Sugarin’ In The City – Making Maple Syrup at Home

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Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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!

Sugarin' In The City - Making 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

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

That was seriously, it. Once the spiles were in place and the tubing was placed into the bucket, the sap started to flow.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

To start the process the boys (and the rest of the kids) took turns straining the sap into the stockpot.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |


Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |


Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |


Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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.

Sugarin' In The City - Making Maple Syrup at Home |

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.

19 Responses to "Sugarin’ In The City – Making Maple Syrup at Home"
  1. Sarah Z says:

    This is fascinating! Do you have to have a special kind of maple tree to do it?

    • Diana Bauman says:

      Sarah, I think you can use any maple but I think the hard maple has a higher sugar content. I personally have 2 soft maple’s at my home that I’m going to try to tap next year to see how they taste. I also have a local friend that taps walnut trees and she say’s the syrup is amazing!

  2. We bought a cheap metal spile from Indian Creek Nature Center near Cedar Rapids. it had a metal hook for hanging a bucket — no extra hole with leaking sap!

  3. Judy says:

    Wow! Totally cool thing to do.

  4. Whitney Severson says:

    My husband was just talking about asking our neighbor if we could tap her tree! I think I will share this with him. :)

    Great post, and what a fun memory for your children! :)

  5. Leslie says:

    The sap you did not use could be used as water in a soap recipe. For future reference. Sounds like a wonderful & delicious experience for your family; good job boiling to just the right point.

  6. Bonni Holmes says:

    We live on 1/3 of an acre in the middle of a small town. Actually, I can see the town hall and church from our house. We tap 9 trees on our property and our neighbor’s property. This year we collected 90 gallons and produced 1 gallon and 5 pints. It took two days over a fire. We have a fireplace in the back yard that my husband constructed out of field stone and he put a chimney in and we use the top of an old cast iron wood stove. It is pretty intense to keep the fire going hot enough to keep it all at a rolling boil. We feed the fire every 30 minutes and add new sap as they boil down. This is our third year. We love it.

    • sharri says:

      Hi I see its a 2 day boiling down process…do you turn it off at night to ho yo sleep or what is the process?

      • Diana Bauman says:

        Sharri, our temps dropped low at night so we were able to turn off the heat and let it sit outdoors overnight. We started it up again bright and early the next morning and finished late that evening.

    • Diana Bauman says:

      That’s great, Bonnie! Yeah, it was fun. Next year we definitely plan on doing this again, we would just like to make some sort of wood stove using bricks. We’ll see!

  7. That’s so awesome! I remember that maple tree from the times Jon and I have been at your Papi’s house. So cool how you guys were able to do that!! I bet that maple syrup was delicious!!

  8. Tami O'Brien says:

    Your story touched my heart. What a wonderful thing to do for science class!
    I grew up in a small village in upstate New York. Our neighbors had a small farm on which they did Everything, including tapping all the trees in town! Every spring, my brother & I would “help” the neighbors collect and cook. Morris had a tractor and a flatbed trailor on which he had a livestock watering tank that had a mesh screen over it. All us kids would jump on board and head into town. Morris would stop and we’d jump off, grab the buckets and pour the sap into the tank. He used the metal spiels with the hooks for the buckets. The buckets themselves were galvanized steel, about 2 or 3 gallons (this is going way back in my memory). The buckets also had little “roofs” on them; a simple sheet of steel bent into an angle with curled under edges that hooked onto the top of the bucket. After collecting the sap we’d head back to the sugar shack. I cannot begin to describe the smells! First, of course the operation was fueled with wood, so the cool, spring air carried the scent of the fire to greet us at the driveway. Next, just the smell of the huge wall of firewood. Then, of course, as we entered the shack, the maple would delight us kids as if we had just entered a candy store. The vessel they used to cook in was quite complicated with shutes and dividers, all shiny metal. It was always toasty warm in there and Nola would reward the helpers with a piece of maple candy or a sample of syrup. Nola oversaw the cooking process, I remember, if things got too hot and boiling too rapidly, she would pour in a little milk to calm things down. Don’t ask me what the milk did, it was just one of the many wonders that Nola knew of. My family had three large maple trees I our yard and every year we would receive a pint of the best maple syrup ever. We would try to make it last all year, I don’t believe we ever did though. The anticipation of next years run was probably even better than having syrup the whole year through.

  9. Jennifer says:

    This is awesome! You never cease to amaze me with all of the great experiences you provide your kids and share with us on your blog! Now I’m researching maple trees for the Tx coast!!

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