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sap tap in maple treeTap Mother Nature to Make Maple Syrup
by Staff Writer

If you have access to maple trees with a diameter of at least 10 inches, why not make your own delicious maple syrup? The process is simple and requires little specialized equipment. Once the trees have been selected and the sap starts to run, you are ready to tap your trees and begin collection. The accumulated sap is boiled down until it becomes syrup and is ready for bottling. Do you have what it takes to collect and boil 10 gallons of sap into 1 quart of heavenly maple syrup?

So how do you know which trees to select and when to tap? All maple trees can be used to produce syrup, but Sugar Maple trees are most commonly tapped. This is because sap from the Sugar Maple has the highest sugar content -- typically 2 to 3 percent. Selected trees should be at least 10 inches in diameter, appear healthy, and have a broad crown. Depending on your climate, sap flows during late winter and early spring when the nights are freezing and the days begin to warm. Starches in the sap are converted to sugars when the tree’s internal temperature is between 40 and 45 degrees.

The tap is the only specialized piece of equipment that must be purchased unless you choose to make your own out of wood or metal. Bore a 7/16" wide, 2" deep hole in the tree at a slight upward angle. Exercise caution when pounding in the tap so the tree doesn't split. Trees with a diameter of 10 to 19 inches should only have one tap, 20- to 24-inch trees can have two, and trees with a diameter of 25 inches or more can have three.

maple syrup drenched pancakesAny type of container can be used to collect the sap; plastic buckets, metal pails, and clean milk jugs work well. Regardless of the container selected, it is important to keep sap protected from rain and insects. Sap will sour if it gets too warm or is stored for too long, so it should be collected daily and kept cold until processing. Once you have a sufficient amount of sap saved, it's time to boil it down into syrup.

Sap is boiled to evaporate water, thereby increasing the percentage of sugar in the mixture. Because sap is 97 percent water, prepare yourself for many hours of boiling. When the sap first starts to boil measure the temperature; this is the boiling point of water at your altitude. As the water evaporates, continue adding
additional sap and boiling. When the liquid begins to darken and thicken, you are approaching the end of the process. Once the temperature of the boiling mixture reaches 7.1 degrees above your first reading, the syrup has reached the proper concentration of sugar -- 66.9 percent. Be prepared to boil 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.

Now that you have made your first batch of tantalizing maple syrup, it needs to be prepared for storage. It can be filtered immediately after removing it from the heat and bottled in sterilized jars, or it can be allowed to cool and settle. Once the sediment has settled completely, the syrup can be reheated to 180 degrees and bottled. Properly bottled maple syrup will last over a year without refrigeration. If the sap was over-boiled, sugar crystals can form, but this will not affect the flavor or safety of your syrup.

This article only covers the basic steps required to produce and store maple syrup, but I hope it inspires your interest. If you don’t have maple trees in your backyard, keep an eye out for real maple syrup products. There are numerous family-run businesses that have been bottling syrup the same way for over 100 years.