It’s started out so innocent. Then 3 taps, 2 Sugar Maple trees, eight 5-gallon food grade buckets, 2 propane tanks of gas, 1 turkey fryer, and over 40 gallons of sap later, it was anything but a simple science experiment.
Now that I’ve given it to you Tarantino style, let me detail how a simple request from our 3 year old turned into a gallon of maple syrup.
Like many Vermont families, we enjoyed some Maple Festivals as they started to pop up in the area in the beginning of March. One of our favorites was at Rock Point, a boarding school, in Burlington. The students there work the sugar maples to produce the maple syrup that they actually use during their meals. The day we went to tour their maple production was a bitter cold day so sap had ceased flowing but we still received a hands-on experience. One of the students led us out into their sugar maples and let my daughter drill and tap a tree.
After drilling, my daughter inserted the spile with a little tap from a hammer and hung the bucket on the hook. Before heading to the sugar shack to see boiling sap in process, we meandered the trees looking in all of the buckets to find any remnants of frozen sap.
This was such a valuable experience and I highly recommend families making Rock Point a stop on your maple tours.
This trip ignited my daughter’s curiosity of maple sugaring and prompted her to ask “Can we do this to the trees in our yard?” Of course, I thought. Let’s throw a couple of buckets on our maples so she can experience the flow of sap. Off we set to Tractor Supply for 3 metal buckets, bucket lids, spiles, and hooks.
After reading a brief pamphlet from Tap My Trees company, we were ready to tap 2 of our maple trees with the larger tree having two taps. Tapmytrees.com has a wealth of information for specifics on tapping trees as well as supplies for home sugaring. With our 5/16 drill bit we drilled 2″ upward slanted holes and inserted the spiles. Given we started the process in mid to late March, we figured we were getting a later start. But sure enough, sap starting flowing immediately that sunny afternoon.
Sap continued to flow on and off for weeks. Sometimes I’d find the buckets overflowing with sap and sometimes we’d find a delicious frozen sap sickle. Overall, I found myself emptying the 2-gallon buckets nearly every day to every other day. We had more sap than I had the capacity for managing. The biggest challenge with sugaring at home was storing our sap before the boiling process. We went to our local bagel shop and asked the owner if he had any food grade 5-gallon buckets to spare. Luckily, he was very generous and ended up giving us 10 buckets. Also, lucky for us we had an abundance of cold nights and snow. We packed the 5-gallon buckets in snow banks and let nature keep our sap fresh.
After a couple of weeks the sap had ceased flowing and we were ready to boil. By this point we had amassed over 40 gallons of sap. I’m not sure if this is a normal amount of sap for 2 trees or if we just had an especially prolific season. After researching boiling methods, we decided to use a turkey fryer and propane, though many people swear by a hot plate. Note: you can not boil in your home unless you’re willing to replace ceilings and walls or you have a professional evaporator. It took 3 propane tanks to boil down all of our sap.
Once the sap is nearly boiled down, we transferred into our home to finalize the boiling process. We filtered the nearly boiled down sap into my biggest stock pot. In order to produce maple syrup, the sap has to boil to 7 degrees above the boiling point of water (212 degrees at Burlington’s elevation). After just about 30 minutes of boiling, I see my candy thermometer reach 219 degrees and see the bubbles change consistency. We now have maple syrup. I filtered the sap again as I filled four quart sized Ball jars.
I wasn’t prepared for the process that ensued but am so grateful to have had the experience. By no means was this cost effective, but we have enjoyed the dark rich flavor of our labor. We are eagerly awaiting the cold nights and warm sunny days so we can once again enjoy our own maple syrup.