Maple Syrup Season in Traverse City

Last weekend when the mercury hit 40 I knew it was time. Time to gather my sugaring supplies. Time to tap my sugar maples. My maple syrup operation is small, really small. I tap two maples in my side yard with two taps each. I expect to get about 30-40 gallons of sap which will yield just less than a gallon of finished maple syrup. Pure ambrosia!

If you have even one decent sized sugar maple on your property I encourage you to do this. Experiment. It’s really easy to get started. You’ll need:

-spiles or taps (I get mine at McGough’s here in Traverse City. They have sugaring supplies and a free hand-out, too.)
-buckets or bags for collecting the sap
-a 7/16″ drill bit. This was my biggest investment–about $8-9.
-a large shallow pan for boiling. I bought two large roasting pans at Goodwill.
-a fire source. I have a Coleman fire pit which works beautifully.

Last Sunday morning as soon as the drill broke through the tree bark the sap was running like crazy. In just three days’ time I’ve collected more than 20 gallons. And that doesn’t count what my daughter’s been drinking–she loves it straight from the tree–and what spilled when one of my large buckets fell over. 🙁

Today it’s cold again, so nothing much will be happening ’til it warms up again. Meanwhile I store the sap in any available containers I can find–buckets, tubs, coolers, pots and pans–in the shed until the weekend when I’m ready to boil. The boiling down of the sap is a lengthy, steamy process. You may be tempted to do this on your stovetop. Don’t. There’s just way too much steam. Besides this is the fun part–building a fire and feeding it to maintain a constant boil.

So here it is March. As the snow melts this week we’ll be scouring our yard for all the twigs and branches that have come down during the winter. And I’ll cut up our Christmas tree. To this we’ll add our supply of tree trimmings from last summer. Generally this is enough fuel to get us through several days of boiling. If not, my neighbor graciously adds a few wheelbarrows of hardwood from his woodpile.

Last year a friend of mine lent me a propane cooker (a turkey fryer actually) that he uses to boil down his sap. Wow, that was great. And easy. Just crank it up full blast, bring it to a hard boil and keep adding more sap as needed. The downside is the expense of the propane. I would need many tanks of propane for my harvest, so this weekend I’ll be back to the fire pit. By Sunday evening I’ll be exhausted, dirty and really smoky; but when we line up the jars of amber syrup on our windowsill the sense of satisfaction makes it all worthwhile.

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