Midwinter cold got you down? With daytime high temperatures above 32 degrees F, and nighttime lows below 32, now is the time to consider tapping Maples.
Most commercial maple syrup producers have begun or are in the midst of tapping maples.
At one time, the thought was to only tap Sugar Maples because they tend to have a higher sugar content in the sap, usually between 2 and 3 %. But there is a growing interest to tap Red Maple, Black Maple, Norway Maple, and Silver Maple which can have sugar contents ranging from 1 to 2 %. The lower the sugar content, the more sap is required to make syrup and the longer it can take to boil.
Here's a short video to tell the difference between Sugar and Red Maple:
A great fact sheet from The Ohio State University is “Hobby Maple Syrup Production”:
The above fact sheet helps the hoppy producer from selecting trees, to tapping, to selecting the right spiles and buckets, to collecting, and cooking the sap to make syrup.
Here are some steps to consider:
- Select “Maple” trees to tap. Maples have opposite buds. Speaking from experience, when my class was tapping trees one of my students tapped an Oak – “No sap!”
- Purchase spiles for tapping. The smaller the spile, the better it is to the health of the tree. The preferred spout is the 5/16 in metal or plastic.
- Purchase “food grade” tubing and buckets.
- When the sap is running, check every day or 2. Sap is perishable and will spoil if not processed or refrigerated. It will begin to degrade above 32 degrees F. If the sap looks cloudy or has an odor, throw it away!
- Boiling sap can be done using a turkey fryer and pot. Other evaporators are available for purchase. Don’t boil sap in your kitchen unless you want to repaint your walls or ceiling.
- Remember, it takes 45 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. A lot of sap makes very little syrup. And that takes a ton of gas, electric, propane, oil or wood. Don’t do maple to save money. They call it “Hobby” for a reason!
- This is a great “Family” activity.
Earlier in my career, when I was teaching elementary school, my fourth-grade classes ran a sugar bush on school grounds in their land lab. We identified Sugar Maples in the fall and tagged them. We usually tapped sometime after Martin Luther King Day and collected sap through Presidents Day and beyond. All the sap was cooked by ‘yours truly’ in the staff kitchen. It was long hours watching pots. By the way, when the sap gets close to being syrup, it goes very quickly. I embarrassed to say I set the school fire alarm off once. I made it up to the fire department by cooking them a pancake breakfast. Our 4th grade project concluded with a pancake breakfast that had students compare imitation to real maple syrup. I’m still amazed more than half like imitation.
Perry Middle School 4th graders did win 1st place in the Hobby Class for the Geauga County Maple Festival. Myself and students even got to ride in the parade!
So, bundle up, get out there and tap. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of work, but a small, sweet reward in the end.