Category Archives: Tapping Maple Trees

Making Maple Syrup

It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since we last tapped maple trees and made our maple syrup. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really been a whole year. While I didn’t remember the exact date that we tapped trees last year I was able to review the post I wrote about it, and I discovered that last year we tapped the trees on February 13th. Last year’s sap flow was considered early and we read that some syrup producers actually missed the season because the were not expecting the season to come so soon.

It was only January 20th according to the calendar but nature doesn’t necessarily go by the calendar. Despite the brutal cold we have had this winter we had been watching the forecast and preparing for the sap season to start. This is only our third year making syrup, so we don’t have much experience to go by, but since temperatures were forecast to be in the high 30’s and low 40’s Fahrenheit (between 3 and 7 degrees Celsius) 7 out of the next 10 days we thought this might be the right time. My husband thought that it would be a good idea to do a few test taps to see if the sap was flowing. So we took supplies for four taps to the farm.

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January 20, 2017

 

The day was very reminiscent of the day we tapped last year. The sun was shining, there was still a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the pond was mostly still frozen.

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Happy Hens

 

The chickens were happy to be out scratching , pecking and even dusting themselves.

 

My husband and I worked together, taking turns drilling the holes and setting the taps.

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First Drop Of Sap

 

When the sap began running within seconds of being tapped we knew we were on the right track. After setting the first four, we went home, gathered the supplies and returned to set the remaining 13.

A couple days after tapping the trees the high temperatures again stayed below freezing so no sap was flowing. Then we had a couple more day where temperatures reached into the 40’s F so the sap began to flow again. By Friday my husband determined that he had collected enough sap to make syrup. We would cook it Saturday.

My husband had the cooking station set up in the driveway. Because cooking sap produces so much steam cooking it the house would be a horrible mistake, and we are not equipped with a sugar shack so we do it much the way we imagine our ancestors  would have – outdoors over a wood fire.

The fire pit is simple – made of two layers of concrete blocks on three side

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He spaces the concrete blocks so that the shallow stainless steel pan sits on the edges of the blocks. We build the fire within the blocks and continually feed wood into it from the open side.

 

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We used a mixture of hardwood limbs and logs that we had cut on the farm and some scrap lumber my husband had picked up from the local sawmill. We began cooking the sap around 11:30 A.M. and by 4:30 P.M. we had reduced the estimated 23 gallons of sap  to the point that we could finish it on our kitchen stove.

Before cooking it on the stove we poured it through a sieve to remove some of the ash that was floating in it. I then brought it back to a boil and continued cooking it until it reached 7 degrees above the boiling point on the candy thermometer 219 degrees F.

Filtering the sugar sand out of the syrup is something that we have struggled with the past two years, so I decided to pay close attention to the temperatures while doing this. I let the syrup cool to between 180 and 190 F. For a filter I used one layer cheese cloth with one layer of felt placed on top of it. I placed the two layers together in my canning funnel then poured the syrup through the fabric lined funnel directly into the jar.

After pouring each jar I needed to change the filter, so I put the pan of syrup back on the stove over a low flame so I could maintain the proper temperature. The syrup flowed easily through the filters. I sealed each jar as soon as it was poured. We ended up with just a very small amount of sugar sand in the bottom of the jars. There is no harm in eating sugar sand as it is said to be made up of calcium salts and malic acid, so filtering out this sand is purely for aesthetic reasons (it does look like muck in the bottom of the jar).

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Even though once sealed the syrup should not spoil, I like to bottle the syrup in wide mouth mason jars, because as long as I leave the proper amount of head space the syrup can be stored in the freezer.  We ended up with nearly four pints of beautiful, sweet maple syrup.

What the rest of the maple syrup season will bring is anyone’s guess. Our weather forecast for the next 10 days shows daytime temperatures below freezing for all but one day, so we are not expecting the sap to run again for a while. When the temperatures do warm again, if the trees bud out quickly the sap will turn milky and is not good for making syrup, so we are grateful that we tapped the trees early and at least have some syrup this year.

I also made an interesting observation as I looked back at my post from last year, “The Sap is Flowing and the Hens are Laying”.   Again this year, as we tapped the maple trees we noticed that the hens have began laying more eggs. For five or six weeks we were getting an average of four eggs a day, this was enough to keep us in fresh eggs through the winter. On January 20, the day we tapped trees, we collected six eggs, then over the next week the amount increased so that we have collected 12 eggs each of the last two days. I honestly expected that the increase in egg production was more related to the number of hours of daylight and similarly to last year would occur in the middle of February. Perhaps it is more about the warmer temperatures we have been enjoying, I’m really not sure, but I do think I will attempt to track these two events in future years to see if they continue to coincide.

Until next time be well. 🙂

 

 

The Sap Is Flowing and The Hens Are Laying

Over the weekend, as we looked ahead at the 10 day weather forecast and saw that 8 out of 10 days were predicted to have high temperatures above freezing, we decided it was time to tap maple trees. Here is the link to my past from last year about tapping maple trees. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/02/20/tapping-maple-trees/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

So yesterday, (Monday, February 13) we set a total of 18 taps (and buckets) in 8 maple trees at our farm. It seems early to be tapping the trees, but the sap began flowing as soon as the taps were in place. I guess, like many things farming related, weather conditions mean more than the date on the calendar. We also set up a fire pit where the sap will be boiled down.

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Today, after lunch, we went to the farm to collect the sap. When all 18 buckets were emptied we had collected 10 gallons of sap. Our plan is to collect the sap for the next couple of days before we begin boiling it down. Our intention is to leave the taps in place, and continue to collect sap and make syrup, as long as the sap runs clear. When the sap turns cloudy maple syrup season is finished.

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Throughout the month of December the chickens’ egg production gradually slowed, and through the month of January we only collected one or two eggs per day. Last week we began getting 5 or 6 eggs daily and now we are up to 8 or 9. As the days grow longer, and the chickens enjoy more sunny days, egg production will continue to increase. This makes feeding the hens all winter worth while.

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The bees were out today when the afternoon temperature climbed to around 50 degrees. I don’t think there was anything for them to forage, but at least they could take a cleansing flight. Later this week when temps get back into the 50’s we will check their food supplies and feed them if necessary. We do have honey and wax reserved for them so we do not have to feed them sugar water. We did lose one hive earlier this winter. We could not determine the reason for the loss, as the hive was not full of dead bees. At this point it seems as if the three remaining hives are okay, and we plan to start two new hives in May. We will also capture swarms to if the opportunity arises.

Regardless of the date on the calendar, or the groundhog’s prediction, all signs on the farm are pointing to an early spring.

Making Maple Syrup

The warm temperatures on Friday and Saturday were great for sap flow, so by the end of the day Saturday my husband had collected approximately 10 gallons or 40 quarts of sap. While collecting the sap from the sap buckets into plastic 5 gallon pails he filtered the sap through a honey filter that sits in the top of the 5 gallon bucket. This removed any solids that found their way into the sap. Overnight temperatures were cool enough to store the sap outside without it spoiling.

Yesterday morning he set out for the farm with the equipment he needed for cooking the sap. I didn’t get pictures of this part of the process yet, but hopefully I will as we collect and cook more sap. For equipment he took  a 30 quart stainless steel pot for cooking the syrup and a long handle stainless steel spoon for stirring. He also took a second pot that the hot syrup would be transferred to in order to bring it home. He packed a lunch for himself and some treats for Scout and Trooper.

Since we don’t have a sugar shack or sap house for processing the sap indoors, it was a blessing that the weather was favorable for keeping an outdoor fire going. In preparation for this my husband had constructed a special fire pit, in a high and dry location, and split several wheel barrels full of fire wood. He began his syrup making mission by getting the fire going around 10 A.M. with a goal of having some finished product by days end. Keeping the fire burning and the pot boiling were his main objectives. He first thought that boiling small amounts at a time (filling the pot 1/4 full) would speed up the process, but he quickly learned that each time he would add more cold sap the temperature would drop so dramatically that it would take 10-12 minutes to return to a boil. Realizing the whole pot was hot, he decided to fill he pot closer to the top and maintain the boil while adding only smaller amounts of sap as it boiled down. He said it took about two hours before it came to a rolling boil.

In mid afternoon he made a quick trip back to the house to bring Scout and Trooper (who apparently just wanted to lay in the van) and to grab some hot dogs that he could cook over the fire for dinner. At this point he was anticipating that it could be as late as 8 P.M. before he was done cooking down the sap.

Reality was that around 6 P.M., a long  eight hours after he began, and just in time for the chickens to be closed in their coop for the night, the sap had boiled down enough that the rest of the process could be done in the kitchen.

When he returned home we poured the cooked-down sap into a much smaller pan.

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Well On It’s Way To Becoming Syrup

We heated it for a few minutes before deciding this would be a good time to filter it. We had decided to use a juice (or jelly) bag, that I had on hand for filtering the “sand”(a byproduct of boiling sap) out of the syrup. This seemed to work well. We then returned the sap to a boil and watched closely as it continued to boil down. My husband also told me to take some bacon out of the freezer to cook with tomorrows waffles for breakfast.

Once it seemed to be thickening I put in a candy thermometer. It needed to be brought up to 219 degrees  fahrenheit or 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.

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Watching The Temperature Closely

While I watched the thermometer, my husband used a spatula dipped in the syrup to check for sheeting – the syrup forms a sheet on the spatula instead of running off in droplets.

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Woo Hoo! It’s Syrup!

When the syrup was sheeting on the spatula and the temperature reached 219 degrees, which happened about the same time, we poured the syrup into sterilized ball jars.

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A Little More Than 1 1/2 Pints of Syrup

Of course we had been tasting our product along the way, and I can honestly say that, while I don’t have a long history of tasting pure maple syrup, this is the best maple syrup that I have ever tasted.

This mornings breakfast menu included bacon and blueberry waffles, (with frozen blueberries from last springs harvest and our farm fresh egg), and of course our own maple syrup. Yumm!

http://andersonsmaplesyrup.com/index.php?page=nutritionalinformation  This link has some really good nutritional information about real maple syrup.

While we don’t call it a bucket list, making maple syrup has certainly been on our to-do list for quite a long time and we are thrilled that we have done it. 🙂

Since the weather has cooled again the sap is not flowing, this weird weather pattern has only left us wondering when the next sap will flow and how much syrup we might end up with this year. But in the mean time we have realized why real maple syrup costs so much.

Tapping Maple Trees

We have been using a lot of maple syrup lately. It’s delicious on our French toast or waffles that we have been having for breakfast several times a week, but have you shopped for maple syrup lately? I’m talking about real maple syrup not, the corn syrup that is flavored up to taste like maple syrup. It’s expensive. So much so that we have recently opted for the fake stuff in effort to keep our grocery bill down. Real maple syrup has truly become a delicacy. A quick check at the Walmart website showed me prices ranging from 54 cents up to 94 cents per ounce. 54 cents might not seem like much but you don’t buy just one ounce. 12 ounces at 54 cents is $6.48, a quart which is 32 ounces at 54 cents would be $17.28, and a gallon which equals 128 ounces at 54 cents per ounce comes to $69.12. Keep in mind those are the low end prices; at 94 cents an ounce a gallon would cost over $120.

So considering this, and that fact that we have had the equipment needed for tapping the trees and collecting the sap, stored in our shed for the past few years, tapping some maple trees was a no-brainer.

We have been watching the weather forecast for about the last two weeks, since sap flow is dependent on the weather. Basically sap flows from trees that are still dormant when temperatures rise above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night. For a thorough explanation click here   http://maple.dnr.cornell.edu/produc/sapflow.htm    Since todays temperature was forecasted to be in the high 40’s or low 50’s and daytime temperatures for the next week to be mostly above freezing, it seemed like a good day to get the trees tapped.

After breakfast, we started out by tapping some sugar maples.

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Tapping A Sugar Maple

We used manual drill, and when I did the tapping of one of the trees I was surprised at how easy it was to drill the hole. A few things to note about drilling are that it should be done at a slight upward angle and drilled no more than 2 inches into the tree. I’m not sure if you can see in the picture that the drill bit had a piece of tape on it to mark the 2 inch mark. Recommended height is a height that is comfortable, so reaching up or bending down is not necessary. Also the ideal spot is one that has not been previously tapped and has no visible scars.

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Spile In Place

After drilling the hole the spile is tapped into the hole. Again I was somewhat surprised at how easy it was. It only took a few gentle taps with a light hammer and the spile was securely in place.

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Sap Bucket Hanging From Spile

The next step was to hang the sap bucket. The bucket has a small hole in it, and the spile has a hook below the spout that is designed to hold the bucket. When the bucket is hung from the hook the spout then reaches over the top edge of the bucket. When the sap flows from the tree it runs down the spout and into the bucket.

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Sap Bucket With Lid

The final step in the tapping process is to install the lid. Fortunately we had figured out how to assemble these a few days prior to doing the tapping, as it was a bit of a puzzle. The back edge of the lid is folded over but cut out in the center. There is a very thin metal rod that gets inserted through the first half of the fold. It then goes through two holes that were drilled into the top of the spile, then lastly through the second half of the fold on the lid. At this point the lid is secured to the spile, and it only rests on the lip of the bucket. The lid sits on an angle and has quite a bit of overhang, so it does serve to keep rain, potential snowfall, and anything else falling from above, out of the bucket. It does not sit tight on the bucket, so there is still a chance that things such as bugs or anything coming at it from the proper angle might get in. Those things can be filtered out later. This design allows for the bucket to be removed from the spile, for empting, without having the lid in the way. A very clever design.

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Some Trees Can Have More Than One Tap

http://maple.dnr.cornell.edu/FAQ.htm  gives this information to determine how many taps a tree can support.  “How many taps should you have on a maple tree?
A healthy tree 10-17 inches in diameter (31-53 inch circumference) should have no more than one tap. A tree 18-24 inches in diameter (57-75 inch circumference) should have no more than two taps. A tree larger than 25 inches in diameter (79-inch circumference) should have no more than three taps.”

 

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Tapping A Sugar Maple

We put half of our 18 buckets on sugar maples, but we also wanted to tap our silver maples at the farm. While silver maples indeed produce sap, it is said that they are not idea because the sugar content is lower than that of the sugar maple, thus requiring more sap to make the syrup. They also bud out earlier, therefore they have a shorter sap flow season.

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Silver Maple

The first thing we noticed when tapping the silver maples was that the sap began to flow immediately when the tree was drilled. Because it is clear it doesn’t show up in this picture, but there is sap coming out.

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Tapped Silver Maple

Unlike sugar maples that have a single large trunk growing straight up, the silver maple tends to have many trunks growing from near ground level. They grow outward on an angle. Because of this the buckets do not hang very straight. They will need to be emptied more often to prevent the sap from spilling over the side.

Upon seeing the sap run from the tree my husband tasted it. This was no surprise to me since he has a long history of tasting sap. As a kid he worked for a neighborhood maple syrup operation, and ever since I’ve know him, whenever he sees sap coming out of cut wood, even if it’s burning in the fire place, he dips his finger in the sap and tastes it. When he tasted the sap from the silver maple he responded with “it’s sweet, it has good sugar content.” I then tasted then sap and learned that my palate is not as refined as his. To me it tasted like water with just the slightest hint of sweetness. This makes sense to me because the sugar content of the sap from and sugar maple is reported only to be between 2 and 3% and the sugar content of the silver maple sap is  between 1.5 and 1.75%.

 

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Curious Creatures

As with most things we do at the farm the chickens had to investigate. (and who doesn’t love a good chicken picture)

Tapping the trees is only the beginning, and I might add the easy part, of making syrup. With that statement I must correct the comments made on my earlier post. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/02/17/can-you-guess-what-we-are-doing/   Erin’s comment was, “Dad says gathering maple syrup” and I replied “Dad is correct”. What I should have said is that dad has the gist of what we are doing, but technically (and I’m sure Dad knows this) you don’t simply gather maple syrup from a tree. The sap buckets will be checked at least twice a day, and the sap that is collected in the buckets will only become syrup after a long boiling process. It will take 40-50 gallons of sap to boil down into one gallon of syrup. So as we continue to collect sap and make syrup I will post updates on our progress. I hope you will check back to see how it goes.