Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tapping Maple Trees in Our Yard to Make Syrup

A few weeks ago, Jeff and I were out wheeling with a friend who showed us an abandoned sugar shack in the woods near his house.  He said it hasn't been used in many years, and the building that housed the boiler had collapsed years ago.  There were lots of buckets and spiles in the old shack, and Jeff and I decided to take some home to tap the trees in our yard.  Below is a picture of the shack.  It is rotting out pretty bad and mice have taken it over.


The pic below is the building that used to house the boiler.


Most of the buckets and spiles were in pretty bad shape, but I figured some steel wool, bleach, wash and rinse could revitalize them.  Unfortunately there were no lids for the buckets, and if it rains rainwater will dilute the sap which will require extra boiling time so we needed to get lids.



The buckets and spiles cleaned up nicely.  I soaked them in bleach and then scrubbed them down with an abrasive sponge.  I used the abrasive sponge on the spiles too and cleaned inside them with Q-tips and alcohol and then gave them a good wash with dish soap.  They cleaned up pretty good.

We waited and waited for warmer temps (when never seemed to come - this is the longest winter ever), as the temperature has to rise above zero during the day and fall back below zero at night for the sap to run.  Yesterday it just reached the zero mark and was sunny so we decided to tap the trees.

Jeff and his daughter Becca headed out into the yard with the drill, hammer, spiles and buckets.  They picked out the maple trees that were larger than 10" in diameter, and drilled holes on the south-facing sides of the trees.  These trees are really only large enough for one tap, but we put in two taps anyway as I read it will not harm the tree, it will just use up "tap real estate" for future years and could possibly make the taps run slower.  We'll see how it goes and next year may only just put in one tap in each tree.


Even though it was hovering around the zero mark, the bright sunshine on the trees got the sap flowing as soon as the tap was put in.


We were pretty excited. lol


It is supposed to rain later this week so I had to think up something fast for the lids.  A plan came to mind...I took a wire coat hanger, and bent it out straight.  Then I worked it into a circle slightly larger than the top of the buckets.  Next I cut up a tarp into pieces and taped it with duct tape onto the coat hanger.  On the front edge of each one I taped in a large nut and bolt to give some weight to the lid so the wind wouldn't blow it up.

Below is the "prototype" first lid.  It worked well so then I made lids for the rest of the buckets.  


Unfortunately Becca has to return home tomorrow and will miss out on the production of maple syrup and other maple goodies.  So we decided, just for fun, that we'd collect whatever sap had gathered in the 8 buckets and boil it off just to make even a teaspoon of syrup so she could try it.  The buckets had only been on the trees for about three hours when Jeff and Becca collected the sap.  They strained it through cheesecloth into a container and ended up with 1 1/2 cups  of sap.  We put it on the stove to boil, and a short time later had a teaspoon or so of syrup that we could all try.  We let it go a bit too long actually and actually had taffy rather than syrup, but it was really good!

Once the sap really starts running good we will be doing the majority of the boiling outdoors on a propane stove as boiling inside can make for sticky ceilings and walls and too much humidity in the house.

Tomorrow is supposed to be another cold snap, with the high only being -8 no sap will be running.  It's not supposed to warm up again until Wednesday so hopefully we'll be able to start collecting sap again then.  I'll do more blog posts on our sap collecting and syrup production as the season goes on.  The season lasts 4-6 weeks.