Sugaring, or the process of making maple syrup, heralds the beginning of spring on the farm. Daily temperature rising above 32 degrees Fahrenheit cause trees to break dormancy, at which point they begin send sugars stored in the roots up to the bud studded branches. These sugars travel up through the tree in a solution called sap, or as we affectionately refer to it, Liquid Gold!
We usually begin tapping maple trees in early March on our Farm. Having temperatures that rise above freezing during the day, but dip back down under freezing at night, are key to a good sap flow. This shift in temperatures creates a pressure gradient in the trees, which causes the sap to flow. Sugaring season typically lasts six weeks in Wisconsin, but has been cut short in recent years due to the dramatic shift from frigid winters to exceptionally warm springs.
How We Tap Our Maple Trees
Extracting the sap is fairly simple, and quite honestly, the most fun part of the sugaring experience. Only trees greater than 10 inches in diameter are selected for tapping. We drill a 2-3" deep hole with a 5/16" bit about three feet off the ground at a slight upward angle into the tree. After clearing the hole of debris by blowing in the opening, we pound in a 5/16" tap that we purchased from Maple Hollow. It's best to use a small hammer when pounding in plastic taps, as too much force will cause the wood to split above and below the tap.
After the tap has been pounded into the tree, we cut a length of tubing that spans the distance between the tap and a 5 gallon food grade pail that is placed on the ground. In some instances, especially when the snow is still deep, we bungee the buckets to the tree to prevent them from tipping over as the snow melts and ground softens below them.
Harvesting the Sap
Sap can spoil just like milk if exposed to prolonged periods of warm temperatures, and is best stored at temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. All of our sap is stored in 33 gallon food storage containers, which we pack in a snow bank in a shady place on our property. Once we are unable to store anymore sap, we begin to boil down our collection into syrup. We like to have a little over 100 gallons when we boil, as that is the amount that we can boil down over a 12 hour period. Since it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, it will take us an entire days worth of work to make 2.5 gallons of syrup!
Turning Sap into Syrup
Watch the video below to learn how we boil down sap with our homemade cinder block evaporator and divided pan from Smoky Lake Maple Products!
We have yet to finish our first batch of 2015 syrup. I will update this section once we finish the sap we boiled in the above video this coming weekend! Syrup will be available for purchase through the Farm Store in late March.