How to make maple syrup

Introduction

Want to learn how to make maple syrup? It’s a lot of fun and easy to do.

Here is the equipment you will need:

  • Maple syrup tapping kit that includes
    • Drill bit
    • Maple tree taps
    • Drop lines
  • Rubber mallet (or hammer)
  • Food grade buckets or containers
  • Filters
  • A few large pots
  • Container (jars) to store the syrup

Here is why.

The tapping kit is what you need to start to harvest the sap from the trees, which is essential if you want to learn how to make maple syrup.

how to make maple syrup tapping kit
The buckets or other containers are used to collect the sap

Filters are used to remove particles from your sap

The pots are used to boil the sap, to concentrate the sugar and make the syrup

Finally, you need some sterile containers to store the nectar you make.

Maple syrup starts with maple trees

Of course, you will also need some maple trees.

How to make maple syrup from maple tree sap
Learning how to make maple syrup from a tree like this in my yard was so much fun

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:

  1. Drill a hole that is the exact diameter of the tap you have, so that the tap fits in snugly.
  2. Insert the tap.
  3. 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 (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

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.

maple sap runs when the temperature gets over 40 degrees
Is this the right time to tap? This was my first big decision when I learned how to make maple syrup

Where to begin

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.

maple sap collected from a silver maple tree

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.

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.

boiling maple sap concentrates the sugars and flavor

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.

you want to have a clean, sterile container for storage

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).

the sap will foam up at the end

At that point, liquor turns golden brown and is maple syrup, ready to eat!

maple syrup ready to eat

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.

The best gear won’t do you any good if you tap the maple tree at the wrong time.

Articles

About

About me

In full transparency:

I am not an expert in making maple syrup at home.

I’m a guy, in his forties (at the time I wrote this page), who just started his journey in making maple syrup at home.

I live in Eastern Pennsylvania, in a relatively remote suburb of Philadelphia.

Easter PA

There are two silver maple trees on in my backyard.

I enjoy learning how to do new things and enjoy gardening. Making maple syrup and maple sugar seems like the perfect hobby to pass the time between winter and spring.

In 2019, I decided that I was going to tap those two maple trees, to see if I could make some maple syrup.

Before I drilled a hole in the tree, I spent hours on the internet doing some research.

For many of my questions, there were answers readily available and some general advice, but for some of my questions, either the information was too generic, obtuse, or frankly, just wasn’t there.

About makemaplesyrupathome.com

Two things motivated me to make this website.

The first thing

I couldn’t figure out if January 19th, 2019 was a good day to start making maple syrup at home or a bad day.

All I saw was that the typically ‘good days’ when the sap runs well, are those days that freeze overnight and are in the 40s during the day.

But there was no authoritative information that could tell me what to do in PA.

I also struggled to find any good accounts of what other people like me were doing.

The second thing

I knew that if I wanted to get good at making maple syrup at home that I was going to have to take some good notes.

The day I started making maple syrup at home, I drilled 5/16 inch holes in my trees and tapped in the spiles and sat down at my computer to take some notes.

My trees

Here is silver maple tree # 1

This tree is right next to the deck, off my back door. It is the younger of the two trees.

Here is silver maple tree # 2

This tree is ‘across the yard’, about 3/4 of the way to the property line. It is the larger of the two trees.

My equipment

I didn’t start with anything fancy, I went with one of the least expensive kits I could find.

Tree tapping kit

I bought this maple tree tapping kit on Amazon.

It came with:

  • A drill bit for making the hole
  • 5 maple tree taps with 36-inch droplines
  • Instructions pamphlet

I’m collecting the sap in 5-gallon buckets I already had around the house (you can see them in the images above).

The conclusion

When I started my own journey, I was hoping there was someone else out there willing to share their own experiences with me, to help give me the confidence to get started.

But there wasn’t.

Since I knew I was going to be keeping notes anyway, I figured, maybe I should just share my notes publicly, in case they are helpful for someone else just starting.

That’s how and why this website was created.

How’s it look?

I’m excited about this opportunity to share what I learn along the way and to meet you and learn about your journey, as well.

Please leave a comment below to introduce yourself and/or ask a question about making maple syrup at home that you haven’t found a good answer to online.

Thanks!