Every year at this time I start pushing the idea of making your own maple syrup. Why? Because you can. With my instructions and a single tree YOU can make your own maple syrup. Yup. Even if you only have one maple tree.
Do me a favour and go grab your sap bucket, bonnet and lace up boots. I’ll wait here in Quebec with the plough horse. You don’t have a bonnet or lace up boots?? That’s O.K., because I don’t live in Quebec or have a plough horse. You don’t need any of those things to make maple syrup.
In fact, you don’t need a lot of things you probably think you need to make your own maple syrup. For instance, all you need is ONE tree. It doesn’t even have to be yours. Tap a friend’s, family member’s or unsuspecting neighbour’s tree.
But not one close to the sidewalk where you have to worry about teenage boys peeing into the sap bucket. That’s exactly the kind of thing neighbourhood teenage boys would think is funny.
You don’t need a whole sugar bush of trees, you just need ONE tree.
You don’t even need a sugar maple to make maple syrup. Any maple tree will do. So enough with the excuses, this is the year you are GOING to make maple syrup.
HOW??? Let me break down the great mystery that is making pure maple syrup by answering all the questions I suspect you have about it.
STUFF YOU WANT TO KNOW
Making Maple Syrup
Red pants not mandatory for making maple syrup.
I admit, I do live in Ontario, but you don’t have to live in Canada or Vermont to tap a maple tree. Sure, those places are known for their maple syrup but as long as you live somewhere that has a maple tree and a cold winter you can do it. That means not just North America! Parts of Japan or South Korea can make maple syrup too.
1. Pick Your Maple Syrup Tree.
You just need to find one, single maple tree. It doesn’t matter what kind of maple, so don’t go scouring the Internet with a ragged, mangled maple leaf you found in the snow trying to identify if you have the “right” kind of maple tree for making syrup. They’re all the right kind.
Sugar maples are the most popular because they have the highest sugar content in their sap but ANY maple will produce perfect maple syrup.
All of these varieties of tree will be fine. They’re listed in the order of the amount of sugar in their sap:
Yep. A birch tree! So I’ve been told anyway. I’ve never attempted Birch syrup myself.
The more sugar a tree has in its sap, the less sap it will take (and the less boiling) to make syrup.
I’ve been making maple syrup every year or two from my single backyard Black Maple tree for a decade. Granted, it’s a huge tree.
BUT WAIT!! IT’S NOT FAIR! WHAT IF I DON’T EVEN HAVE A SINGLE MAPLE TREE!!!
O.K. Seriously, calm down. You’re being very dramatic. Do you have a neighbour that has a maple tree. I’m sure they’d be happy for you to hang a bucket off of it in exchange for a bottle of maple syrup from their very own tree. So calm down and go look in your neighbour’s yard to see if they have a maple syrup tree you can use.
Do NOT tap a maple tree that is less than 10″ across. (not around … across) Anything with a trunk that’s smaller than 10″ is too young and tapping it could kill it.
If your tree is 10 – 20″ – you can put 1 tap on it
If your tree is 20 – 27″ – you can put 2 taps on it
If your tree is 27+ (and healthy) – you can put 3 taps on it
(some say to never put more than 3 taps on a tree because it’s unhealthy for the tree and it changes the pressure in the tree too much so you don’t get as good a sap flow)
O.K. now you know how to pick a maple tree for syrup. But you’re probably wondering how do you get the sap out of it.
Wonder no more. We tree nerds call getting the sap out of a tree, “tapping” a tree by the way. Now you can look cool throwing around maple syrup lingo.
2. Tapping a Maple Tree
Tapping a maple tree for sap literally means putting a tap in it. You drill a hole into the trunk, hammer in the tap and watch the sap flow out of it into your collection bucket. The first time you do this will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever seen. Or close to it.
To tap your maple tree you’re going to need to pay attention to the weather and gather a couple of things. Don’t worry, they aren’t particularly weird or hard to find things.
IDEAL WEATHER FOR TAPPING A TREE
You need to tap the maple tree when the “sap is flowing”. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before. So when does sap flow?
Sap flows in the early spring when nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are above freezing.
A 7°C difference in the temperature range between night and day is ideal. For you Americans, that’s a 12°F difference. For example:
Nighttime temp -2C
Daytime temp 7C
PERFECT FOR TAPPING A TREE!!
Nighttime temp 28 F
Daytime temp 40 F
Don’t worry too much about that. Just remember as long as it’s spring and it’s below freezing at night and above freezing during the day the sap should run.
Those temperature requirements are part of what make Quebec the number 1 maple syrup producer and exporter in the world. Vermont’s maple syrup is number 2.
Fun fact: Sap doesn’t run because it melts inside the tree when it’s warmer out, it runs because of the change in pressure.
There’s a whole bunch of more detailed scientific mumbo jumbo that factors in to sap running as well, like how quickly the tree freezes at night, how quickly it warms up etc. etc. but all you need to know is below freezing nights, and above freezing days means it’s time to tap the maple tree.
When do you stop collecting sap from your tree? When spring weather progresses and your tree starts to get buds on it you’ll have to stop collecting sap. For one thing, the tree would like to keep that sap, thank you very much, to help it leaf out for the summer. For another thing, once the trees start to bud it changes the flavour of the sap to something less desirable.
TOOLS YOU’LL NEED
You’ll need a drill, a drill bit, a tap with a hook (syrup nerd alert: a tap is also known as a spile), a bucket with handle or a hole in it for hanging off the hook and a lid for your bucket. You can buy genuine maple syrup buckets and lids that are narrow at the base and wider at the top, but you can use any plain, food grade plastic or metal bucket.
Drill – The drill is for drilling a hole into your tree to insert the tap into.
Drill Bit – This has to be the same size as your tap.
Tap (spile) – This is what you tap into the tree for your sap to drip out of.
Hook – The hook is on the tap and it allows you to hang your bucket off of it.
Bucket – A bucket catches the sap. Duh.
Bucket lid – You need this to keep debris from falling into your bucket of fresh, clear, beautiful sap.
Small town hardware stores often carry maple syrup buckets and supplies at this time of year so check there first. If you can’t find them see if they can order them. If they can’t then …
You can buy 4 tree spiles and hooks right here on Amazon.
If you’re in Ontario, Canada the absolute cheapest place I’ve found stainless steel spiles is at TSC. You can get them here.
A Few Tree Tapping Tips
- Your drill bit should match the size of your tap size (7/16″ bit for a 7/16″ tap)
- Drill tap holes at a slight upward angle for good flow.
- Tap the spouts in *gently* just until they’re in securely otherwise you’ll split the bark and you’ll lose a lot of sap out of that crack.
- Take your taps out as soon as you’re done tapping for the year.
- On days where the sap is running really well you’ll fill your entire bucket up. On days when the sap is running more slowly you’ll only get 1/4 or half of a bucket. So check and empty your buckets every day.
Ready to tap your tree? Read this post next, it has the rest of the details you need including photos and information like how to store the sap. → How To Tap Your Maple Tree (with instructions and photos)
3. How to Turn Sap Into Syrup.
Once you have a whack of sap (several buckets) you need to turn it into syrup. If you tapped your tree I’m sure you stuck your finger into the bucket or under the spile to taste the sap to discover it does not taste like a Snickers dipped in a melted Peanut Butter cup. It tastes like water.
To make the sap sweet you have to boil away almost ALL the water so you’re just left with the small amount of sugar that’s in the sap.
I’ve done this a few ways.
Over a propane tank powered outdoor burner. (like you see above)
Over my DIY rocket stove. (like you see below)
On my stove inside.
The propane tank works, but takes a long time and a lot of money to evaporate the amount of sap you’ll have even just from one tree.
The DIY rocket stove works surprisingly well, but I’d make it bigger next time.
The indoor store option is what works the best but ONLY use this if you have a really good exhaust fan over your range. Otherwise your house will fill with steam, wallpaper will fall off the walls and everything in your home will be suspiciously sticky for the next year or so.
You can just barely see the cob pizza oven I built in backyard behind my shoulders in that last photo and you’re maybe wondering if I could use that. The thought has crossed my mind, but my concern is that subjecting the cob to endless hours of moisture and evaporating sap wouldn’t be good for it.
For turning sap into syrup you need some basic kitchen equipment.
TOOLS YOU’LL NEED
A large shallow pan for evaporating – It takes a LOT of boiling to turn sap into syrup. Using a wide, shallow pan increases the surface area of the sap so evaporation is quicker. This pan isn’t mandatory for making syrup, it just helps speed up the process a tiny bit.
A stock pot for boiling – Once your sap starts to get thick you move it into a regular pot to it doesn’t evaporate too quickly. You need to keep your eye on it at this point and stop boiling once it reaches the syrup stage.
A refractometer – The easiest way to tell if your sap is officially syrup is to use this tool. You put a drop of liquid on the tip of it and the refractometer measures how much sugar is in the liquid. Sap Starts out as being around 3% sugar. Once you boil away the excess water it gets thicker and sweeter until it reaches 66.5% sugar. THAT is when you have made syrup and can stop boiling it. The refractometer takes all the guesswork out of whether you’re at 66.5% sugar, but you can also test your sugar density by using a couple of other tools and tricks that I show in my detailed post on how to turn sap into syrup.
A filter – I use genuine maple syrup filter and felts, but a first timer can just use several layers of cotton tee shirts, or cloths. This filters out any impurities like sugar sand (literally a sand-like substance that’ll appear once you’ve boiled the sap down).
Jars with lids – Anything will work to store your syrup as long as its food safe. I like to use genuine glass maple syrup bottles which you can also buy on Amazon. TSC in Canada now only carries plastic syrup bottles, not the glass ones.
Turning sap into syrup isn’t particularly hard but there are a lot of temperature points and techniques you need to know so once you get to that point read my Turning Sap into Syrup post.
Maple Syrup by the Numbers
(numbers vary depending on the weather)
- It takes 10 gallons of sap to make 4 cups of Maple Syrup.
- It takes 1 week to collect 10 gallons of sap from my single maple tree.
- That means you can produce 4 cups per week, for around 3 weeks, resulting in 12 bottles of syrup a year from one tree. (if that tree is producing very well)
- A 33,000 BTU burner that attaches to a propane tank to evaporate the sap. It speeds up the evaporation process.
- On a cold day it takes 9 hours to evaporate 10 gallons of sap outside.
- Then it takes another 1-2 hours inside on the stove to turn it into syrup.
- A minimum of 3 fingers are chopped off anyone who tries to steal a bottle of my syrup.
You might be wondering what it is I do with all this maple syrup I make. I mean, I’m only one person and bathing in maple syrup doesn’t have the same luxurious reputation as bathing in milk.
I cook with it. I make salad dressing or my Award Losing Maple Bourbon BBQ Sauce. But MOST of all I use it every morning in the winter on my breakfast. I drizzle it all across my hot bowl of Overnight Oatmeal.
AND THE MOST DELICIOUS THING EVER is Maple Butter (maple cream or maple spread). It has one ingredient – maple syrup but is a butter like consistency with a melt in your mouth quality.
A single tree (a large one) will produce several bottles of maple syrup for you. The exact amount depends on how good a year it is for sap runs. The weather plays a large part.
You’ll get a nice amount of syrup if you have a tree large enough for 2 taps.
O.K. did I answer all of your maple syrup questions? NO?! Uch.
Fine then. Here’s the last little bit of maple syrup information I have in my brain.
How long does it take? I tap my tree some time in March usually and then once a week I boil whatever amount of sap that I’ve gathered down to syrup. On the weekend I pour all of the buckets of sap I have into an evaporation pan and boil it down.
Can sap go bad? You bet it can. That’s why I make syrup every weekend instead of saving up my sap and doing a big huge batch. Sap can be left outside in the shade while it’s still cold out and it will be fine for about a week. After that you’ll see it will become cloudy and isn’t good to use anymore. Taste it. You’ll see. Sap CAN come out of the tree cloudy especially nearer the end of the run. This sap is fine to use as long as you taste it and there’s no sign of bitterness.
IF YOU KNOW YOU WON’T HAVE A CHANCE TO BOIL YOUR SAP WITHIN A WEEK you can freeze it until you’re ready to use.
How much do you get? In GENERAL each weekend I’ll get around 2-3 cups of syrup from this one tree. I do this for 2 or 3 weekends in a row which means I get on average around 6-9 cups of syrup from my maple tree during any given year.
I’m confused. Do you have a video? Why yes I do! I show the whole tapping process below.
If you have even one INKLING of interest in making your own maple syrup DO IT. Do it right now before you forget about it and season has passed. For the love of pancakes and french toast, do it.
Maple Syrup Grades
There used to be a confusing system of maple syrup grades and up until a few years ago the US and Canada had different names for them which made it even more confusing.
NOW all maple syrup is graded using these words which describe their colour.
Golden – delicate taste
Amber – rich taste
Dark – robust taste
Very Dark – strong taste
The grades or colour of maple syrup has nothing to do with how much the syrup is boiled. The colour of maple syrup depends on the daytime temperature the sap was collected.
Maple syrup grades are explained a bit more along with the more sciencey stuff in my Maple Syrup Grading post.
I’ve taught you all I can. It’s up to you now!
Hold on, just this one last thing. If you can’t be bothered to track all the stuff you need down?
THERE’S A MAPLE SYRUP STARTER KIT.
You can order an entire starter kit from Amazon that has 3 buckets, 3 lids, 3 spiles, a drill bit, filters and an instruction book
In Canada that same kit is WAY too expensive in my opinion so try to source these things from hardware and supply stores around you.
→Follow me on Instagram where if it’s in season you’ll see me tapping trees and making syrup.←
TRULY the last thing! If your pee smells like maple syrup it isn’t because you ate too much maple syrup. There’s actually a very serious disease called “Maple Syrup Urine Disease” that makes your urine smell like maple syrup.