The end of February was so cold that the very idea of spring was driven from our minds. Then it began to brighten and warm up during the day and all of a sudden it was time to tap the maple trees. The days were warm and the nights were cold which makes for perfect weather to get the sap flowing in the trees.
I love sapping season. The warmth of spring is finally in the air and the cold chill of winter is working it’s way out. Another great aspect of sapping season is the exercise it takes to traipse around the woods each day carrying buckets of watery sap. Smelling the damp woodsy smell and sloshing through the cold creek on our property with the kids is a great spring past time.
This year we tapped about 20 maple trees and over three weeks of sapping we gathered roughly 160 gallons of sap. We made syrup in three batches this year. It’s a long process to cook down the sap so we decided to have cooking weekends. It worked out pretty well and we were able to keep the sap cool while we waited for our cooking day.
Cooking it Down
For each batch we spent about a day and a half boiling it outside in the sap boiler. Our system is not the most efficient but it works much better than doing it in the house like we did the first two years we decided to make syrup. It is basically a modified wood stove with a giant pan on top. The pan holds 35 gallons. The reason each batch took so long to cook down was that after the sap had boiled down a ways we would add another bucket to it. This cooled the boiling sap down so it had to heat back up. This may not be the best practice when boiling sap but for our first batch we had 65 gallons of sap that needed to be cooked down. Sap will go bad just like anything else and the shorter it sits the better
Each weekend for the last three weeks we boiled sap to make maple syrup. We cooked it outside in the boiler until it was close to the right consistency then we brought it into the house to finish it up. Last year we invested in a hydrometer, which measures the density of a liquid, this measuring tool cut all the guess work out of syrup making. Before buying this tool we would usually have syrup that was too runny or accidently make maple candy which is delicious but not what we are after.
Maple Syrup Yields for 2021:
65 gallons of sap = 14 pints of syrup
45 gallons of sap = 9 pints of syrup
50 gallons of sap = 10 pints of syrup
160 gallons of sap = 4 gallons and 1 pint of pure Maple Syrup!
We made more maple syrup this year than in previous years. We did notice a definite color variation in our last batch of syrup. This was because we collected later in the season when the maple trees were starting to bud out and the weather was warmer. We have been enjoying the syrup on our pancakes and waffles and we have also been finding different recipes to cook with maple syrup. I recently found a pumpkin/maple muffin recipe with maple frosting that is amazing! There will be plenty of jars of sweet maple syrup to go into Christmas baskets this year.
I am glad we live on a small hobby farm in the country because although I have to stay home I am still able to go outside and enjoy spring. Trenton is considered an essential employee and is still able to go to work which is a great relief for our family. I am currently working from home gathering resources for my Kindergarten class while I am still long-term subbing for the regular kindergarten teacher who is out on maternity leave. I have also been planning lessons for Lucian who is now being home schooled. I am also supporting my sisters as they work to home school their children as well. A small upside to this is that it is finally getting nice enough that we can be out with Penelope for longer stretches.
It’s sugar season! The kids love hiking through the woods to check taps. Especially since their dad will sometimes literally throw them across the creek into the snow bank on the other side. Even Penelope goes in her sled or stroller to check taps.
The sap has really been flowing since it has warmed up a little more and we have cooked down our fist batch for syrup.
We start cooking our sap on a homemade outdoor sap boiler. It is basically a small wood stove with a stainless steel tub fitted over the top. The tub can hold about 25 gallons of sap but for our first batch we only had 15 ready to cook. It is best to cook your sap within a week of collecting it and needs to be kept cool while it waits. We keep the fire going in the fire box for most of the day until the sap has cooked down enough to bring in the house.
2. Finish Inside
Once the sap has cooked enough outside to fit into my stock pot we bring it inside to finish. During this last stage of cooking the sap needs to be watched closely to be sure it does not cook down too much. If the syrup is cooked too long it will crystalize and turn into sugar. It still tastes good but we want syrup. The sap must be kept at a continuous rolling boil without boiling over until it is the right consistency.
3. Checking the Syrup
This year we invested in a hydrometer which is a tool that measures the density of a liquid. In previous years we have always boiled the syrup until we felt it “thicken” when stirred. Using a hydrometer takes the guesswork out of cooking sap down. This year all our batches of syrup are consistent rather than runny or crystalized.
We could have made more syrup but after three batches we decided to be done for the year. Making syrup is not particularly hard but it is a time consuming process that we like to do but we are also glad to be done.
For our sugar season we boiled 60 gallons of syrup for a grand total of about 1 and a half gallons of finished syrup. Hopefully it will last us until next spring but it depends on how much syrup the kids need on their pancakes!
It is finally starting to warm up a little. The sun is shinning, the days are mostly warm, and the nights are cold. The warm days and cold nights mean the sap in the maple trees will start to run. It is time to tap the maple trees and collect the sap to make syrup.
There are however, a few items that need to be prepped.
Milk jugs need to be washed and collected.
A few years ago we decided to use milk jugs instead of buckets to collect sap. We cut a small X into the side of the jug and push the tap into it. We drink a lot of milk so we reuse our jugs and turn them into inexpensive sap collectors. Using the enclosed jug also works well to keep various bugs and moths
out of the sap.
2. Five gallon buckets with lids need to be collected and washed.
Once the gallon milk jugs are full we dump them into clean 5 gallon buckets that Trenton has brought home from work. These buckets originally were filled with barbecue sauce so they need to be washed very well and aired out a bit so the sap doesn’t take on a bit of BBQ flavor. The buckets also need to have lids to keep us from spilling sap out of the buckets when we carry them.
3. Sap boiler needs to be cleaned out.
For some unknown reason my children, my nieces, and my nephews decided to fill the wood box of the sap boiler with various bricks, rocks, garbage, sticks, and twine. Why? No idea, but the result is that it needs to be cleaned out before we can start a fire to heat the sap.
4. The sap tub needs to be washed.
The metal tub that sits over the fire box of the sap boiler needs to be washed out before we can use it. It has been upside down all winter and has acquired a fair amount of dust. Moving the tub is a two person job because of how big and heavy it is. Which means washing it is also a two person job.
The weather is perfect for starting to collect sap from the maple trees. I’m hoping that my next post will be about the successful maple syrup harvest.