If you’ve ever had a chance to drive through the New England countryside in early spring, no doubt you’ve noticed the metal buckets hanging from the maple trees, collecting the sap needed to produce pure maple syrup. That process is known as maple sugaring and it’s a time-honored tradition in our neck of the woods.
Disclosure: I received a Tap My Trees Starter Kit for Teachers at no cost and was compensated for my time to write about it. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.
DIY Maple Sugaring
It never occurred to me that we could try maple sugaring at home until this year when we got to try out Tap my Trees. If you live in one of the states where maple sugaring is possible and you want to give it a try, I recommend the Tap My Trees kit, which comes with everything you need to begin. It includes a helpful little book Maple Sugaring at Home that explains the process from start to finish — from identifying your tree to tapping it to collecting the sap to the final stages of making maple syrup. This was an essential resource for us throughout the maple sugaring experience.
Each Teacher’s Starter Kit includes:
- aluminum bucket with cover
- spile and hook
- drill bit to drill the hole in your tree
- cheesecloth for filtering
- an instructional book with lesson plans
Our Maple Sugaring Experience
Maple trees should be tapped in February or March for the sugaring season. We tapped our tree on February 24th.
The sap runs when the weather allows for cold nights and warm days. Unfortunately, our weather has been very unusual and inconsistent this year, so soon after tapping the tree it turned cold and snowy again. At other times it was unseasonably warm. That was not ideal for collecting sap!
The sap didn’t start running right away and what little we did collect froze. This went on for a few weeks — we’d collect a little sap, then it would be freezing again.
The sap is running at last!
Finally, we collected some sap — along with some tree debris. That is why it’s important to filter and sterilize everything. Remember that this is a food product that can spoil, so the sap should not be stored for long before you boil it.
After collecting enough sap, it was time to boil it. Remember that the ratio is 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup! Be prepared to collect several buckets of sap to get enough to fill the bottle with maple syrup.
Important note: the boiling process takes a few hours and creates a lot of steam. Outdoor boiling is best if you can. That explains all the “sugar shacks” we see in our area!
At first it’s just a matter of watching a pot boil. Yes, really. Then as the sap reaches peak boiling temperature (7 degrees above water boiling), you need to keep a close eye on it lest it boil over or burn. I was really afraid of this part because it had taken so much time and effort to collect the sap that I didn’t want to waste any!
In the end we had about 2 gallons of sap collected for our first boil. You can see by doing the math that it didn’t make much syrup. We are still collecting sap now that it’s finally running so we plan to do at least one more boil before the maple sugaring season ends.
Homemade maple syrup on homemade french toast. Yum!
What We Learned
- As much as we like to read Little House on the Prairie stories and learn about pioneer times, we wouldn’t want to live at that time in history. 😉
- Maple sugaring is labor intensive and time consuming, which explains the high price of pure maple syrup.
- Real maple syrup doesn’t resemble that chemical stuff they sell at the store and call maple syrup.
- Homemade really does taste better.
- As much as you plan, you can’t control nature.
- I knew that it would require work on our part, but I wasn’t fully prepared for everything that goes into the maple sugaring process.
- The local Maple Sugar Festival here was held March 26th. If we do this again next year, it would probably be wise to wait until March to tap the tree, not February. Of course this varies based on the weather, but our season seems to be later because we are so far north.
If you’d like to try maple sugaring at home, be sure to check out Tap My Trees. They’re a great resource for supplies and all the information you need to make your own maple syrup at home! You can learn more and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.