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By now you’re plenty tired of winter and politics and economics, but it’s too early to go out to the garden to annihilate all that’s made, to a green thought in a green shade. But it is the right time to tap a sugar maple tree. Tapping a sugar maple, collecting the sap and simmering it down to rich, amber colored maple syrup — that’s just right for now. It means that winter is going, spring is coming.
First, find a sugar maple. Not just any old maple, but a maple with bark such as in the image we have here. That’s how you know it’s a sugar maple. Now, for equipment you you’ll need a 7/16” drill or auger to drill into the tree . Drill in about 2” or 3”. You need a 7/16” hole because of what comes next. Next comes a spile – a small tube or pipe-like object that fits nicely into the 7/16” hole. And 7/16” has been the standard since before anyone around her can recall. Next take a hammer and tap — gently! —the spile into the hole. And, of course, you’ll need a bucket to catch the maple sap dripping from the spile. We use buckets with little removable roofs over them to keep out rain or snow, but you could use old plastic gallon jug, so long as you can hang it from the hook under the spile.
Nature does the rest. Tapping the sugar maple doesn’t do it any harm. You shouldn’t tap a tree that’s less than 10 inches in diameter (31.4159 inches in circumference.) If the tree is, say, 18 inches in diameter (56.5 inches in circumference) you can put another tap on the other side of the tree.
Here’s the shocker. The ratio of sap to syrup is 40 to 1. That is to say, you need to collect 40 quarts of sap to boil down to 1 quart of syrup. We didn’t want to tell you any earlier for fear it would dishearten you. The photo on the right shows sap being boiled down to syrup. It’s a process that requires attention. When it begins, it’s as clear as water, but as you boil it down it slowly takes on a darker color. Then you pour in more sap, which lightens it a bit, then boil it down and so on. As you repeat that process it reduces to syrup. You’ve got to be careful toward the end. The syrup will be produced when you allow the temperature to rise about 7 degrees above the boiling point of water at your location. If you scorch it, there’s really no way to rescue it from the burnt taste it acquires. (more…)