Every Spring in Northeast Minnesota during March or April there are a stretch of days - where the temperature is below freezing overnight and above freezing during the day - the sap "runs" in the trees.
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I am a Spring sugaring hobbyist, participating in the experience on a small scale. I enjoy the process with my children and the students in my kindergarten classroom as an educational experience each year.
If you want to try small scale Spring sugaring, or just learn about the process, follow this tutorial:
- Collection Buckets: Buckets are used to collect the sap as it drips from the tree. I use the aluminum buckets with metal lids from this great starter kit, but I have also used repurposed plastic milk cartons.
- Spiles: I use stainless steel spiles (taps). These are inserted into a drilled hole in the tree to transfer sap into the bucket
- Hammer: Used for securing the spile in the drilled hole.
- Drill: Used to tap a hole into your maple tree. This could be a hand drill or electric.
- Wire: I have found success securing buckets to the tree using a large loop of thin grade wire. This helps to prevent spilled sap and lost buckets in windy conditions.
- Storage Buckets: Used to store sap during the collection over the sugaring season. I use 2-5 gallon food-grade buckets with lids. Collected sap is perishable, so keep it cool by insulating it in the snow or shaded outdoor area.
- Cheesecloth: Used to pre filter any solids (such as pieces of bark) when transferring sap from the collection bucket to a storage container.
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- Evaporator Pan: A large shallow pan used to boil down sap outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
- Heat Source for boiling down sap: In my small scale endeavors I have used both an open fire and a propane fuel source, but have enjoyed the efficiency and cleanliness of a sturdy propane-fueled stove.
- Finishing Filters: Reemay pre-filters and wool finishing filters help to filter unwanted debris from the syrup as it is in the finishing stages of the process.
- Maple syrup hydrometer: Hydrometers are used to measure the density of maple syrup at a specific temperature. (optional)
- Bottles or Jars: Used to package and store your maple syrup.
2. Hang the collection bucket and fit your lid. You may want to secure the bucket with thin gauge wire. Large trees can handle two or three taps, depending on the size of the tree. More information on tree diameter for multiple taps can be found here.
3. Collect sap. Check your pails each day and empty and collect the sap. As a hobbyist I aim for 35-40 gallons of collected sap from the Sugar Maples that I tap. This equates to approximately one gallon of processed syrup.
4. Boil down the sap. Boiling 40 gallons of sap is a full day process (maybe even more depending on the quantity you collect and the sugar content of the sap). I set up my boiling station outdoors the day before, then rise early the next day to start boiling. Throughout the day I involve my children in the tasting. As the sap boils down it will turn a caramel color.
5. Finishing the sap. When the 40 gallons of sap have been boiled down to just over one gallon, I finish the process indoors on my stove-top where I have better control the temperature.
6. Continue to boil the sap until it takes on a consistency of syrup. One way to check for this is to dip a spoon into the sap/syrup. The syrup will "stick" to the spoon as it runs off. It is important to watch the boiling sap very closely as it approaches syrup, since it is more likely to boil over at this point.
7. Filter and bottle the syrup. A small amount of sediment will be present in your syrup. This can be filtered out of your sap using filters. Sterilize bottles and caps or canning jars in boiling water. Pour the syrup into the bottles or jars.
8. Enjoy! Celebrate the process by enjoying the product you have created! Each year my kindergarten class celebrates with a pancake party, and at home we savor the sweet maple syrup that we worked to create throughout the year.