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Now is the time to tap your sugarbush. Obviously, this isn’t a post for big producers with miles of plastic tubing and a forest of sugar maples. This is for anyone who has a couple or even a solitary sugar maple, and would like to have some true maple syrup.
Most innocents who drive to the supermarket for maple syrup return with a bottle of “maple flavored syrup” or “pancake syrup” containing, at best, a mixture of maple syrup and something else — most likely high fructose corn syrup. Whatever it is, the syrup is dark, has a maple flavor and pours nicely on waffles and pancakes. But if you tap your own tree and boil down the sap, you’ll discover the taste of true maple syrup. You’ll produce a range of colors and you may decide — it’s a matter of taste, of course — that a light golden syrup has a taste even finer than an amber or topaz color.
As you can see in the photo above, the bark of the sugar maple, though rough and irregular, has distinctive flat plates. If the tree is at least 10 or 12 inches in diameter, you can make one tap hole, and you can make another tap for every additional 8 inches in diameter. If you’re not so good at estimating diameters, run a tape measure around the tree and if it’s more than 32 inches around, you can take sap from it.
Drill a hole at a convenient height and go in about 2 or 3 inches, using a 7/16 inch bit. Next you put in your spout, called a spile, and hang a bucket to catch the sap that drips out. You could use any old piece of pipe, but you’ll probably be happier if you buy a few spiles from a sugaring supplier. And while your at it, you can buy a sap bucket with a cover to keep out falling rain or snow.
Now it does take a lot of sap to make maple syrup. In fact, as you boil down the sap you’ll discover that it takes about forty measures of sap to make one measure of syrup. But it’s worth it. If you’d like to try, you’ll find a number of websites with more information than we have room for. You’ll also discover that there’s a difference of opinion as to where, exactly, to place those taps and how to boil down the sap.
There’s probably a science to tapping sugar maples, but when you’re doing this as an amateur you enter a world of lore and legend, and when you meet another amateur, you immediately begin to discuss what kind of sugaring season this has been, how sweet or not the sap was, what color was showing when you decided to stop boiling down, and so forth. What we’ve described is simply the way we do it. Some hobbyists insist on boiling down the sap in big flat pans on a wood-fed fire out of doors. We just empty our sap buckets into our biggest pot and boil down on the kitchen stove.
We like this spring ritual and have a lot of fun doing it. We’re not in the recommendation business, so just go to your favorite search program and plug in the words, maple sap + maple syrup, or maple supplies. Good luck.