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Tapping Maple Trees for Syrup on a Small Scale

2 Maple trees with buckets and tubes
This year we tapped 5 Maple trees. Some of them are the "bare minimum" size for tapping and one of them didn't drip a single drop of syrup. Of course, 2015 has been extremely weird for syrup production. It's been unseasonably warm - in the upper 60's for weeks in March and as high as 73 degrees Fahrenheit!

Despite this, we were still able to pull out 17+ gallons of sap over the first 3 weeks of March (we didn't tap the first week as it was too cold for sap to run.) We spent today boiling down all 17 gallons. It took 9 hours!!!

Use rebar and grill grates to cook over an open fire maple sap syrup
Two pots of sap waiting to start boiling
In the end, we wound up with 3 quarts of the best tasting syrup...ever! (We're fortunate to have pure sugar maples with a high sugar content.) And we're not done tapping. The weather has finally turned "right" and the trees are running heavier. It may only last another week or two, but we'll be saving the sap and running an all day boil once again.
can maple syrup homemade diy
3 Quarts of Syrup - The pint on the left is still unfinished as we were waiting for the ash to settle out of it. It's probably a half  pint of finished syrup. The pint will be boiled with our sap next week, and the prego jar will be heading to the fridge. All others are properly hot canned and headed to the pantry. 
Here are some tips for small scale tapping that we've gleaned over our 3 week adventure.

1.  Buy 5/8" taps with tubes. We used the ones from Mapletapper.com and they are fantastic. The set comes with 5 taps/tubes, a book, detailed instructions, and a filter. It's perfect for small scale tapping and the tubes allow you to let the sap drain all day without having to constantly empty bags or buckets. Look at the precarious slope my trees are on and tell me how much you think I loved having 5 gallon buckets that didn't need to be emptied every few hours!

2. Get a lot of buckets/bottles/containers ready and clear space in your refrigerator! I had planned to store the sap outside in 5 gallon containers I had washed. I gathered snow to save in case it got warm and we lost the snow. Well, we lost ALL of our snow when a streak of 60+ degree days hit for a week in a row. We had to store it all inside. Do you have room for 17 gallons of liquid in YOUR refrigerator? What about 30 gallons? Do you have enough containers that can not only hold the sap but can fit inside a refrigerator?

I didn't. So I had to wash every possible container. In the end, I stored sap in a ton of juice and milk containers, a vinegar bottle, a gumball container, a big
How to store and collect maple syrup keep it cool
plastic licorice bottle, and a huge container of cheese balls. Waah! Be prepared for anything, even 70 degrees (or 73 as it we had) in March.

3. Wash everything really well (even the filter and tubes!) then wash them all again.

4. Cook it on an open fire if you can. The taste is amazing. But be ready for it to take all day. ALL DAY! If you can use more than one pot, even better. We found that we averaged about 1 gallon of evaporation per hour per pot.

You can use stainless steel or cast iron. Either way, be sure the pot is completely clean. If you use stainless, coat the exterior with dish detergent so it will clean up easier after the fire.

How did we cook over an open fire? I had planned on using a rocket stove, but the one I ordered on Amazon arrived broken and it kind of lost its allure after that. So we used our fire pit.

Why didn't I want to use the fire pit initially? It's not very efficient and how do you put a pot over an open fire? Well, we remedied both situations, sort of.

We put rebar across the span of our fire pit and covered the rebar with grates off of a broken grill. All are made from iron and can withstand the heat of an intense fire. You can see the set-up in the photo above. My husband built a great fire with really hot coals that maintained the heat for hours. We did use a lot of wood, but far less than you would imagine. We got all of our wood from downed trees.

5. Use more than one pot if you can (more pots equal faster evaporation!) Also, if you can heat the sap before you add it to your boiling sap, that helps keep the evaporation going. We did not do this, but I may revisit the rocket stove idea just for warming sap to add to the open fire pots.  Of course the rocket stove would also evaporate the sap while its "heating" so that's a bonus. It would also be smaller and easier to manage while working with it and uses way less wood.

6. Get a good filter. Then get a better filter. The filter that came with our tapping supplies is great for getting rid of wood chips, bugs, and big bits. It kind of sucked for getting out ash. And a fire pit creates a lot of ash.

Don't worry about the ash, just strain it out at the end. We found that using an old t-shirt works great at removing the ash from syrup.
Finishing maple syrup indoors

7. Don't boil it too long. I boiled a small sample during the first week and boiled it into candy...by accident.

8. Start out small. We started with 5 trees. 3 turned out to be duds. Two fo them barely produced and one did not produce any so we ended up putting 2 buckets on the largest tree (a super big one that could technically support 3 taps.) Even with a wild weather year, we had a lot of sap to manage. It was tough to store and took a lot of time to boil down. Don't start larger unless you have really good equipment, experience, and storage space.

Next week, when we boil the sap again, we will be putting 3 pots on the fire. We are hoping the sap boils down much quicker that way. I will update on our progress.


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