March is the Time for Making Maple Syrup

Making maple syrup is a traditional right of spring, signaling the end of winter. Several species of maple trees grow in Michigan. Although all produce sap suitable for the production of maple syrup; two species, sugar maple and black maple are the source of sap for most commercial maple syrup production. Sap suitable for conversion into syrup may also be obtained from red and silver maples, although such sap usually has a lower sugar content.

**NOTE: The E. L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
is hosting “A Day in the Sugarbush Maple Tapping
this Saturday, March 15, 2014.
Details are noted at the end of this article**

Necessary Equipment

Collection-PailMaple syrup can be produced with a minimum of equipment, but a few standard items increase the efficiency of the operation and the quality of the product, including:

  1. A drill with a 7/16 or 1/2 inch bit for drilling tap-holes in trees.
  2. A metal or plastic collection spout for each tap-hole.
  3. A collection container (bucket or plastic bag) or tubing line for each tap-hole.
  4. A large pan and a heat source for boiling down the sap. The size needed will depend on how much sap you intend to handle.
  5. A large-scale thermometer, calibrated at least 15 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  6. Wool, Orlon or other filters for filtering finished syrup while hot.
  7. Storage containers for the finished syrup.

Tapping the Tree

TapTo obtain the earliest runs of sap, tapping should be completed by the first week in March in Michigan. Minimal trunk diameter for trees suitable for tapping is 10 inches at 4 feet above the ground.

To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk of the tree 2-4 feet above the ground in an area that appears to contain sound wood. At this point, drill a hole approximately 2-2.5 inches deep into the wood. Then insert a collection spout and tap lightly into the tree and attach a bucket or plastic bag or a tubing line to the spout. Open buckets used for sap collection should be covered to keep out rainwater, debris, insects and other foreign materials.

Collecting the Sap

Collecting-SapSap flow in maple trees will not occur every day throughout the tapping season. It occurs when a rapid warming trend in early morning follows a cool (below freezing) night.

To collect the sap from the tree, simply hang a bucket on the tap and watch the first few drips fall into the bucket. This should happen quickly, though there will be little drips that won’t amount to much at first. Place a lid over the bucket and let the sap continue to drip.

After a day or two, you can check to see just how far your sap collection has come. If you are satisfied with the progress, you can drain this bucket into a larger vat to take inside to start the syrup making process. Do not store the sap as it can spoil.

Turning Sap into Syrup

Syrup-KettleWhen you have a large quantity of sap, it’s time to cook it up to make the syrup. This is done by boiling the sap in a large pan on the stove as long as you have a vent fan and a dehumidifier on hand. When you boil sap, it can produce considerable moisture in the air. Professionals prefer to use outdoor gas ranges with large metal pans in order to avoid the moisture build up in their homes. There is also a hobby-sized evaporator available.

Boil the sap until it becomes thicker as the water boils off. You will need to continue to add sap to the pan, never letting the level get below 1-1/2 inches from the bottom of the pan.

As the sap is boiling, you need to skim off any foam that might be on the top. Using a candy thermometer, boil the sap until it is 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have reached this level, let the syrup completely cool. The sugar sand and other matter will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour off the good syrup into a glass bottle. Let it cool and you are ready to serve homemade maple syrup.

If you plan to can the syrup, make sure to can the syrup at 180 degrees Fahrenheit and pour into sterilized glass containers to prevent spoilage and contamination by bacteria.

Sugar-ShackIf you feel that making your own maple syrup is a task too daunting to undertake, you can visit the Bloomfield Hills’ E. L. Johnson Nature Center this Saturday, March 15, 2014 and participate in tapping the trees, collecting the sap and visiting the sugar shack to watch the boiling process that produces pure maple syrup. Then, you can visit the log home for a taste of nature’s sweetener!

For a guided tour, meet at the Visitor Center:

  • Tours are from noon to 4:00 pm.
  • Tours are scheduled every 20 minutes and last approximately one hour.
  • Pre-registration is suggested to reserve a specific time: click here for details

E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI; phone: 248-341-6485; website: http://naturecenter.bloomfield.org/

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