Making maple syrup at home is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time; however, living in the midwest, I wasn’t sure if it was something we could pull off. You see, our spring season is very unpredictable from one year to the next and the temperatures need to be in the right “zones,” both morning and evening, in order for sap to flow. In Iowa, some years we’ve experienced frigid cold temperatures until the middle of April while other years we’ve seen a heatwave ensue in early March. In order for sap to flow, daytime temperatures need to rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures need to fall below freezing. Generally the sap starts to flow between mid-February and mid-March.
Besides our unpredictable Midwest temperatures, another battle was finding a tree nearby to tap. That’s right, we’re urban homesteaders so we don’t have a backyard woodlot filled with trees. I’ve learned that it is very important to be located near the tree you tap so that you can empty your bucket when it fills. Depending on the temperatures and the sap flow, you may need to empty your bucket 1 to 2 times per day.
I’m happy to say that besides some of these odds, we did it! We made our own maple syrup at home!
Well… my Papi did most of the work. My Papi has this ginormous hard maple tree in his backyard that I’d been wanting to tap for a few years now. He never wanted to for fear that it would introduce an infection to the tree and possibly kill it. Since becoming the boys’ science teacher, he changed his tune when they asked him if they could make syrup from his tree. Okay, so maybe the boys had a little prodding from me, but it worked, nonetheless!
Since the boys asked, he couldn’t say no!
I was excited to see my Papi take off with this science project for the boys. After a lot of research, he found out exactly what to do to maintain the health of the tree and how much sap we could expect to collect. Before I continue, I want to let you all know that we are not expert tree tappers and that this was our first time collecting sap and making maple syrup in the city. Next year, my Papi and I are already planning a more refined process
Sugarin’ In the City – Collecting Sap
The first thing my Papi did was purchase a maple syrup tap spile kit from Amazon. Since it was our first time, we didn’t want to go all out and purchase something too expensive – this was a very affordable way to tap a tree.
We decided to start this season with 2 taps. Our tree was big enough for 3. With the help of the boys, my Papi drilled two holes 1 1/2″ deep, with a vertical slant upwards, into the south side of the tree. He also drilled a hole into the tree to hold our 5 gallon bucket, which we realized wasn’t a good idea. That was another hole which ended up leaking sap which went uncollected.
Once the holes were drilled, the spiles were inserted into the tree and the tubes were then connected and inserted into the bucket. My Papi had drilled 2 holes into the bucket lid for the tubing which kept the debris out.
That was seriously, it. Once the spiles were in place and the tubing was placed into the bucket, the sap started to flow.
Depending on the temperatures, the sap would flow more on some days than others. We had a bit of a heat wave come through which halted the sap flow all together. After it passed and the weather cooled, the sap started to flow again. It was really neat to see how the rise in temperature really does stop the sap from flowing. Once the temperatures get too warm, the season to harvest sap is over.
It seems that we were harvesting about 5 gallons of sap per day from the 2 taps. Keep in mind, our third hole was flowing as well. All together we ended up with 26 gallons of sap.
Sugarin’ In The City – Making Homemade Maple Syrup
Making the syrup was just as easy as collecting the sap. It just takes a LOT of time and patience.
Our setup was very simple. We used my large stockpot and our paella burner to boil the sap outdoors. I wish we could have had a huge fire going which would have sped up the process, but again, you live and learn and we did the best we could being in a residential neighborhood.
To start the process the boys (and the rest of the kids) took turns straining the sap into the stockpot.
Once we filled it, we started it boiling on the paella burner. To get a rolling boil, we had to cover it which still allowed ample steam to escape and the sap to condense.
Once the sap would condense, my Papi would add more to the pot. He kept this going for 2 days. All together we boiled 13 gallons of sap and still had another 13 that we just didn’t have time to get to. Like I said, this was our first time making maple syrup at home and next year, this is the part of the process that we’re going to refine.
We ended up making about 3 pints (6 cups) of pure maple syrup which tastes better than anything I’ve ever purchased at the store. As you can tell our syrup turned out dark – It’s deep, rich, and sweet as candy.
What’s next? A waffle party of course! As a family, we’re planning a giant waffle making party to enjoy our homemade syrup. This gathering will have made all of the effort completely worth it!
Thanks, Papi for being such a great science teacher to the kids. We love you.
Have you ever made maple syrup at home? Do you have any tips to share with me on how to better boil sap in the city? Please share with us your experience in the comments below.