Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The amateur tapper

We have a couple maple trees near the house, but they are red maples, not sugar maples. We also have a few box elder trees of middling size. Our wooded area just doesn't have any maples to speak of, but I still wanted to try tapping and making syrup, so three years ago, tried it for the first time, with ok results. I'm strictly an amateur, and small scale, but it is fun to boil down and make your own syrup. One more thing to add to our self reliance.

So many of the commercial maple tappers in the area have switched to these tubing systems spiderwebbing up the hillsides and gravity flow down to their collection tank. Much less work. With only six trees, I'm using buckets.

Weather this year was ideal for tapping. Best weather is when it gets above freezing and sunny during the day, and drops down below freezing at night. We've had that pattern more or less for two weeks, and I just stopped collecting day before yesterday.

Box elder syrup is sweet and mild, pretty similar to maple, and my blended syrup tastes just fine on pancakes or waffles.

BUT, since I'm only making small batches, I really have to watch the pot, as it doesn't take very long to complete the boil down. This year unfortunately, one time I got distracted, and let the batch go. I use an outdoor propane burner, and it gets hot. Here is what happened with that batch.

You can see a shiny little projection at he base of the pot. That is Aluminum (or aluminium)

Stainless pot with aluminum laminated to the bottom for even heat distribution. Aluminum melts at 1220F (660C). I had no idea the burner got that hot. So this pot is shot. Good thing I wasn't using my wife's good pot, or you wouldn't be reading this entry.

I am told that syrup is done when it passes the sheeting test, or when it reaches 219F (104C). I haven't seen the sheeting test done, and don't bother with a thermometer for such small batches, so sort of eyeball it by the bubbling at the end. Some of my batches go a bit long, with some crystallization happening, and some are on the thin side, but it's just for us, so no big deal. I also don't bother filtering out the sugar sand, so the jars below look a bit cloudy or vary in color. I'll be leaving them in the fridge to avoid spoiling, since I didn't sterilize the jars either. I plan to try harder this year to identify and eat more foraged wild foods, but this one is so easy, it doesn't count.

Maple syrup tapping- another key sign of spring. On recent sunny days, we haven't even started a fire, and our sunroom is getting warm enough on sunny days, we open the door and let it warm the house.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Awesome, and yes, you were probably very lucky that it was not your wife's favourite pot. You'd be a dead man walking! Hehe! My wife would kill me too for that mess. :-)! I've seen aluminium engine blocks left as pools of melted metal after some big bushfires down here. That left quite the impression on me.

    Out of curiosity, how old are your maple trees now? We grow both sugar maples and Canadian red maples here, and I was thinking about growing some more plants after reading about maple syrup harvesting in Vermont.

    I went to a blueberry farm in the local area and the bloke had several very old sugar maples and I remarked to him that they could be tapped for syrup and he appeared to be oblivious of that opportunity... Oh well..


    1. Chris- I don't know how old the trees are, but maple producers go by trunk diameter as a guide for when to tap. Trees get a tap after the trunk is about 10" (250mm) in diameter. Above 18" (40mm) they can get two taps and still assure long term health of the tree. All of my trees are single tappers, and I don't think they aren't that old, guessing around 30-50 years.

      The book I read on maple syrup was written by Helen and Scott Nearing. It was very interesting as it gave a lot of the early history, and very detailed description of the equipment and process, but it described a large setup- nothing I'll ever have, but still a good read. They were two of the very early pioneers in popularizing getting back out of the city and homesteading.

    2. Umm, that was supposed to be 400mm.