The Cheap and Easy Way I Tap My Maple Trees for Sugaring (video)

Hi everyone! I’m trying something a bit different today. We’ve been fortunate to have sunny and gorgeous weather around here the past few days, which means that it’s time to tap maple trees for sugaring.

This is the fifth year that we’ll be making maple syrup as part of a community effort that involves three properties, nine core households, and a fair number of visitors. We tap 32 sugar maples that surround our house.

While we use traditional metal spiles (taps) and buckets in the neighbors’ woods, we have a cheap-and-easy set up at our house using a lot of free and borrowed materials: plastic spiles and short segments of tubing lead to 4-gallon buckets placed on the ground. It doesn’t get much easier than this:

We’ll be tapping the remaining trees this weekend and collecting sap for the next month or so. This is always one of my favorite times of year because it gives us something to do and a reason to be outside during that last bit of winter that can so easily lead to cabin fever. Stay tuned for updates!


Posts on how to make maple syrup:

Our woods on a sunny day in mid-March: perfect for tapping.

Tapping Day

Saturday was tapping day, the day where we tapped more than 100 trees so that we can make maple syrup over the coming weekends.

I’ve decided that tapping day is one of my favorite days of this year. It doesn’t mark the actual start of spring, but it’s the clearest sign that spring is on its way. Tapping day is the beginning of the end of winter—a period of about 6 weeks during which the snow melts and everything that was buried starts to emerge.

I especially liked this tapping day because it was the first time I have been able to really be outside in quite a while. I had a nasty flu and am still recovering weeks later. I could only walk on snowshoes and carry buckets through the woods for so long, but it was a treat to be out and moving.

With the trees running as soon as we tapped them,  it won’t be long before we’ll be carrying buckets full of sap.

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Make Maple Syrup (Part 3): The Boil

Now that you’ve tapped your trees and collected sap, it’s time to make syrup!

The General Process

Boiling sap down to syrup sounds pretty easy—and it is—but there are a few things to be ready for in advance. First, it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. An average yield is about 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup, although the actual amount will vary depending on the sugar content of your sap (as well as whether you tapped any red maple trees—either accidentally or on purpose!). This means that an awful lot of water needs to be boiled off and the boiling process will take a long time. It also means that you’ll want to boil outside so that you don’t steam up your kitchen to the point that it resembles a sauna.

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Making syrup at the neighborhood sugar shack.

Continue reading “Make Maple Syrup (Part 3): The Boil”

Make Maple Syrup (Part 2): Tap Trees

As the days creep toward days above freezing, it’s time to tap trees and start collecting maple sap. In the previous post, you lined up the supplies that you’ll need: spiles, a cordless drill, a bit, containers, and a few other things.

Find the Trees

Of course, you’ll start by finding trees to tap. While you could probably make some type of syrup from just about any tree, the delicious syrup that you’ll actually want on your pancakes comes from sugar maple trees. Sugar maples have more sugar in their sap, which means that you’ll have to boil less sap to make syrup from a sugar maple than, say, a red maple.

Fortunately for me, this part of the world has tons of sugar maple trees.

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Tapping day at our neighborhood sugarbush.

Look for healthy trees that measure at least 10” in diameter (that’s about 32” around if you have a cloth tape measure) about 3–4 feet above the ground. Trees with large crowns, such as yard trees, and a south-facing exposure are even better. Continue reading “Make Maple Syrup (Part 2): Tap Trees”

Make Maple Syrup (Part 1): Get Ready!

Making maple syrup is the perfect activity to say “goodbye” to winter and welcome the muddy, messy of year that let’s us know that spring is here. This four-part series will cover what you need to know to get started making maple syrup.

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Yes, this series will include cookies!

How it Works

Maple syrup is concentrated from tree sap, which contains sugars that the tree uses to grow and develop. In the fall, while we’re busy taking photographs and enjoying glorious fall colors, the trees are hard at work moving carbohydrates (think: sugars!) and nutrients from the leaves down into their root systems to store them over the winter. Continue reading “Make Maple Syrup (Part 1): Get Ready!”

Project Get Out: Week 2

Project Get Out is my personal challenge to spend at least a half hour a day outside for the fall. Because even though I work in natural resources and write about the outdoors, I don’t get out nearly enough.

Woo-hoo! Just the fact that I’ve kept at this for two weeks is pretty impressive to me. I’m not always so great at following through on my crazy ideas (it’s hard when there are just so many many of them…), so it’s already a mini-victory.

Monday

Last Monday sucked, especially after Sunday. Sunday was the perfect fall day: sunshine, temps in the 70s, a mild breeze, and great colors.

After a weekend of amazing weather, Monday was bad. All gray. Not worth photographing.

Comparatively, Monday sucked. The high temperature fell from Sunday’s 79 to Monday’s 47. And it was a cold, drizzly, sloppy 47 degrees, and the only good thing about it was that I’d managed to plan ahead and cook cold-weather comfort foods like stuffed peppers and soup. So I found myself at home on Monday evening, realizing that I hadn’t been outside yet that day and that it would be getting dark in an hour or so. Could I get myself to go out?

I I bundled up, putting on my wool hat and a pair of knit gloves for the first time since spring… or at least early July (one sign I live in the UP: I keep these items in a drawer in the living room year-round, never bothering to pack them away).

I spent the next hour or so in my garden, tightening up a raised bed and then moving soil around to get it in place for next year. And, as usual, even though I dreaded going outside, it immediately felt good to be out and I didn’t feel cold at all.

Tuesday

Tuesday was kind of the same, although the weather wasn’t quite so dreary. I continued to move soil around (probably my favorite gardening activity…) and had the realization that a half hour each day in the garden could really add up over time. If I spent a half hour in my garden on weekdays, that would (in theory) add up to 130 hours per week. Just that teeny little bit of time everyday and  could get the equivalent of an extra 3 work weeks of garden labor every year. Of course that’s an overestimation of how much gardening I could really get done (since my garden is under multiple feet of snow for 4 months of the year), but it does illustrate how much one could get done by puttering away at something productive in the evenings (i.e., Blow up your TV!)

Wednesday

Cyclocross practice. That’s 30-40 minutes of self-induced torture riding beefy road bikes on gravel, grass, single track, and whatever else the weekly ringleader can come up with. But I love the sport because it speaks directly to my affinity for oddball, adventuresome sports and things that make me feel like I’m at least a little badass.

Just so you know what you’re missing of you don’t race cross:

Thursday

After work, I had a nice trail run with on of my best buds. It was interesting to see how many leaves had fallen since our run the previous Thursday, although there was still plenty of color to keep it pretty. If someone had told me a year or two ago that I would actually enjoy running with another person (something I’ve always avoided, and am still somewhat skeptical about in a lot of ways), I’d have had trouble believing it. But it is fun. I think the trick involved running slowly, so slowly that sometimes it feels like walking might be faster, because then you can goof off and have stupid conversations and laugh and look around and also still breathe and not gasp for air.

Friday

It turned out to be a big trails week. I hit them again for a short run on Friday (just enough to meet my half-hour minimum) and then hit the gym.

Saturday

Saturday was a bust; I spent all day inside. I went to a writers workshop for most of the day, where I at least wrote about being outside, although I didn’t take the time to get out since it  was dreary and gross.

Instead, I thought about my grapes and grape vines and also about grapes and grape vines growing up. I used to go over to a neighbor’s cottage in the fall when they weren’t around, pick grapes from vines sprawled out over a tall pile of bricks that served as a makeshift trellis, and sit at their picnic table and work on algebra homework. It did it multiple years, so that it felt like a small ritual. And then this year, because we had our first grapes, I remembered that because everything felt the same: the temperature, the strength of the wind, the smell of fall and leaves, the low sunlight filtering through clouds in the afternoon.

But better: no algebra homework!

Sunday

After being cooped up inside all day on Saturday (even after the workshop), I woke up Sunday and needed to move. So I ended up taking a walk as soon as I woke up, even though it was still dark and drizzling. A few of my coworkers have these light belts that they use for running in the dark— think of a high-powered headlamp that you wear on your waist, with a blinking red light on the back. We’ll, I’m too cheap to buy one, so this was my opportunity to see if I could just wear my headlamp around my waist instead.

The verdict? Yes, my headlamp strap can be adjusted so that I can wear my headlamp comfortably around my waist. But I’m not sure if it shines enough light, since I was walking on the road and didn’t really need it to find my way. But I’ll definitely try it again.

Walking early in the day had another advantage: I could spend the rest of the day guiltlessly lounging around the house in comfy workout clothes, reading books and being idle. It was wonderful. I napped. I journaled. I read most of a compilation of travel writing. I laid on the bed and looked out the window at a colorful maple. In the afternoon, the drizzle stopped and I rustled up enough energy to see what I could find in the garden.

More grapes. Another, my fourth, shopping bag full of them. (Bags 1-3 are in the freezer and slated to become wine!) And a surprise: I had to cut one of my three vines back this spring and so I didn’t think that it would produce anything. But it did: one single cluster of dark purple grapes, another variety than my other two vines. And these tasted the best of the three plants. They didn’t taste like table grapes from the store, and they weren’t sour like all the grapes I’ve ever picked off of vines. They tasted Grape. As in: they tasted just like grape jelly or grape juice or a even grape can of Jolly Good soda, which may have been my favorite flavor when I was 7. They tasted so Grape that I realized that I didn’t even know that grapes could taste that way; I just thought it the favor was fake, some vat of  purple gunk, industrially produced and used in Laffy Taffy. I had no idea that grapes could taste that way.

What’s next: blue raspberries?

Grapes!
Grapes! (Sorry to repeat this pic, but it’s just too fitting for this week’s post to pass up!)

What did you do outside this past week?