Saturday, April 6, 2013

how to make your own maple syrup for (nearly) free

Maple tree on the little farm

I remember visiting a sugar bush once when I was a child. It was a family event, traipsing out into the snowy March woods.  I don't remember the tapping or the collecting.  All I remember is I had to pee really badly and we were a long, long way from a bathroom so I had to wait a really long time.

And when you're little, a really long time seems to take a lifetime. 

Then when we lived in Duluth I volunteered with the Outdoor Program at UMD. One of the programs we offered was tapping maple trees with elementary students from the local schools.  With a hand drill we took groups of kids out, showed them how to identify leafless maples, place taps and hang the buckets, told them stories about the way the Native Americans had collected sap, then made them snow cones with finished syrup on top.

So naturally with all of this memory and experience behind me, I wanted to tap our maple trees this year.

Here is our short list of things you will need for this project:

Maple Trees
Free buckets with lids {try your local cafeterias, grocery stores, etc.}
Taps & tubing {or old fashioned metal taps and metal sap buckets if you have them or can borrow}
A cordless drill with a battery that still holds a charge, with a drill bit size 11/64 or an antique hand drill
An old, clean shirt
A large stock pot
Canning jars and lids
A heat source - preferably outside

Last fall in all my wisdom I decided we should traipse up and down the ridge flagging all our maples with pink tape so I could still identify them when the leaves all fell off.

After all the traipsing we had identified exactly four maple trees on the property.  

That didn't deter us from continuing with our plans.

We get a lot of free buckets from the food co-op and cafeteria in the building where Papa Bear works. We use these buckets for everything.

I've been told you can't farm without a skid steer, but I think rather you can't farm without free buckets.

We borrowed some new-fangled plastic taps & tubing from our friends at The Big Farm.  They're modern and plastic and work really great in that the buckets can keep their lids on with this setup and keep out most of the rain water and bugs.  And you don't have to hang the buckets on the tree, you can keep them on the ground.  Papa Bear drilled small holes in the side of the buckets big enough to thread the tubing through.

This task required buying a whole new drill, because the rechargeable battery for his old drill wasn't made anymore.  So I guess it's not really "free" maple syrup, because Papa Bear bought a drill.  But he did buy it with his own allowance money, so I guess it was free for the rest of the family.

{Thanks Papa!}

diy free maple syrup

Our spring was so odd this year, with daytime and nighttime temps below zero for so long, then jumping up to day and night temps above zero, that for the first several days we collected absolutely zero sap.  The sap runs best when the nights are below freezing but the days are above.

At the end of the first week I checked the bucket on the tree near the house and was startled to find it half full. After traipsing up and down along the ridge (next year we're running the tubing down from the trees to a level spot) we had collected a whopping total of about 8 gallons of sap.

I know that's almost nothing but it felt like quite the haul to us.

We brought one bucket in the house and poured the sap through a clean shirt into the largest stockpot we had.

Filtering maple sap

We put the pot on the burner on high and kept it boiling all day. We added a little fan to help the evaporation process.

Boiling maple sap

We added more filtered sap as the day progressed, but by night we had not finished it, so we turned off the stove and went to bed.

The next morning we resumed boiling. It took about another 4 hours or so until it had reached the right consistency.

Lacking a syrup hydrometer we used the "spoon test," watching for "sheeting."

We kept disagreeing at this point as to whether or not the syrup was done.  (I didn't think it was done yet, PB did).

We got out our store-bought bottle of syrup and compared the way the syrup dripped off a spoon. We watched several YouTube videos. Then suddenly the syrup changed the way it was boiling and indeed when it dripped off the spoon now, a little bit clung in a peak after the last drip.

It was done!

Before this point we had sterilized our glass jars & lids so there was nothing left to do but pour the syrup into the hot jars and screw on the lids.

pouring maple syrup into canning jars

And taste a little.

There's just nothing sweeter than syrup you've made yourself, from your own trees, for {nearly} free.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl brings you DIY Maple Syrup


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