A few years ago, during a cold and boring winter, I learned how to make maple syrup from a tree in my own backyard. Here is what I learned.
To make maple syrup from a tree, you collect sap in late winter, when the temperature is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. The sap is mostly water. To make syrup, you boil the water until the sugar concentration is about 66%.
How to make maple syrup from a tree in 4 steps (the short version)
Step 1: When the weather is right (freezing at night, warmer than freezing during the day) drill a hole and insert a tree tap
Step 2: Collect the sap in a bucket
Step 3: Boil the sap down to concentrate the sugars until you create a viscous syrup that will heat up beyond the boiling point of water, all the way up to 219 degrees Fahrenheit
Step 4: Wait for it to cool and enjoy!
You generally have to boil ~40 liters or quarts of sap to make 1 liter or quart of syrup.
Learn how to make maple syrup from tree sap (longer version)
Learning how to make maple syrup from tree sap is a great way to enjoy a natural, sugary treat–and impress your friends when they come over. I grew up in a city, but moved to the suburbs more than a decade ago. Luckily for me, there was one large maple tree in the yard, and a smaller one. Bored on a Sunday afternoon, I started researching how to turn that sweet sap into sugary syrup–and a new hobby was born.
Making maple syrup, once you have sap is fairly easy. The hardest part is timing things right to ensure you get enough sap from your tree. You will need good timing, some patience, and some relatively inexpensive equipment.
Here is the equipment you will need:
I tend to be a no-frills guy, who likes to prove that an idea works before I spend a lot of money. If you’re the type that likes to invest in the best gear to ensure the best results. Check out this article on how to select the best tree tap kit for you.
However, if you’re like me, or just want to see if you can learn how to make maple syrup from a tree and also decide whether or not you enjoy it before you spend a lot of money, this is best equipment you can get, for the least amount of money:
- Tree taps (1-2 per tree)
- Drop lines (plastic tubes that connect to your tree tap and extend down to the bucket you have on the ground)
- Drill bit (to drill a hole with the exact diameter of your tree taps)
You can purchase these separately, or get an inexpensive kit that has all of those parts. Check out the price of the kit I use on Amazon.
A few other items you will want to have:
- Rubber mallet (or hammer) to insert the tap into the tree trunk
- Food grade buckets or containers to collect the sap
- -You may have these lying around the house, or you can pick them up for a few dollars at Lowes or Home Depot
- One very large stock pot (for bulk boiling)
- One medium-sized pot (for finishing)
- Container (jars) to store the syrup
I chose that kit because it was inexpensive and came with a drill bit and enough taps and drop lines to last a few years. I had a bunch of buckets already in my garage, so this was all I needed.
Maple syrup starts with maple trees
Of course, you will also need some maple trees if you want to make some syrup after you learn how.
The commercial syrup you bought from the store was probably made from the sap from sugar maple trees because they yield the most syrup in a season, but you can make maple syrup from any maple tree with a trunk that is at least 10 inches across (diameter).
Here is an article that shares more information about the type of trees you can collect sap from.
For what it’s worth, I make more maple syrup at home than we could reasonably consume (and my kids love to put the syrup on their pancakes) from 2 silver maple trees in my yard.
How to tap a maple tree
You need sap to make maple syrup. You get the sap by tapping the maple tree, which looks scary, sounds intimidating, but is really pretty easily done in 3 simple steps:
- Drill a hole that is the exact diameter of the tap you have, so that the tap fits in snugly.
- Insert the tap.
- Attach your collection container
The collection container is generally either a bucket hung over the tap/spile or a plastic jug or bucket on the ground attached to the tap via a drop line.
How to make maple syrup from a tree (sharing my experiences)
Here is how I used the maple tree tapping kit from Amazon to tap the two silver maple trees in my backyard.
The kit came with the drill bit and 36-inch droplines were attached to the barbed-end of the tap.
My collection container is a bucket, so I situated the bucket, on a level part of the ground next to the trunk.
Then, I looked for a relatively smooth part of the trunk approximately 25-30 inches above the bucket (where I knew the line would reach).
Holding my drill as straight as possible, I drilled the hole, approximately 1.5 inches deep.
I inserted the tap.
Tapped it in with a rubber mallet
Put the hose inside the bucket (through a hole in the lid)
Voila. That is how to tap a maple tree.
When to tap (when is the best time of year to make maple syrup from a tree)?
The best time for collecting sap is when the temperature dips below freezing at night and warms up into the 40s during the day.
The temperature differential creates the perfect conditions for sap running and collection–and you need lots of sap to make maple syrup.
The hole you make in the tree should last about 4-6 weeks. At the end of the run, once the buds on the tree form, the flavor of the sap will change and take on some ‘off’ and ‘bitter’ flavors.
So the theoretically perfect time is the 4-6 week period with the most days that meet that description, ending just before the off-flavors kick in.
Where to begin (how can you get started learning how to make maple syrup)?
All of this information and the confounding variables can make the decision a bit tricky because the “perfect time” is probably going to change each and every season.
There will always be guesswork involved because nobody truly knows what the future holds.
Keep in mind, it’s just a hobby (right?), so do your research and make the best guess you can.
It’s also good if you know anyone local who can give you advice based on your local geography and climate.
If you’re stuck still wondering when you, specifically, should start tapping your trees. Check out these blog posts, where I share my own journey.
What I can tell you is that you don’t get any sap from a tree that isn’t tapped. So if you look at the extended forecast and see the right weather conditions, you might want to give it a try.
Just be sure to take good notes so you’ll know how to tweak your plan next year.
Collecting the sap
When the conditions are right, the sap should naturally flow into the bucket. It is best to collect the sap before the container fills up and every 3 days, at least.
Remember, the sap is mostly water with some sugar. This is the perfect medium to grow bacteria, mold, and other gross stuff. So you want to harvest the sap before it spoils.
You can keep the sap for a longer period of time if the temperature remains refrigerator like–or simply keep it in the refrigerator.
Also, you concentrate the liquid down (by boiling) and then store in the freezer almost indefinitely. The sap might eventually absorb off flavors from inside the freezer if you leave it too long, but since you’re probably motivated to taste some of this homemade maple syrup, it probably won’t happen to you.
Make maple syrup from the sap
Making maple syrup from the sap of a maple tree is a relatively straightforward process.
The sap you collected probably has something like 1-2.5% sugar in it. You want to boil off enough water to concentrate the sugar to about 66%, which generally means you’ll have to boil off about 40 pints of sap to make one pint of syrup.
I made a super-small batch of syrup on day 3 because the temperature turned really cold–and I wanted to prove to myself it would work. You can read about the steps I took there, but here is a brief overview:
Before heating up your sap, filter it, to remove any particles, like wood shavings, bugs, dirt, etc.
Then heat the sap up to a boil–preferably outside.
In preparation of having the delicious syrup, you also want to clean and sterilize the containers you plan to use to hold the syrup–for example if you plan to keep it in ball jars, best to boil those in advance so that they are ready when your syrup is ready.
Back to the boil:
Each time you evaporate off 25-40% of the liquid, top it back off with more sap.
Repeat this process until you’ve added all the sap you have.
The sugar and maple flavor concentrates in the liquor, as you evaporate off the excess water.
Once the liquid reaches a concentration of about 66% sugar and the temperature rises to about 219 degrees Fahrenheit (this will be a bit different depending on the elevation where you live and at what temperature water boils).
At that point, liquor turns golden brown and is maple syrup, ready to eat! Voila, we just learned how to make maple syrup from a tree!
Have any questions about the terms used in this article? Check out the Glossary for more information
What to read next
Now that you know how to make maple syrup at home, you need the right equipment.
- Find out how to pick the best maple tree tapping kit
The best gear won’t do you any good if you tap the maple tree at the wrong time.