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The Earliest Gardening Season: Maple Syrup Making

how to make maple syrup maple tapping sugarmaking tapping maple trees

Have you wished for a way to extend your gardening season? Well, short of moving to the tropics, here's a fun idea! Embrace the earliest season of all: maple tapping (aka sugarmaking). Our sister company, Maple Tapper, is all over it and has stores of information to show you how. Trust us, it really is much easier than you think and a whole lot of fun. Here's a quick primer but feel free to click here to visit our full Maple Tapper website and look through our How To Library.

First thing to know: the maple tapping season is really short. So short that it only takes a few weeks to miss it! And once it’s gone, it’s gone, and you’ll have to wait another whole year. The season usually begins around mid- to late-February so before the season gets here, get ready with these three simple steps:

Step #1 (time required: approximately 15 minutes): Assemble your tools (most of which you probably have in the garage and kitchen already). Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Well-charged cordless drill (or hand brace) with a 5/16” wood-boring drill bit marked at 1 ½” (with marker or masking tape) from the tip
  • A small hammer
  • Spiles (the technical term for taps!) and either tubing or an all-in-one system. The tubes are nice because they store flat but it’s totally your choice.
  • Collection containers such as buckets or gallon jugs with lids. Avoid containers that have held milk, pickle juice, or oily substances and do not wash with dish soap – these all can impart weird flavors to your sap.
  • Syrup making filters – washable and reusable
  • Kitchen utensils; pots for cooking; a way to boil your sap (we still use our “turkey cooker” which works great for small batches); and glass jars with lids.

Step #2 (time required 5 minutes or less): Find a tree or two. The best choice for the sweetest syrup is to tap a sugar (or hard) maple tree but you can also try silver maple, box elder, or even birch. Sugar maples are most easily identified in the fall by their: a) leaf color – typically they have the most colorful red, orange, or yellow leaves and b) their seeds (those little “helicopters”). Hard maples drop seeds in the late summer or early fall and soft maples drop seeds in spring and early summer.

Over the entire season, you can expect approximately 10- to 12-gallons of sap per taphole which will boil down to about one quart of syrup. Trees can handle more than one tap but make sure you as a new sugarmaker can handle more than 10 gallons! You do not have to own a plot of land in the country to find maple trees. Town syrup is just as sweet as country syrup – this tree is literally at the base of our back steps and last season we collected over 12 gallons of sap (and if you look closely, you’ll see it’s also a silver maple which made delicious syrup.)

Step #3 (time required 30 seconds per day): Watch the weather. Now comes the waiting and watching portion of this hobby (we know, this is kind of like other parts of winter.) What you’re looking for is a forecast that includes a pattern of cold nights but warming days. Sap starts to run when nighttime temps fall below freezing but daytime temps get into the 40°Fs. This usually happens around late February and once you see this pattern, it’s time to get out there and tap your trees (yay, finally!!). Don’t try to get a head start by tapping before this weather pattern emerges – that could cause your spile to freeze inside the taphole which could damage the tree. Don’t worry, tapping is so quick you don’t need to do it ahead of time!

 

 

That’s it for preseason prep! Now click over to "How to Tap Trees" for the next step and if you’re hungry, browse through our recipe library under “Maple Syrup Recipes.” And if you’re still wondering what to do, email me us at jim@mapletapper.com and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.



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