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Making Your Own Maple Syrup

The freezing and thawing temperatures of late February and early March signal the start of maple syrup season. Although historians disagree on who was first to tap the tree, the basic recipe for gathering and producing maple syrup has stayed essentially the same for over a thousand years. If you have at least one good size sugar maple and the time and patience necessary to process the sap, here is all you need to know to set up your own sugar shack.


Tools of the Trade

The Right Trees: The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is the best type of maple suited for the job of making syrup. Also known as the Hard Maple, compared to other maples its sap contains the highest amount of sugar (2%) and produces the darkest, most flavorful syrup. A tree is ready for its first tap when it reaches approximately 40 years old and has a trunk that is at least 12" to 18" in diameter at chest height. Trees 19" to 25" in diameter can sustain 2 taps and trees over 25" can sustain 3 taps (trees should never have more than three taps). The sap season lasts around 6 weeks (starting and stopping with freezing and thawing temperatures), with each tap producing about 10 gallons of sap (1 quart of syrup).

The best producers tend to have full crowns that extend toward the ground and can produce as much as 12 quarts of sap a day. Healthy trees have been known to produce for as long as 150 years!


  • A Drill and Drill Bit: A drill with a sharp 7/16 size for standard spouts or 5/16 for smaller spouts.

  • Spouts (1 per hole): Metal or plastic spouts can be purchased through maple syrup equipment suppliers or you can fashion your own out of elderberry wood.

    Making Your Own Maple Syrup

  • Collecting Containers (1 per hole): Plastic buckets and milk or cider jugs work well. Wood or metal containers should be lined with a plastic liner or bag. The containers should have covers to prevent rainwater from diluting the sap and to prevent foreign debris from falling into the container. All containers should be free of food, chemical or oily residues that may contaminate the sap or affect its taste.

  • A Large Metal Pan (Evaporator): This pan should be at least 6" to 8" deep and capable of holding 5 or more gallons of sap while boiling. The larger the pan, the more quickly the sap can be finished into syrup. Canning pots or washtubs work well.

  • Outdoor Fire Pit, Gas Range or Wood Stove: Sap needs to be continuously boiled for several hours in order to remove excess water and concentrate the sugar. This takes a lot of time (from hours to days), a lot of energy and generates a lot of sticky steam. Process sap outdoors or at least in a room where the steam is vented to the outdoors.

  • A Thermometer & Hydrometer: The thermometer should be calibrated to the nearest degree with a scale in the range of 200 to 230ºF (candy thermometer). A hydrometer is necessary to make sure the density of the syrup is correct for storage.

  • Straining Filter: Any material (other than coffee filters) intended for filtering food as long as it has large enough pores for filtering finished syrup while its hot (wool, orlin, outing flannel).

  • Sealable Glass Jars for Storage: Canning jars are ideal.

Tapping TreesMaking Your Own Maple Syrup

Weather is an important factor in sap production and even after trees are tapped, sap will only flow on days when conditions are right. Nighttime temperatures below freezing, followed by days of rapid warming (to about 40ºF) will get sap flowing. The exact timing may vary from state to state, but the second to third week in February is a pretty safe bet in the Northeastern states and perhaps slightly later in the North Central states. The sap should be collected before leaf buds start to swell or the syrup will taste bitter.

To tap a tree, drill a hole 1" to 1 1/2" deep at a comfortable height where bark is healthy and free of blemishes. Angle the hole slightly upward so the sap drips out easily. Tap the spout into the hole tight enough so that it cannot be pulled out by hand, taking care not to split the tree (tapping on warm days will minimize this risk). Hang your collecting bucket on the spout and make sure the top is covered securely.


Making Syrup

When the sap starts to run, store collection containers in a cool place until you have enough to fill your boiling pan. Sap will become sour if left in the sun and should be boiled as soon as possible after collection. To boil, fill your pan with sap, leaving room at the top to prevent it from boiling over. Keep adding more syrup (hot or cold) into the pan as the water boils away and sap reduces. Leave 2 inches of syrup in the bottom of the pan at all times to prevent it from scalding and burning. It takes a lot of time to boil sap down to syrup, so be prepared to exercise some patience.

Finished syrup will reach a sugar content of 66-67% and a temperature of 7.1ºF above the boiling temperature of water (the temperature water boils will depend on your elevation). Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature and a hydrometer and testing cup to tell you if the syrup has reached the proper concentration of sugar. Syrup below 66% may sour over time and syrup above 67% will form sugar crystals during storage.


When the syrup has reached the proper temperature and density, filter or strain while it is hot before pouring it into sterilized glass jars. Fill the jars so that very little air remains near the top, seal them and store them on their sides. If properly prepared, syrup can be kept in the freezer without freezing. Open syrup should be refrigerated.

After the sap season is over, clean your equipment with a solution of 1 part chlorine and 20 parts hot water. Do not use any chemicals or soaps on equipment as they may leave an off taste in next season's syrup.

The hardest part of making maple syrup is exercising the patience required to collect and boil the sap. Good things come to those who wait, however, as nothing can beat the taste of your own homemade maple syrup!

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

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By Brandon (Guest Post)
March 30, 20060 found this helpful

good site...how do you know when maple candy is ready to be taken out of the pan?

Reply Was this helpful? Yes

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