How to Make Maple Syrup at Home. All You Need to Know.

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.

Maple leaf shaped glass bottle of backyard produced Golden maple syrup with on a rough piece of barn board with a budding maple tree branch in foreground.

 

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. 

Making Maple Syrup

Karen Bertelsen in red pants and big sweater, checking on sap buckets in her backyard.

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:

SUGAR MAPLE

BLACK MAPLE

RED MAPLE

SILVER MAPLE

BIRCH TREE!

 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.

 

TREE RULES

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

Stainless steel maple tap dripping with clear sap.

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:

For Canadians:

Nighttime temp    -2C

Daytime temp    7C

PERFECT FOR TAPPING A TREE!!

For Americans: 

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. 

Drilling at an upwards angle into a large maple tree with a cordless drill.

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.

Karen Bertelsen in a sweater with a red maple leaf on it in her backyard with an evaporation pan of sap reducing on a propane burner.

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)

and

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.

Karen Bertelsen bundled up in blankets sitting in a chair outside beside a rocket stove boiling maple syrup.

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)

  1. It takes 10 gallons of sap to make 4 cups of Maple Syrup.
  2. It takes 1 week to collect 10 gallons of sap from my single maple tree.
  3. 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)
  4. A 33,000 BTU burner that attaches to a propane tank to evaporate the sap. It speeds up the evaporation process.
  5. On a cold day it takes 9 hours to evaporate 10 gallons of sap outside.
  6. Then it takes another  1-2 hours inside on the stove to turn it into syrup.
  7. 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.

You can learn how to make maple butter here.

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.

 
Just add tree.

 

→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. 

How to Make Maple Syrup at Home. All You Need to Know.

44 Comments

  1. billy sharpstick says:

    I live in Florida. Can’t find any maple trees. Tried it with pine trees. Tastes like kerosene. What am i doing wrong?

  2. Katt Hunsaker says:

    Going from 1 to 5 trees this year!!! I thought about tapping one of my birches… any clue what to do with Birch syrup?

  3. Darcy says:

    What do you do with the holes left in the tree?

  4. Amie says:

    We tapped the big maple in our front yard for 3 years now. Last year we got about 40 L of sap to make about 1 L of syrup. This year we have 80 L already from that one tree, and a couple of our neighbours let us tap their trees, too! I’ve been boiling it a little every day inside. We really need to get a propane burner for outside. The side burner on the bbq just isn’t strong enough ;)

  5. Sideroad40 says:

    Tapping about 60 maples today about 2 hrs north of you, thus a bit of a later start. Have been doing the weekend warrior thing for many years now with great family and friend gifts as a result. We end up with lots of ‘helpers’ in the form of company who come to lend a hand and hope for a fresh bottle by the weekend’s end. Nothing more Canadian….

    • Karen says:

      Yesterday was GREAT here for sap. I got two full buckets from one tap on one tree. That particular tree belongs to a neighbour and is my all star. ;) ~ karen!

      • Sideroad40 says:

        Happy sapping!!!

      • candace ford says:

        My mother was born in Michigan and lived there and Minnesota until she joined the Navy in WWII. She told me about being w/ family who made maple syrup and they would give the kids a little bowl and a spoon and the kids would drizzle it onto clean (hopefully) snow and eat it like candy. When the grandparents came to visit us in Oregon they almost always brought a quart of syrup for us. It was a sin to waste it on pancakes or waffles, we ate it on ice cream. Gotta guild that lily.

  6. Susan Schneider says:

    Love your fashion sense- every single outfit is spot on. Especially loved the Maple Leaf/Canadian Flag sweater. Beautiful. Oh- great information on the maple syrup/tree tapping. I don’t know if we have a maple on our property or not, but I’m gonna find out!

  7. Paula says:

    I love your sweater!!! Where did you find it?

  8. Susan says:

    Fabulous post, Karen! Thank you!! This is the piece I was missing, as I was already aware that other trees besides sugar maples can be tapped (https://wildfoodism.com/2014/02/04/22-trees-that-can-be-tapped-for-sap-and-syrup/). Thank you again for the great pics and text – they are empowering!!

  9. Heather says:

    Love your sweater!

  10. D. Louise says:

    Karen, the sap is pouring here in Vermont! I have made 1 1/2 quarts over the last 4 days from my 3 backyard taps — it’s crazy. And I’m boiling another 6 gallons down as I write this.

    But my boiling is all happening on my stove, so I am intrigued by your propane cooker. Tell me, do you use it for anything other than boiling sap? In the age of scaling back, decluttering, etc. (and by the way, I don’t think you ever told us where you came down on Marie Kondo and sparking joy through tidying up….inquiring minds want to know), I am reluctant to buy something that I only use once a year.

    Also, just curious: do you start your seeds indoors (yes, this is a complete change of subject, but it sort of tracks cause it’s about springtime activities….)? I would love to get a Karen B tutorial on your setup and process.

    • Karen says:

      Hi D. I really do just use the burner for the sap but I will use it on occasion for other things randomly. Like tomato sauce in the fall. I honestly just can’t go back to the sticky, steamy house again so it’s worth it for me. But I totally agree with the whole keeping things scaled back in terms of what you bring in the house. Marie Kondo. I decided I really liked her folding style and I do indeed look at everything I have and decide it it’s something I LOVE. If not, I either get rid of it or resolve to look at it again in a few months and reassess. I do indeed start all my plants from seed indoors and I have many, many posts on it. :) This should get you started … https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/?s=seed+starting I’ve also done a live seed starting online course to help people along but don’t think I’m going to have time to do it this year. ~ karen!

  11. Jane Jacobsen says:

    Many years ago we lived in an old farm house with several big maples in the front yard. One spring I decided it would be instructive for the kids to make maple syrup. So I bought a couple of clean buckets to gather the sap and we drilled holes in the tree trunks and pounded short aluminum tubes in the holes. The buckets hung on the tubes to catch the sap. Twice a day we brought the sap inside and dumped it into my canner on the stove to boil it down. The process makes an enormous amount of steam and the humidity filled the house. I walked into the dining room to find the 100-year old wallpaper peeling off the walls in big panels 1/4 inch thick–including the new paper I had just put up. I had to open the doors periodically to let the humidity out. And the old oil burner in the dining room roared constantly to combat the frigid outside air.

    When the syrup was finished I bought a quart of whipping cream to whip up for butter and some fresh imported blueberries for the pancakes. They’re expensive, but what the hey, it was a learning experience. Dinner in the bare walled dining room was delicious and the kids learned where their food came from, but it was so rich and they are too much and everyone got sick at bedtime. Now I buy my syrup at the grocery.

  12. Paula says:

    Aaargh! I went to the Amazon link and the starter kit is UNAVAILABLE. Just when I was considering actually doing this as we’ve got a huge Manitoba maple in our back yard and the weather has finally hit your recommended requirements. *sigh*

    Since I work full time and am a lazy bum otherwise, maybe you could just send me some of your syrup… ;)

  13. Mary W says:

    What the heck is a sugar bush? I tried maple syrup (advertised as the real stuff) and it was so strong and overpowering, I really, really, didn’t like it. Maybe what I was given was from end of the run syrup? sugar bush? bad batch? or maybe I just don’t care for it. I do like cane syrup that has no bitter taste but really makes buckwheat pancakes taste like food for the king. So, what is the deal with maple syrup? Maybe I should try it once more from another ‘real’ syrup (usually that means more expensive). I hate cilantro so maybe maple syrup has similar qualities? Main question – what is a sugar bush? Is it a stevia plant? I had one once but TOOOOOO sweet!

    • Cath says:

      I may be wrong but there are a number of sugar bush(es) in my neck of the woods and that’s what we call a farm or conservation area where there are large stands of maples and the syrup is harvested there. So, for example, in about 10 days, the local school kids are on a weeks winter break and many families go out to a ‘sugar bush’ where there might be hikes or horse drawn rides out to the area where the sap is collected. You say you don’t care for maple syrup… I could gollup it down daily. There are different grades, from light to dark amber and they are used for varying purposes. PerhPs you had some of the very dark syrup which is indeed potent. BTW, I live in Karen’s neck of the woods but she hasn’t opened up her place as a local ‘sugar bush’… lol

      • Mary W says:

        Thanks for the info – I think mine was dark amber which I assumed would be more maple-y and it was like corn syrup verses black strap molasses. Maybe I will try some light grade and see if that was the problem. The taste even turned me off of maple filled dark chocolate which really surprised me. I will get some next time I shop as I want to experience the heaven that you all are describing and I can’t travel all the way up to Karen’s sugar bush. LOL

  14. Lynn says:

    Ah to have a Maple Tree that would be heaven. Stuck having to buy our maple syrup 🤭. Hope you get a thumbs up on your maple.

  15. Sarah says:

    This is fascinating! I had no idea you could do it with any maple trees, not just sugar maples. Can’t wait to get home to run around the yard checking for potential sources! :)

  16. Tarra says:

    I have friends down the road who tap their trees and produce a curiously strong dark and delicious elixir. They advise that a teacup of sap from the evaporator with a slug of rum in it is a surefire spring tonic on a raw March night.

  17. melissa zapp says:

    I love that propane burner! What is the brand, and how many BTU will it put out?
    thanks!

  18. Jamie Monzo says:

    Where did you get your heavy duty burner?

  19. Would love to try this out, but I don’t have a maple tree in my backyard. Oh well, as I’m from Quebec, I’ll just stick with getting my syrup from my neighbor who actually own a sugar bush !

  20. Carrie says:

    One of my favorite things EVER!!
    I first started tapping and making syrup as a teenager in the 80’s with family in the sugar shack! We would sell it at the county fair and its sold now in some stores as well as pancake mix. One of my fondest memories. If I close my eyes I can still smell that sweet smell and feel all the steam in the shack. They produced a lot!
    We always boiled in the wee hours and I thought I was so cool being able to be up so late. :)
    My husband and I made syrup the first three years after we built our home on our new property and my neighbor has his buckets out now. You can actually do this twice a year.
    So much fun. Thanks for the post Karen,and just so you know,I do own a bonnet!😁

  21. Sabina says:

    I think I should do this just to do it. I think it would be a fun and interesting project…but I don’t like maple syrup (*gasp – I know) but I could be persuaded to make maple bourbon bbq sauce…I like bourbon 😁

  22. TucsonPatty says:

    I want to pour some on the snow so I can have Maple Syrup Candy like Laura and Mary!! I’ve always wanted to do that, and probably never will, because that would mean A. Going somewhere where there is snow, or B. Going somewhere where there is snow. Not going to happen, if I can help it! Last time I went “home” to visit in the winter – baby sister’s 50th birthday – it snowed all but one day the week I was there! I hated it and they all laughed at me. That is why I live in Tucson and buy my maple syrup at the maple syrup store. (Safeway) I went back and re-read the old posts, just for fun, and still don’t want to live in the snow.

  23. Kath says:

    “It should probably be in a nursery home”
    Oh, my sides!!!

  24. Martina says:

    Delicous? I think you were trying for delicious? In any case, I was in in Quebec one year and got to watch the trees getting tapped and then got to eat pancakes with real maple syrup…it was great!
    Thanks for the tutorial!

  25. Robert says:

    What are those red dots on the back of your ears on the second photo?

    You’re obviously totally gonna be making furniture with the tree once it’s down right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Art of Doing Stuff
Pin
Share
Email