It’s easy to pick up a bottle of maple syrup at the store, but have you ever considered making your own? Yes, it is a lot of work, but tapping your trees is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy nature’s bounty. And when you’re done, you’ll have the sweetest reward for your efforts. Of course, it can be tricky to know where to start. All you need is the right setup, a few tools, and a little patience.
How to Identify a Sugar Maple
The first step for homemade maple syrup is locating your trees. Homeowners with more mature trees might be pleasantly surprised to find that they have a sugar maple right in their backyard. Sugar maples can be recognized by their brown pointed buds, shaggy bark, and the five wide-lobed notches on their leaves. The Indiana DNR has a helpful guide to help you identify trees by their leaves.
Look to tap trees that are wider than 10 inches in diameter. If you don’t have any sugar maples available, you can also try tapping sycamores, box elders, or birch trees. They all produce sap as well, though the sugar maple will yield the most for your efforts—between 5 to 60 gallons of sap each year. It sounds like a lot, but 10 gallons are needed just to make one quart of maple syrup!
How to Tap Your Trees
The key to tapping your sugar maple tree is temperature. In order for the sugar maple sap to be good for making syrup, the daytime temperatures should reach about 40 F. In Indiana, the maple syrup season typically starts in February and wraps up in April. This is when an enzyme in the tree becomes active, transforming starch into sugar. Tap your trees during these ideal temperatures to get the best product. Follow these instructions for tapping trees:
- Drill a slightly angled hole upward into your tree, about 3 feet above the ground.
- Tap a spile (the drip spout) into the hole.
- Hang a sap bucket from the spile.
- Wait for the sap to drain. About 1 drop per second is a good pace.
- Collect the sap and store in a cool area.
Many of the tools needed for tree tapping can be found at your local hardware store. Or you may prefer to order them online.
How to Make Maple Syrup
Once you collect sap, it’s important to boil it off as soon as possible since sap can actually go rancid after 24 or 48 hours. Due to the large volumes of sap needed to make syrup, it may be easier to perform the initial steps outside over a fire pit. To transform sap in syrup, follow these directions:
- Strain your sap through cheesecloth to remove any impurities.
- Heat the sap to a strong boil so the water evaporates.
- Bring the last few gallons indoors to finish heating on the stove.
- Monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer—it should be ready at 219 F.
- Pour your maple syrup into sterilized jars and enjoy!
Does making homemade maple syrup sound like a fun project? Whether this labor-intensive endeavor is for you or not, you’ll want to keep all your trees (including maple trees) in good health. Ping’s Tree Service offers all the tree maintenance services you need to keep your trees healthy and beautiful…though you’re on your own with the syrup making!