cooked up maple-syrup-sweetened granola!

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