Maple Syrup - Backyard Harvesting

Updated: Mar 26

At our house we love having breakfast for supper. We all love breakfast food but don't have big morning appetites so opt to have it for our evening meal instead. Last week we enjoyed this favorite meal with the pure maple syrup we made ourselves! It was amazingly easy to make and I learned also how great an option pure maple syrup is for a natural sweetener option in many recipes. Awesome!

How Canadian, eh? That my first blog post is about making maple syrup. (note - please forgive me if I use the wrong terms for anything social media wise - I'm learning :) )

We only have a few maple trees on our property here in Weymouth, Nova Scotia, but after a bit of reading on the subject, I found out that a few trees and a few tools are all you need if you want to experience making your own maple syrup. As with any new venture, preparation is needed! So after determining our trees were both good types and size, and purchasing a few supplies (with a gift certificate received for Christmas - thank you Mom :)) we got ready to tap our trees.

The most commonly tapped maple trees are Sugar, Black, Red and Silver Maples. And a good size,is a diameter of 10 in or more.

Equipment to Tap Trees

  • Buckets or other food grade containers to collect the sap as it drips from the spile.

  • Lids: Attached to the top of the bucket to prevent rain, snow, and bark debris from entering the bucket.

  • Drill and Drill Bit - Depending upon the type of spile used, either a 5/16 or 7/16 drill bit.

  • Spiles (taps)

  • Hooks - attached to the spile and used to hang the bucket.

  • Cheesecloth or fine sieve to filter any solids (such as pieces of bark) when transferring sap from the collection bucket to a storage container.

  • Food grade storage containers to store sap in until boiling it. Clean plastic milk jugs or juice containers are good options.

  • Hammer

  • Pliers - to remove the tap from the tree once the sap season is over.

  • Pots

  • Heat source

  • Jars - for finished maple syrup storage.

Tapping the trees.

The sap starts to flow between late winter and early spring. The exact time of year depends upon where you live and weather conditions. Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise (+5 Celsius or more) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. I've read the sap generally flows for 4 to 6 weeks, and the best sap is produced early on in the season.

Clean spiles, bucket, and lids prior to use each season and rinse all thoroughly with hot water.

Then when your weather conditions are ideal, head to the back yard and tap your trees. Take your drill (with bit attached), hammer, spiles, hooks, buckets, and lids and camera :), of course!

The height of the tap hole should be at a height that is convenient for you and allows easy collection. About 3 feet high is usual recommendation. If the tree has been tapped in previous years, do not tap within 6 inches of the former tap hole. Don't tap on any damaged area of the tree.

Drill a hole 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. It may be helpful to wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit 2 ½ inches from the tip to use as a guide. Drill at a slight upward angle. The shavings from the drilled hole should be light, indicating healthy sapwood. If the shavings are dark brown, drill another hole in a different location.

Hang the bucket by inserting the hook into the hole on the rim of the bucket. Attach the lid to the spile by inserting the metal wire into the double holes on the spile. Yay! you have successfully tapped your first maple tree.

Maple sap is a clear fluid, looking like water. The collection amount varies. Some days you will collect only a small amount and other days your buckets could overflow if not emptied. (On a warm rainy day last week, the sap ran very well for us.)

Making the syrup.

When sap is flowing, empty buckets daily into to your cleaned and rinsed storage containers. Pour it through cheesecloth or fine sieve to filter out any foreign material. Store the sap at a temperature of 3 degrees Celsius or colder, and use within 7 days to keep it from spoiling. If there is still snow on the ground, you could keep the sap storage containers outside, in the shade packed with snow or store the sap in your refrigerator. For longer term storage, put in your freezer.

To make maple syrup, the excess water is boiled from the sap. It takes 40 parts sap to make 1 part maple syrup. Because of the large quantity of steam generated by boiling sap, it is not recommended to boil indoors. If you do decide to boil the sap indoors, make only small batches and ensure good ventilation. A outside fire pit, is best for larger amounts with ability to continuously feed fire under grate that holds pot as it will take several hours to boil your sap down. Other options include a outdoor grill or other propane burner.

Fill a flat pan or large pot 3/4 full with sap. Place the pot onto the heat source. Once the sap starts to boil down to ¼ the depth of the pot, add more sap, but try to maintain the boil. The boiling sap will take on a golden color. Once the sap has “mostly” boiled down, but still has a very fluid texture, transfer the sap into a smaller pot and you can continue inside.

Continue to boil the sap until it takes on a consistency of syrup. Dip a spoon into the sap/syrup and the syrup will “stick” to the spoon as it runs off. Watch the boiling sap very closely as it approaches syrup, since it is more likely to boil over then. If you have a candy thermometer, finish the boil when the temperature is 104 degrees Celsius.

A small amount of sediment may be present in your syrup. This can be filtered out using a food grade filter. After letting the syrup cool slightly, press thru a filter into a clean container. You can also remove the sediment by allowing the syrup to stand overnight in the refrigerator, and the sediment settles to the bottom. Pour off without disturbing sediment.

Sterilize bottles and caps in boiling water. Pour the sediment free syrup into the bottles. It is important to monitor the temperature of the syrup. Because I want to store my excess syrup in the pantry we will make sure to hot pack it in the jars at a temperature between 82 to 89 degrees Celsius. Store your syrup in a cool, dark shelf for up to two years until it is opened, then refrigerate and use up within a year. Syrup can also be frozen (in a freezer safe container) to extend shelf life.

Enjoy! and know that it is a great choice either on your french toast or as a natural sweetener.

Nutritional Info.

The following info is from Health Canada.

  • Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese, which plays an important role in energy production and antioxidant defenses, and is necessary for normal brain and nerve function. A portion of ¼ cup of maple syrup contains 100% of the Daily Value of manganese.

  • The sweetener provides 37% of the Daily Value of riboflavin, which aids in the metabolic process.

  • Pure Canadian maple syrup also contains 18% of the recommended Daily Value of zinc, which is essential for a healthy immune system.

  • Other minerals found in maple syrup are magnesium, calcium and potassium, decreasing the risk of hypertension or stroke.

I didn't know this until lately and now that I do know, I will definitely have pure maple syrup from now on in our house.

Next on to birch! Its sap has many health benefits.

:) Fran