It is time to learn to make maple syrup! Yum, yum!
If you have a woodlot on your property with a few maple trees, let’s call it a personal sugar bush and get you into the age-old tradition of making your own delicious syrup.
Collecting sap from a maple sugar bush and rendering down to make maple syrup is a tradition us Northerners have been doing for centuries in the late winter to early spring.
This is a great exercise for home schooled children, a fun pastime for adults – giving all ages a sense of accomplishment, wonder, and understanding of how we can enjoy the sweet treats of our own labor when we’re living in the country.
Here’s What You Need to Manage Your Sugar Bush Operation
- Maple trees with a diameter larger than 10"
- Sap Spiles and Buckets (there is room for improvisation with buckets)
- Hand operated or Electric Drill
- Energy (preferably wood heat) for the evaporation process of making maple syrup
- Sap Pan or large kitchen roasting pan
- Finishing Pot
- Strainer and Filter Medium (tea towels, paper towels in a pinch, cheesecloth, or felt)
- Wooden Stirring Spoon
- Candy Thermometer (although the task can be accomplished without)
Crunch The Numbers To Make Maple Syrup
- 1 Maple Tree = 12-16 gallons of sap
- 12-16 gallons of sap = 2 quarts of syrup
- 1/4 cord of hardwood (for your bush fire) is sufficient energy to produce 4 gallons syrup
Tapping the Maple Trees
Drill holes slightly smaller than the sap spiles you have. Drill them about 2-3" deep, at an upward angle of 10-20 degrees. The holes should be 2-6′ above the ground, south facing (if you’re tapping early in the syrup season), and at least 6" away from previous spile scars on the tree.
The old timers will tell you that good sugar bush trees that have a diameter of 2 feet or more can easily manage 4 inserted spiles without damage to the tree.
Once the hole has been drilled, tap the spiles in gently for a snug fit. Hang buckets from the spiles and cover as much open surface area of that bucket as possible — you want to keep bugs, rain, leaves, etc. out of the sap collection.
Collecting the Sap from the Sugar Bush
Don’t let your buckets go unattended! As the weather changes the sap runs at different speeds. You’ll want to get into the sugar bush and check those sap buckets every morning and late afternoon to ensure that they don’t overflow and waste all your, and the tree’s, hard work.
Either when you’re checking on the buckets, or as they become full, transfer the sap into a holding bin. You can use a large, clean, new, plastic garbage bucket for the job that you’ll reserve only for use when you make maple syrup.
When collecting the sap you don’t want to hold onto it for more than 3 days without cooking it down into syrup. If you’re at the three day mark, but you know more is coming, quickly cook up what you have on hand and prepare for the next batch.
You can learn the step by step process of making maple syrup here. Then take it one step further and make maple sugar…
Making Maple Sugar
You can also make sugar from maple sap – soft or hard maple sugar that is delicious in baking or as a sweet and chewy treat.
Here’s how you make maple sugar…
Soft Sugary Treat
Instead of transferring the syrup to a finishing pot, continue to cook the sap/syrup until it reaches the temperature of 30 degrees over that of boiling water. Next, remove it from your heat source and stir hard until the syrup comes down to 155 degrees. Pour it into molds, let it cool, then wrap in saran and store in a cool, dark, dry location.
Hard, Crystallized Maple Sugar
If you stir longer and let the mixture cool down to 150 degrees, the syrup will crystallize, creating a hard maple sugar.
It is a Canadian tradition to throw some of this thick syrup on clean snow to make taffy – which is delicious and eaten on the spot!