Maple Syrup for Beginners

After eating a delicious pancake breakfast this morning I got really excited thinking about maple syrup season.  Last year we actually produced enough maple syrup to give some away plus we still have two bottles left! And I eat a lot of maple syrup.  However, the previous year, which was our first year making maple syrup we ended up with 2.5 bottles worth (1 litre).  This was enough to last us a couple months but we had to be really stingy with it.

If you want to start making maple syrup, you really don’t need to read this blog.  Youtube has everything you need to learn how, and it’s the easiest way to get started. Although I do have some cheap ideas that will help make your first year more affordable.  If you enjoy making maple syrup than you will want to invest in more supplies but we were able to get by without spending barely any money our first year using these tips.

Steps to Making Maple Syrup

FYI- It takes 40L of sap to make 1L of syrup. 

1.  Make your own buckets.  Buckets add up if you are tapping a lot of trees so for our first time we decided to improvise.  I am also a big fan of reusing things so I really enjoyed this part.  All you need is empty juice container (we used clear empty apple juice containers), metal clothes hanger, and duck tape.  It ended up looking like this

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They fill up quite fast though because they aren’t as big as the buckets you would buy so you need somewhere to store your sap.  We drink a lot of juice so we used our empty containers to store the sap in.

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You will need to invest in taps.  We purchased ours at Home Hardware.

2. Tap your trees.  And make sure they are maples!!! If you didn’t tag your trees in the fall when they still had leaves on them then it may be difficult to tell which ones are maples.  If you look up you may see some dead leaves still on the trees that will help you be able to tell if it is a maple.  You can also google the bark to help you distinguish between the trees.  The size of the trees you tap should also be at least 12 inches in diameter and healthy.

When tapping you will need a drill bit that is 7/16. Drill a hole 2 to 2.5 inches deep.  You can wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit as a guide.  Drill at a slight upward angle so that the sap will run downward.  Insert the spike and gently tap it into the tree with a hammer.  If the sap is flowing you should immediately see sap dripping from the spile.

3. Collect and Store.  Depending on the temperature outside, we were able to store ours outside in our shed for a week. You need to store it somewhere cool, but you also don’t want it to freeze.  I wouldn’t recommend storing it for more than a week because you really don’t want your sap to go bad.  You will know if it has gone bad because it will look murky as opposed to clear.  Like I said above, we stored ours in the juice containers for our first year.

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You will need to collect your sap daily, and if you are using small containers like we did, maybe even twice daily depending on how well the sap is flowing each day.

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4. Boil it.  We already had wood and a fire pit so we borrowed a large couldron that we could boil our sap in.  We filled it to the top, kept the fire stoked, and watched it boil.  Adding more sap as water boiled out of the sap and only the sugars remained.

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5. Keep boiling.  Once our sap got to a certain temperature (around 219) we took it inside to finish boiling.  I would recommend not doing this and boiling it in a shed if you can.  We transferred it into a smaller pot and continued boiling it until it reached 220F. You need to use a thermometer that you can leave in the pot while it is boiling.  Another way you can tell it is finished is when it begins to bubble and foam like crazy (like in the picture below).

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6.  Strain it.  You will need a glass measuring container, bottles to keep your maple syrup in, cheese cloth (or panty hose) and a funnel for this process.  Put the cheese cloth in the funnel, pour the maple syrup in, and voila!  You have made your first batch of maple syrup!

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I think in total it may have cost us about $20-30 to make maple syrup for our first year, which was the cost of the drill bit that we needed and the taps.  Our second year was much more expensive because we bought all the buckets we needed but we quadrupled our production and had enough maple syrup to give away as well as last more than a full year.

Here is a peak at what our production looked like last year.

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finalproduct

We boiled two batches, so two weeks, one batch per week. We also boiled it over propane instead of the fire because we had so much syrup and didn’t have a big enough pan for all of the sap.  This made it quite expensive.  We ended up with a total of 26 bottles of maple syrup (7 litres) but it cost us over $200 to make.  A lot better than our first year and now we have all the equipment we need for this year.  We are eventually going to look into making a pan and stove to boil the sap over because we prefer the taste of the maple syrup when it is boiled over the fire opposed to the propane.  It gives it a wood flavoured taste.  Each year has been a learning experience.  We are looking forward to this years maple syrup production!

Here is a handy youtube video that will help to get you started : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6slfQVAKGY