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How to Start Making Syrup on Your Land

General Jeannie Mongrain 17 Mar

The Basics of Sugaring Syrup

If you live around Lanark County, Ontario you know the Sap will be running soon. We are the Maple Syrup capital of Ontario after all!

Anyone can start sugaring. You don’t need a forest full of mature sugar maple trees. A sugar bush can be as simple as a few trees around your house or scattered throughout a small patch of woods. 

The Sap Run

Sugaring time usually runs from early March to early April, or when the nighttime temperatures are below freezing and the daytime temperatures are above freezing.

This freeze and thaw creates pressure, which allows sap to flow.

Although the sugar maple has the highest sugar content, any maple tree will produce sap for syrup. There are also four alternative trees that you can tap: birch, walnut, sycamore and sweet gum.

It’s worth tapping a tree even if all you’re going to do is drink the sap. Sap is delicious and loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

You might not have enough sap to make syrup, but during the season you’ll have really good water to drink with a tint of maple flavor.

maple syrup sugaring 3 pails

Tap Tips

Trees facing the warm afternoon sun tend to produce sooner than trees living deeper into the forest, although it’s difficult to predict which tree will do best, no matter its location. Some trees will give one year and then not at all the next.

There’s also a debate as to whether you should tap on the south or north side of the tree. No one has come to any conclusion, so feel free to try either or both ways.

To tap your tree, use a 5⁄16-inch bit, and drill a hole 1 1⁄2 to 2 inches deep, 36 inches above the ground (4 inches away and a few inches above any previous holes). Use one smooth, slightly upward motion to make a perfectly round taphole. (Less-than-round holes can leak.)

Use a stiff wire to fish out any sawdust lingering in the taphole. To seat the spile (also called taps or spouts) correctly,  gently tap it in with a light hammer until you hear a change in pitch.

You can place multiple spiles on trees depending on the diameter of the trunk. Do not tap trees less than 10 inches in diameter. Doing so can rob the tree of its essential carbohydrates. The ratio is as follows:

  • one tap for trees 10 to 17 inches in diameter
  • two taps for trees 18 to 24 inches in diameter
  • three taps for trees 25 inches and up

At the end of the season, remove the tap. Do not plug the taphole. Leave it open and let the tree heal itself.


A Sap Gathering

How you collect sap depends upon your sugar bush size. A smaller operation, with smaller volumes, piles with lids hanging below the spile would suffice.

However, larger operations typically use food-safe tubing eventually leading to a bucket. Tubing allows the sap to be collected without doing so manually.

Both systems are effective, and are typically chosen based on the size of your sugar bush. 

Making the Syrup

How you boil the sap also depends upon how much you’re collecting.

You may uses a large pot and an outdoor stove, finishing the syrup inside. Or if you have a very small amount you can do the entire process in your kitchen using a three-pan method.

Turning sap to syrup can take 12 hours to two days (depending on the amount of sap you’re boiling and your setup). You’re ready to take the pan off the heat when the syrup gets to 219 degrees.

Too many minerals in the sap, called niter or sugar sand, can cause sediment and a gritty-textured syrup. All is not lost, however. The niter will settle on the bottom and you can syphon the syrup out.

To cut down on niter, filter your sap halfway through cooking (or when the sap starts to turn amber) and then again when your syrup is finished using food-approved filters. These can be purchased through any maple syrup equipment vendor.

Keeping syrup hot as you’re filtering is a challenge because cooling syrup will clog up a filter. Keeping the syrup warm inside an insulated coffee urn will keep it at the proper temperature for filtering.

The spot is helpful for accurate pouring, as well.

Storing Your Syrup

Maple syrup keeps well. You can store it in the fridge and use it throughout the year. If any mold develops, skim it off and bring the syrup up to 190 degrees. Then pour it into a fresh bottle.

You can also bottle your syrup to make it shelf stable. Here’s how:

  1. Syrup should be between 190 to 200 degrees for successful bottling.
  2. Prepare your lids by soaking them in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes.
  3. Fill sanitized jars all the way to the top (no head space needed) with hot syrup.
  4. Carefully remove the lids and place them on top of the jars. Secure with rings if using canning jars.
  5. Lay the bottles on their sides and jars upside down in order to further sanitize the lids.

Sugaring is possibly the easiest gardening you’ll ever do. There’s no weeding, no planting if you already have trees, and the season only lasts a few weeks.

A few inexpensive supplies are all you need to get started with sugaring. But most of all, there’s something so wonderful about looking at a maple tree from your kitchen window in the deepest winter, and knowing that soon you’ll have your first taste of spring.


Read the full article by Sharon Biggs Waller here.