I wouldn’t be too far off in saying most of us are sick of winter. To be honest, I love winter, and I’m even tired of snow and cold.
The next outdoor activity that makes me happy and fills my time is gathering maple sap for syrup. Some people in Rice County have already tapped a few trees, in some cases they have tapped a bunch of trees. It seems just a bit to soon for me, but I don’t do it professionally.
The sap flows when daytime temps rise above thirty-two degrees and nighttime
temperatures fall below freezing. Given that, a case could be made for tapping now. However, as I write this at two in the afternoon the high temperature for the day is twenty-seven.
As I look out at the maples in my back yard I’ve decided to hold off a bit. I did test tap one tree last week and it is barely dripping sap today. My operation is very small and I do it mostly for fun. It’s great to engage in the whole process. Some people had the foresight to take care of these mature trees so I feel an obligation to use the trees for sap and syrup. If you would like to try tapping a tree here are some considerations.
The equipment is simple and readily available at most home and hardware stores. First, you need a spile. This is what goes into the tree and what you hang the bucket on. I tap about three feet from the ground on the south side of the tree. Drill a hole in the tree at a slightly upward angle, place the spile in it, and tap it in with a hammer. I use a rubber mallet. You can put two spiles in a mature tree.
In the old days a bucket was hung on the spile. These days an aluminum frame is used. The frame holds a plastic bag and the sap runs into it. I miss the sound of the steady drip of the sap into a bucket, but the blue bags are light and very efficient.
Once the tree is tapped and the sap starts flow all you need to do is monitor the bags. When full, they need to be dumped into a larger container in preparation for boiling and turning all that sap into syrup. Last year I produced sixteen ounces of syrup and and it took about four gallons of sap. I don’t pay any attention to sugar content like the pros have to do. My syrup was amber and lovely and very sweet.
The next step is boiling the sap. It is a process best completed outdoors. I have such a tiny amount that I use a camping stove and a big pot. The sap should be boiled at 217 to 218 degrees, so it’s helpful to have a thermometer. My process is admittedly a bit sloppy. Storage is in sterile jars.
The amount of information available in books videos or online is nearly limitless. In addition, River Bend Nature Center has a syrup operation each spring. It is interesting to head out there and watch. Keep an eye out for announcements that the season has started at the nature center, it’s one of their spring events.