By Joe Cowan
Director of Operations
Over the weekend we had some wonderful weather here in Maine. With freezing temperatures overnight and warm sunny days, it was time to give maple sugaring a try. Growing up in New Hampshire, real maple syrup is a mainstay, particularly in the spring. When we moved back to New England, I discovered some sugar maples on our property and marked them for later use. Marking them is important to identify them during March and April, since the foliage will make them a little difficult to spot for the untrained eye. Fortunately I remembered to mark a few of the large maple trees that are right near the house, for a casual sugaring operation. Making large quantities requires a huge amount of sap, and even more equipment, not to mention time. At roughly 35 gallons to 1 gallon (this ratio varies significantly, depending on the source), you will need to tap a lot of trees with multiple taps to get as much as I use in the year. So, this falls strictly in the casual sugaring category.
It is interesting to me to understand how much work and time goes into making just a small quantity of maple syrup. In order for me to produce enough for a year, on my property alone, using my own equipment, trees, and labor, I would need to increase production by an enormous amount. It makes me appreciate what goes into producing good quality maple syrup. I am also thinking carefully about how much maple syrup I consume on a regular basis as well. I have completely cut out refined white sugar, but even maple sugar in too large a quantity might have some adverse health effects. The goal for next year will be to produce as much as I reasonably can, and then only consume that for the year. If I don’t make much, then we won’t be eating much, and I am happy to live with that.
To make maple syrup you will need the following:
1 or more sugar maple trees, 12” in diameter or larger, at eye level
1-3 cans or buckets to collect sap
½” bit and drill
Woodstove or stovetop to boil the excess liquid off
Freezing temperatures at night, and warm sunny temperatures during the day, ~50 degrees
A few lessons learned about sugaring:
- Cover the buckets with a lid or something else to prevent debris and dust falling in. I don’t own a sieve fine enough to get it all out so my final product has some particulate left in it.
- You need a lot more sap than you think. I collected a full gallon the first day and it boiled off to a miniscule quantity. 35:1 might be a little too generous a ratio.
- Protect your trees (obviously)! You are drilling a hole into the side of your nice pretty maple trees. Make sure the hole is clean and debris is removed before installing the tap.
- Be very gentle tapping the spile into the tree. The wood can split if you hit them too hard.
- Most of the supplies can be purchased easily at a local hardware store.
- Trees larger than 24” in diameter can handle more than one tap.