North Shore Permaculture Group Message Board › Backyard maple sugaring

Backyard maple sugaring

A former member
Post #: 179
I just noticed the witch hazel is starting to bloom...bright yellow buds against the snow drift next door. This should be an indicator event, eh?
A former member
Post #: 6
Lucky you! I'd love to have witch hazel nearby. Meanwhile, here's my sugar shack update...

I checked some online sources. Looks like they have started tapping in western Mass. I'm getting the sense that this coming Wednesday is "the" day to begin in earnest.

We put in a test tap today, but nothing gushed forth. Even so, it was a great day for digging out. I was surprised at how quickly the snow yielded, even though it is so crusty on top. I had to dig out a path to our shed where the taps and buckets are, and while I was at it I dug a 6x6 clearing on the patio where the evaporator will go. The nuthatches were curious and hopped up and down one of the sugar maples as I worked. Despite the wind, I felt warmth on my back as I dug.

Hey...maybe the groundhog was right!

Tomorrow we're going to buy our cinder blocks and construct the evaporator.

Also...we found a place in Haverhill that sells used restaurant supplies. We have determined that a 6" deep full-size steam table insert is perfect for the sap. Used ones are around $10, so we're hoping to pick up two. Not sure if they're open on Monday but will post a report.
A former member
Post #: 7

Can't believe it. This morning my husband and I left for Boston, in search of used restaurant supply sources that might carry old steam table pans the perfect size for our sap evaporator. The sky was gray, full of snow, and it seemed impossible that a sap run was anywhere in the near future. I felt kind of stupid for having insisted on putting in that one tap yesterday.

Came back around 3pm and dutifully checked the bucket. There, suspended like a smooth, elongated crystal, was a frozen blob of sap, glistening in the western sun. More frozen sap sat in the bottom of the bucket. We danced around the tree a few times and then settled down. We have only 4 taps, and need at least 8 more. If our Agway store on Route 1 in Hampton is out, I'll buzz down to Topsfield.

This is so exciting!

A former member
Post #: 180
Hooray for you and the frozen sap blob!!!

I charged up the cordless drill and bought four more taps today. (They still have plenty in Topsfield). Tomorrow I'll drill and install my stuff.

I'm thinking that our two Green Eggs will work as the boiling down station...though this could be a really dumb idea. confused But it's a great exercise in stacking functions!

What does the book say about sap to syrup ratio ? Now I am getting greedy...

Btw Kate, were you able to find the pans for boiling? I have a stainless steel lasagne pan that would work, but I don't think we want the wood-smoked patina on it.

lee l.
user 13126023
Beverly, MA
Post #: 6
Sounds like they've started their sugaring at Audubon in Ipswich. I think they sell some sugaring supplies up there, too.
A former member
Post #: 8
With most sugar maples, the ratio in sap is about 3% sugar and 97% water (although I heard recently that New England sugar maples are producing less sugar these days). Roughly speaking, you'll need about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. This seems kind of pathetic, but for home use a gallon of syrup is quite a lot. We were excited last year when we ended up with a pint!

The amount of sap you'll get from one tree depends on the size of the tree. You shouldn't tap a tree under 10" in diameter. You can put 2 taps in a tree over 18" in diameter, and up to three in a tree 28" in diameter (as long as it's healthy). Put your taps no higher than 3 feet above the ground, and try to locate the tap either above a large root, or below a large limb because this is the path the sap travels. South-facing locations are ideal.

The rule of thumb that I remember from last year is that on a medium to large tree, one tap will yield enough sap for one quart of syrup. But you just never know. This is all magic as far as I'm concerned. Since we're just doing it for fun, we'll be happy with whatever our two lovely old trees give us.
A former member
Post #: 181
Well, I put two taps into our 29 Inch trunk at 4:30 and had several tablespoons of sap in about 5 minutes! I'm going to add one more tomorrow and make sure it's in line with a branch- thanks for the tip Kate!

With a little web creeping I found "The Rule of 86" which is a formula for determining the number of gallons sap per gallon of syrup. Gadzooks! If my tree has 1.5% sugar I'll need 57 gallons of sap! We'll see what happens...I too will be happy with whatever amount our tree provides, though I'm hoping for a quart.

Btw Lee. If you have trees to tap we could cook the sap at my house. Once I find suitable pans it would make sense to make more use of them. I have a lot of branches and trimmings to fuel the fire too.

Gloucester, MA
Post #: 32
I was almost able to tap today. Just need an extension cord or two in order to drill the hole. Should be set up tomorrow.

Kate, I noticed in one of your pics a large measuring container you seemed to be storing the sap in. Where did you get such a thing? Also, willing to share your used kitchen supply source?
A former member
Post #: 9
That large plastic cylinder you saw in the photo is something I bought new from a restaurant supply house several years ago. I bought it in Lawrence but don't remember the name of the place. (You might want to check out Jolly Chef in Lawrence, 24 Bennett St, (978) 682-2712 )

If you do an online search for restaurant supplies or equipment, you should be able to find places near you.

Some places specialize in used equipment; others sell new. Either way, you'll see stuff that isn't available at the usual sources (Walmart, Home Depot, etc). For example, we just picked up a used 21" x 13" x 6" steamer table pan at Tri-State Restaurant Equipment in Haverhill to use when we do our boiling. But it was the last one available.

If you can't find anything like the plastic container I have, you can always use one of those large Rubbermaid storage tubs. Just be sure to locate it close to where you plan to do your boiling. You'll be amazed how heavy 20 quarts of sap is! Better to use a lot of smaller containers that you can comfortably lift, and dump into the "mother tub."

By the way, although it's hard to envision this now, one of the big challenges is how to keep your sap from getting too warm. I remember last year that we were still getting sap into mid-March, and suddenly our "walk-in refrigerator" (alias "the garage") was no longer cool. We were afraid the sap would spoil, so that's when we started boiling it.
A former member
Post #: 182
Great info Kate!

I'm reporting that we have about 2-1/2 gallons of sap from the silver maple and maybe a 1/2 gallon from the other maple which just got two taps yesterday. I'm not going to mix the sap to see the difference in the syrups.

I'm a bit worried about "bud break" on the silver maple...they're looking pretty plump. It's likely that I will start boiling this one in a week or so. In the mean time the sap will be stored in 1/2 gallon glass beer jugs in the snow bank on the shady side of our neighbors garage.

I'm rethinking the boiling apparatus as Ed is worried about creasote build up in the green eggs. I'm trying to decide where to set up a grate on salvaged bricks and block. Our lot has a strange shape and inconvenient slopes. But, hey, isn't solving the problem part of the joy of a backyard endeavor?

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