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This year’s maple sap run was modest at best. Unfortunately, the significantly lower amount of snow combined with mediocre rain in October and November last had a negative affect on the sap run. Normally, one can expect about one-half gallon of syrup per tree; this year we tapped all seven trees in the back yard yet that only yielded 2 ½ gallons of syrup. Another contributing factor was unseasonably warm weather, 65-70 degree daytime temps, for about a week a few days into the run. Optimum conditions are 40-45 degree daytime temps with sun and overnight lows in the mid to upper 20s. You can usually expect the sap to start running when these conditions commence, in our neck of the woods this is typically the beginning of March and possibly very late February. A normal run is 2-3 weeks and ceases when the tree buds begin to open. While the sap may continue to run sporadically for another week or so, if the sap becomes cloudy (even before the tree buds open), it is over. The sap should be crystal clear.
One does not have to have sugar maple trees to make maple syrup; there are 7 or 8 different varieties of maple tree and any maple tree will do; we have a variety known as Norway maple. The Sugar maple tree is typically preferred because of the higher sugar content of the sap. There are books available on maple syrup production for anyone interested but it is not rocket science. First, most sources will tell you that maple syrup is only produced in the NE part of the country; a bold faced lie. Any area where the tree is subjected to full dormancy is the only necessary condition, i.e. where a typical winter (snow and below freezing temps for an extended period) is common. Next, they say you have to have sugar maples; another lie like I just wrote. Then, they will tell you that you need all of this extraneous equipment; more BS. What you do need are the proper taps and a 7/16” drill bit (see photo).
Another thing you need is something to hang from the tap; like a bucket. We have buckets that I think are designed for this (see photo); these buckets have a flat side and an atypical handle; these buckets are not expensive, I purchased them at a farm supply store on sale for $4.00 each. Then, the only other necessary gear required is a large and a small pot and a stove; both large and small pots are used simultaneously when cooking down the sap and “finishing off”. Finishing off is then completed by filtering the sap through multiple layers of cheesecloth to ensure no sediment accumulates at the bottom of the jar. The sap is about 95% water; the water is boiled off reducing it to a syrup. Experience is the best teacher here and since my Connie does the cooking portion which is the important part (I am just the grunt that taps the trees and collects the sap), she can explain better than I how to “finish off” the syrup. Proper placement of the tap and drilling the hole are also important. The tap should be located on the southern portion of the tree, 3-5 feet above the ground, and the hole must be drilled at a slightly upward angle (about 10-15 degrees). I have found that 3-3 ½ feet is optimum. Also, the hole must be all the way through the bark into solid wood. I drill the holes as deep as a mark on the drill bit at 2 1/2”. Sometimes lose bark has to be chipped away to facilitate proper hole placement and drilling; I use my hatchet for this.
While the drill bit is a standard 7/16” drill bit that can be purchased at any store that sells drill bits, the taps are a different story. The taps are only available from certain specialty outlets such as Lehman’s: http://www.Lehmans.com.
Maple trees are not the only species of tree one can make syrup from either. Syrup can be made from just about any hardwood tree including Birch. There is a caveat though; any tree that is tapped for syrup production must be a minimum of 12” in diameter and should be healthy. The tree has to be that size to withstand the loss of sap from the process. It takes about 10 years for the holes to fully close; consequently, on subsequent years the holes should be drilled at least 6” above or below AND 3” left or right of any old holes. It is also a good idea to allow your tree to rest for a year every 3 or 4 years.
That is really all there is to making your own maple syrup. Because of this experience, Connie & I have learned a few other things. I have included a few other photos. The two jars of syrup are from the beginning and the end of the run. The small, half full jar contains syrup from the beginning of the run; it is clearly lighter in color; this is grade AA. The full quart jar contains syrup from the end; noticeably darker; this is grade A/B “dark amber” syrup; this is what is pawned off in stores as “premium”. Another thing, the stuff in stores is considerably thicker than our syrup; I believe that even though the package may read “100% maple syrup” I think either corn syrup is added as a thickener or the syrup is boiled too much which causes it to crystallize; then it is “reliquified”. This additional cooking destroys any health benefits of the syrup; much like overcooking honey. One can only speculate what happens to the commercially produced first run syrup because it doesn’t seem to hit the store shelves.
While maple syrup does have a shelf life of about a year, unless it is initially stored in a sealed jar it should be refrigerated. It can be stored at room temp by immediately putting it in a Mason jar when still warm; the Mason jar will seal just from
the heat and subsequent cooling of the syrup.
That is all I have for now, have fun and good luck.
By Tim Siewert
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