Have you ever driven around, seeing tin buckets hanging from trees and wondered how to make maple syrup? New England is known for its maple syrup, and today, I’m going to show you how to make your own maple syrup!
My husband and I have been making maple syrup for five years. It all started when we moved into our house, and our friend was over helping us put together our bed. He looked out our back window and said to my husband, “you have a lot of maple trees, we should make syrup!” and thus began the yearly tradition of making syrup! We have since inspired some of our friends to make syrup and others just love to come and watch the sugar water boil… yes, syrup is all about watching water boil!
So how do you get started making maple syrup?
Step One – Identify Maple Trees
First things first – you need to make sure you have maple trees. The maple tree part is really the most important part. You’d be surprised how many people ask me if you can tap other trees – the answer is no. You can tap sugar, red, silver, and white maples. Typically it’s easy to find a maple tree if you look at its leaves, but if you start tapping trees this year, you don’t have that luxury, so you will need to identify the tree by its bark.
Step Two – Buying All Your Supplies
First, you need to collect sap from a maple tree, so you need to buy taps. We tap about 30 trees a year, but you should start much smaller. You can buy the taps online or at your local hardware store. These are the taps we used originally started with. I recommend starting small on your first attempt by tapping one to five trees, which means you will need one to five taps to start.
Once you have your taps, you need to find a bucket for the syrup to flow into. Our setup we used when we first started had tubes that go down into the top of a 5 gallon bucket, similar to those found at Home Depot. You will need one to five food grade buckets (one for each tree), but many just use regular five gallon buckets. We drilled a hole into the lid of the bucket so that the sap could fall into it through the tube. This makes life a lot easier because you don’t have to worry about the buckets hanging on the tree and falling off. We usually just put a brick or rock on the top of the bucket to keep them in place when they are low or empty, just in case it’s windy out. The buckets we use are only used for syrup – you may want to use food grade buckets, and you can buy those buckets here.
If you are going to boil sap as you collect it, before your buckets overfill, you will not need any type of storage, but if you do not plan to boil as you collect, you will need food grade barrels/storage (similar to the size of a 32 gallon garbage can).
Just a note – if you have a good day of sap flowing, it’s quite possible you can fill a 5 gallon bucket in a day, and you will need a place to store all the sap you are collecting. This is where the food grade barrels come in to play. We found ours on Craig’s List or we have seen many people buy cheap, new 32 gallon garbage cans such as these. I recommend getting one storage container to start.
In order to boil the syrup, you will need a way to heat the sugar water (sap). You will need a propane tank (the kind you use for your grill), and one propane burner. You will also need one large pot. A turkey deep frying pot will work the best since they hold a lot of liquid. You can probably kill two birds with one stone and buy a deep frying kit that comes with the pots and burner, like this one.
Miscellaneous items you will need are two oven mitts, a kitchen strainer, and a candy thermometer. The thermometer is REALLY important. Make sure you buy a good one because if you go over in temperature, you will find yourself with maple candy… I’m serious. BUY A GOOD THERMOMETER!
When it’s time to bottle the product, you will need four items, a filter, an optional filter holder, an optional coffee urn, and mason jars (
we use 8 oz ball mason jars).
Does this seem like a lot? It can be a little intimidating, but once you start going, you will notice, it really isn’t that bad and it will become second nature to you after your first try. You will become addicted, and then you will be building stuff like a Sugar House! Yes, we now have a sugar house, copula and all 🙂
- 1-5 Taps
- 1-5 Buckets
- 1 Barrel
- 1 Boiler
- Propane Tanks
- 1 Pots
- 2 Oven Mitts
- 1 Strainer
- 1 Filter
- 1 Filter holder (optional)
- 1 Candy Thermometer
- 1 Coffee Urn (optional – check Craigslist or Letgo – we bought ours used for about $20)
- 8 oz Ball Jars
- 1-5 Bricks or large rocks
Now that you’ve purchased all your supplies, it’s time to start tapping trees!
Step 3 – Wait for the Weather
The one thing about making maple syrup is that you have to wait for the weather to cooperate. I’d suggest that you keep an eye on the weather forecast starting in January so you know when to start tapping trees. You want the weather to be consistently warm during the day and below freezing at night. The season seems to be starting earlier and earlier each year. Last year the season started in February, but this year the season started in January. Once the trees start to bud, the season is over.
Step 4 – Tap the Trees
You will need a drill for this. We use a drill with a tapping bit to drill holes into the tree, but you can use a drill with 5/16 bit. Drill straight into the tree and don’t go too deep (about 1 inch). You’re then going to put your taps in the hole and put the hose into the top of the bucket. Make sure to put something heavy on top of the bucket so it doesn’t go flying around if it gets windy. I suggest a brick/rock or two.
Step 5 – Collect the Sap
You will need to collect sap every day, sometimes multiple times a day if the weather is really cooperating. Make sure you keep your storage out of the sun and in an area that stays cool. If there is snow on the ground and you can pack your storage in the snow, you will be better off. We will store ours typically either behind our sugar shack or in our garage because the areas don’t have a lot of light and stay cool.
Step 6 – Boiling
I suggest you boil at least once a week because your sap will go bad if you don’t. The rule of 86 says that you take 86 divided by the sugar content, and it gives you the number of gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Earlier in this season, we were averaging about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, but later in the season, we were up near 66 gallons of sap. We went from around 2% for sugar content down to about 1.3%.
Put your pot on the propane burner and get the sugar water to where it is boiling. While the syrup is boiling, a foam will start creating on the top of the product. Use your strainer to remove the foam from the top of the sugar water. Be sure to do this often or else your maple syrup will form a lot of sugar sand aka niter, and that’s bad.
The most important part of boiling is the temperature. You want to make sure that you’re thermometer doesn’t go over 7 degrees above boiling water, typically, 219 degrees. Boiling will take you close to a full day, so be prepared to watch water boil all day and make sure to breathe in some of that delicious smelling maple steam!
Once your thermometer has reached 219 degrees, take the sap off of the boiler. At 219 degrees, you have boiled your product to where it’s 66% sugar and it has now become syrup.
Step 7 – Completing the process
Make sure you have clean mason jars and lids so they are ready for you to can your syrup.
You will now need to filter your syrup. You can either pour your maple syrup through the filter and directly into the mason jars or what we have found, is that filtering into a coffee urn is the cleanest way to jar because let me tell you, it can get really messy! This has been the hardest part for us, but I think we’ve finally come up with a good solution after a ton of research – buy a coffee urn. It is a messy process, and the coffee urn solves that problem, for the most part!
Once you have a full jar of syrup, top the jar with the lids and rings and flip the jar over for a couple of seconds, flip back over, and store.
So that’s it. You now have maple syrup, and you can start using your product right away. Maple syrup will last years if you’ve bottled it properly in mason jars, so I would stick with mason jars if you don’t plan on using a lot. There are so many great uses for maple syrup that you just might find you use it more and more each year. Some ways to use maple syrup: pancakes, cooking, DIY beauty products.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Feel free to comment below if you’ve been successful (or not) in making maple syrup or if you have any questions!
If you would like more information on making maple syrup, New Hampshire’s Maple Month/Week is a great way to visit sugar houses in New Hampshire. It’s really educational because the owners are a wealth of information; they love discussing their process and how they started.
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