Are you in Lockdown right now, stuck with a bit of cabin fever and looking for a new hobby to add to your quarantine bucket list? If you’re tired of making banana bread and sourdough bread, I have the perfect cure for the winter blues.
You need to make maple syrup at home. It’s easier than you may think. You just need a Maple tree, and the right maple tree tapping supplies.
The Maple Tree
At the risk of stating the obvious, the first thing you need is a maple tree.
The only restriction here is that the tree should have a trunk that is at least 31.4 inches in circumference. This brings us to the first of many maple tree tapping supplies on our list:
You want to measure your tree, to be sure it’s old enough to tolerate your tapping it and “borrowing” some sap. Works best if you have the flexible style tape a TV show tailor would use to measure an inseam.
You can just wrap that around the tree to get a perfect measurement.
As an alternative, you can hold a less flexible model across the trunk. In that case, you’re looking for 10+ inches across (an estimate of the diameter.
The fastest and easiest way I know of, to start maple tree tapping is with a cordless drill.
You want to drill a clean hole, fast, and that’s the tool for the job.
Taps, Spiles or Spigots
The next supplies you need are taps (also called spigots or spiles). These are specially engineered plastic or metal bits that fit in the hole you drilled and direct the drip into your collection bucket. You want to have 1 tap per tree with a circumference between 31- 62 inches (like measuring the waist of the tree) and can add one more for larger trees.
For this job, smaller is better. The smaller the taps, the smaller the wound.
When the conditions were perfect, my most productive tree would produce ~400 ounces of sap in a day. The supplies you need to collect that sap are buckets.
Sometimes the bucket is suspended immediately below the tap–other times, the buckets are placed on the ground. To get the sap from the tap to the bucket, you need the next supply on this list.
Drop lines are designed to let gravity do the work to get the sap from the tap to your bucket, without exposing it to the air or insects.
Empty (for now) gallon jugs and a refrigerator
These are for storing and refrigerating your sap until you plan to cook it down and concentrate it.
You’ll need this to boil your sap. Maple syrup is made when you concentrate the sugar in the sap ~40-times. That takes a lot of boiling.
That large pot assumes you’re going to be evaporating in your kitchen–which isn’t always recommended. If you want the maple syrup supplies the professionals use, it’s called an evaporator:
Sugar isn’t the only thing in sap besides water. There are also minerals, which will get concentrated, too. Unless you filter them out.
No real harm here other than making your otherwise smooth syrup gritty. Using a canvas filter helps remove those particles and yield a super-smooth syrup.
Jars for your syrup
This is for the final product. Will you be using up all your sweet liquor at home or sharing it with friends? Presentation matters here. Make sure your jars properly showcase all your hard work.
Maple syrup starter kit: the all-in-one maple tree tapping supplies
The easiest way to get all the maple tree tapping supplies you need is to pick up a maple syrup starter kit.
Ordering a maple syrup starter kit helps take the guesswork out of gathering all the right maple tree tapping supplies.
There are three basic categories of maple syrup starter kits
Basic starter kits
Basic starter kits typically contain just taps and drop lines with instructions, or perhaps even a paper filter.
You need to provide your own buckets, but so what? Buckets are cheap. These maple syrup starter kits offer a great option to start making your own maple syrup at the lowest entry price.
Looking for the best maple tree tap kit to make maple syrup at home?
This article will review some of the most popular options, so you can choose the best one and get started making maple syrup from the trees in your own backyard.
Picking the best maple tree tap kit: considering the options
There are three main designs to consider when picking the best maple tree tap to get started with sugaring.
Each design tends to have a few options for you to customize your setup.
Let’s get started with the classic style of maple tree tap and explore all the options to determine which is the best.
Is this what you picture, when you think about collecting sap to make maple syrup?
Spile style maple tree tap kits
The option that probably comes to mind first is a spiles kit. The iconic image that comes to most is of metal buckets hanging from trees, like in the image just above.
Most of the spile style maple tree tap kits come with metal spiles, like the one shown below:
The spile is generally made from stainless steel–because it has to tough.
They are engineered to hold a hook in place against the trunk of the tree. The hook fits into a reinforced pail that is either made of aluminum or plastic.
The aluminum pail kit comes with:
The plastic pail kit comes with:
The iconic look and simplicity here will take you back to more gentle times. The design hasn’t changed for many, many years–because it works!
The design for these maple tapping kits hasn’t changed in a long, long time. Because the design is a bit older and since the spile has to be able to hold the weight of a pail full of sap, this design has the largest diameter spiles (taps).
Large taps mean large holes in the tree. Larger holes mean larger wounds, which means more stress for the tree.
Tubing kit for tapping maple trees
The next maple tree tap kit option is called the tubing kit.
These kits come with a lower-profile, generally plastic tap that sends the sap down a plastic tube to the collection bucket.
Number of Taps
The first and most obvious way all of these maple tapping kits differ is in the number of taps in each kit.
Length of drop line
The next thing you have to decide is how long you want the drop line to be–will you be connecting this tube to a series of tubes or will you be dropping it to a bucket at the base of the tree?
If you plan to drop the line to a bucket, you probably want a 3-foot drop line. If you plan to daisy-chain your trees, you can probably deal with the 2-foot drop line.
Some kits come with a drill bit, so you know you have exactly the right size for your taps (generally 5/16 inch).
Maple syrup filters
Some kits come with filters so that you can remove particles from your sap (wood shavings, dirt, bugs, twigs).
Getting started guide
Most of the kits have a short pamphlet that describes the basics, to help you get started.
This kit has everything you need to start making maple syrup at home, except for the containers to collect all the sap you’re going to get.
The taps included in this kit are smaller in diameter than the old-school spiles, which means it will create a smaller wound in the tree–which is a good thing for the tree.
The drop lines attached to the tap make it nice and easy to collect the sap.
10 taps and drop lines should be enough to tap a bunch of trees.
Really, the only major con I can think of, for this kit, is that you have to supply your own buckets or containers to collect the sap in.
One minor con to consider is the price. Considering this kit is mostly plastic pieces, it can seem a bit pricey, but the cost is within the normal range of the kits available online.
The next maple tree tap kit option is called the sap bags kit. This is what it looks like on your tree:
This is more like what the kit looks like online:
Rather than running the sap into a bucket, these kits direct the sap into a bag.
There is the metal clamp option shown above, and a PVC-tube option shown below, here:
The concept is still quite similar. You drill a hole in the tree and insert your tap. Instead of hanging a bucket on the spile or putting a drop line into a bucket on the ground, the sap fills up in bags that hang down the side.
This kit is the ultimate in convenience. You don’t have to worry about sanitizing buckets, the sap fills up in those disposable bags.
You will have to buy and replace bags, as you go.
Best maple tree tap kit value
In my opinion, the best maple tree tap kit value is
It has almost everything you need to get started making your own maple syrup at home. The only things missing are a few supplies you probably already have around the house (drill bit and plastic containers).
Best all-inclusive maple tree tap kit
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a kit that literally has everything you need, check out
When is the best time to tap a maple tree in Southeastern Pennsylvania?
That was my number one question when I first decided to get started in this hobby. When do you put the tap in the tree?
Unfortunately, when I searched around, all I found about the topic was general advice.
Most of the advice I found stated that the ideal time to tap a maple tree is when the sap is flowing…
Sap flows when the nighttime temperatures dip below freezing, and the daytime temperatures get into the 40s.
This process of freezing and thawing causes water pressure in the tree that produces the sap flow we want.
Once the temperature gets too warm (if it doesn’t get below freezing at night), the sap flow stops, ending the season.
Well, that helped…a little…but it still didn’t answer my question. I found out there are also a few other considerations as well.
It depends on what type of trees you have, certain types of maple trees will produce buds sooner than others.
Once the buds emerge from the branches, it turns the flavor of the sap.
I found out that taps dry out about ~8-10 weeks after starting them.
When did I tap my trees?
I have 2 silver maple trees at my house, not sugar maples (which bud and end the season a bit earlier than sugar maples). My gut also told me that once April rolls around in the Philadelphia metro area, the nights don’t dip into the 20s all that often, so I decided to go as early as I could.
The first weather report that looked like it would give me a few days was the week of January 19-25–so I tapped my trees on January 19, 2019.
Was it the best time to tap a maple tree in Southeastern PA? Answering that question is what the purpose of the rest of this article is about.
The only way to determine when the best time to tap was, to take good notes and look back over the season. Here is my account of the season.
Week 1: January 19-25
This adventure started on January 19th. I had cabin fever, some extra free time on the weekend, and the weather forecast warmed up.
See for yourself:
From the looks of it, I thought there would be 3 good maple sap days: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday.
Here is how that sap collection really turned out. The tables in this report show how many ounces of sap were collected each week. I did not typically measure the ounces directly, I generally estimated.
Ounces of sap
As you can tell from the report, however, the sap wasn’t really flowing that well yet, although it did yield just under 1 gallon of sap for the week.
Week 2 January 26 – Feb 1
This week started out warm and then got bitterly cold towards the end of the week. In the news, they called it a polar vortex–a front of cold air that shot down from the North Pole.
It actually got even colder than this report shows–the temperature was below zero for a couple of the days. Here is what the sap collecting looked like:
Ounces of sap
Weather conditions only held up for 1 collection day.
Week 3 Feb 2 – 8
At first glance, this weather looked P-E-R-F-E-C-T for collecting maple sap–and it was certainly pretty good.
As an important side note, too, since the weather looked like it was going to be perfect, I drilled a second hole in my very large maple tree. My thought process here is that it should help extend my season by about 2 weeks and double my production over many of the weeks in the middle.
Here is what that all translated into, in terms of sap collecting:
Ounces of sap
The only day that was not productive was Saturday.
It looked like a good day, on paper, but it came off the bitterly-cold polar vortex temperatures and there just weren’t enough warm hours to thaw the ice.
But still, over 1000 ounces of sap in the week. This was an amazing amount of sap and certainly was a week I would not have wanted to miss.
Week 4 Saturday, Feb 9-15
The weather for this week looked too cold for the first half, but excellent for the second half.
Check out the sap collection for this week:
Ounces of sap
Saturday, Feb 9, Sunday, Feb 10 and Tuesday, Feb 12, turned out to be too cold to collect any appreciable sap.
While the temperature technically got above freezing each day, it didn’t stay above freezing long enough for the sap to run appreciably
Monday was an okay day, not great. I recorded 64 ounces of sap, but in truth, that is a bit low, because much of the sap was frozen solid when I collected it.
Since the pure water freezes first, it actually concentrates the sugar and other dissolved nutrients in the remaining sap. So while the volume was low (~64 ounces), the sugar content was higher than usual.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday turned out to be very good days, with approximately 2- 3 gallons collected each night.
Week 5 Saturday, Feb 16 -22
Week 5 looked like a bumper week, from the beginning. The forecast had lots of nights below freezing and days in or very close to the 40s. This is how it turned out:
Ounces of sap
The pattern was still sporadic, with 3 really good days and two small days. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much to show for Saturday.
Not exactly sure why. It technically wasn’t a zero, but there was so little in the buckets that I didn’t bother to collect it, I just waited until Sunday and collected that small amount then.
Turned out that Monday and Thursday were the big days I had hoped (but not the biggest of the year), and Friday wasn’t too shabby either.
Wednesday started frozen and ended frozen, so I didn’t even bother.
All in all, however, Week 5 was the highest producing week so far, bringing in approximately 1100 ounces, or just about 8.33 gallons of sap for the week, and nearly 26 gallons for the season.
Week 6: February 23- Mar 1
Here is the weather looked like for week 6:
On the surface, the ranges look relatively suited to collecting sap, but the reality of the hourly weather, the temperature changes just didn’t hit the right pattern for the sap pressure to build up and release.
Here is what the week produced:
Ounces of sap
Week 7: March 2-8
Week 7 here looked pretty bad. A cold snap flattened out my weather and kept it below or too close to freezing for most of the week. The vast majority of sap was harvested on Sunday, March 2nd, which was the largest harvest of the year. Monday was decent, but then I got skunked for 4 days in a row after that.
Ounces of sap
Friday wasn’t a perfect day, but it did yield some sap.
Week 8: March 9 – 15
Watching the weather here is fascinating. It might sound repetitive at this point, but what is needed to produce large amounts of sap is a strong temperature differential dipping below freezing (by enough to form ice crystals in the tree–probably like the 20s) and then thawing out into the 40s. Last week, it was cold and didn’t get warm enough. This week’s weather produced a few days that seemed to be a textbook day in terms of temperature differential and a few that were actually too warm…UGH.
Ounces of sap
and the actual sap yield appeared to be declining.
Week 9: March 16-22
At the start of this week, the weather (on paper) looked picture-perfect, but it turned out NOT to be that way. The temperature stayed above freezing for most of the week.
Monday looked like it was going to be textbook perfect, but it yielded no sap.
Take a look:
I checked Tuesday, and Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday. The lines were dry. No sap flowing. My season is over.
No sap flowed at all.
Taps were dry, on textbook perfect days (temperature wise).
Ounces of sap
Buds were on the branches. Not sure if this had something to do with it, too:
The season is over, for me. I pulled the taps on Sunday, March 23.
Week 10: March 23 -29
Here was the weather for the following week:
Monday-Wednesday might have been sap-producing days, based on the temperature differentials from morning until afternoon if the holes hadn’t dried up.
The rest of the week was definitely too warm.
Week 11: March 30- Apr 6
Here was the weather for the following week:
Even though it says the temperature is going down to 27 degrees on Monday, the hourly forecast showed it just barely creeping down below freezing. On paper, this week would have produced ZERO sap, unless Sunday-Monday truly did dip below freezing.
I tapped my trees on January 19 and then added 1 more tap to the largest tree on February 2. During the entire season, it is estimated that my two trees produced nearly 38 gallons of sap!!
You can see that my taps yield sap for a total of 8 weeks (maybe it was ~6 weeks, recognizing that I started a second tap 2-weeks in).
So, when was the best time to tap a silver maple tree in Southeastern Pennsylvania in 2019?
From the looks of it, February 2nd, 2019. My season ran from the week of 1/19 to 3/9, but those first two weeks of the season were cold and yielded a little, whereas the March weeks had much better temperatures.
Looking back in hindsight, I wonder if one of the two taps in the larger tree had started to dry up in those first two weeks of March (after 6 weeks of producing), which is why the yields went down, even though the weather was decent.
So, all-in-all, I feel pretty good about when I started the season. 1/19 was a bit early, but it was pretty close. If I had a crystal ball and could start over again, starting 2 weeks later (2/2) may have extended the harvest a bit–but I’m not sure. Since I’d only be risking ~200 ounces of sap from those first 2 weeks, it’s worth the risk.
I certainly didn’t miss the season too badly, however, because the season was certainly over, temperature wise, by mid-week 3/23.
Deciding when the best time to tap a maple tree is really just a guess. It’s highly dependent on the weather. In 2019, I tapped my trees on 1/19 and got 38 gallons of sap! I think I could have improved that harvest a bit (maybe by another ~2-4 gallons MAX–and that’s being optimistic) if i started 2 weeks later. I have no way of knowing, it’s just a guess. If I had to pick a single, best date to start, I would say it was probably February 2nd, 2019, this year.
I hope that helps. Did you tap maple trees this year? If so, where do you live and when did you start? Any advice you would share here?
Well, it’s official. Today, I made maple syrup at home.
Take a look:
It tasted delicious.
But I did make a huge mess and a few mistakes. I’ll share the full adventure with you here, so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.
Making maple syrup at home from maple sap
There are two silver maple trees in my yard. I bought a maple tapping kit online from Amazon.com this year and started collecting sap, with the hopes of making delicious maple syrup at home.
Today is the day I turned that natural nectar into the sweet and sticky syrup.
Boiling, boiling and more boiling (to concentrate the sap)
I have been collecting sap for the past 3 weeks now. Since sap is somewhere in the neighborhood of ~2% sugar, it can and will spoil.
Since it needs to be concentrated to around ~66-67% sugar to become maple syrup, I spent some time getting ready by concentrating down the sap in small batches.
Each of the last few nights, I boiled the sap down to concentrate the liquid, stopping short of making sap on any one given night.
In the first three weeks of tapping my trees, I collected a little over 9-gallons of sap.
Over those weeks, I boiled it down to 1 gallon of honey-colored liquid.
This way, I was able to keep it in the refrigerator and boiling it helped ensure there weren’t any viable microbes there to spoil it.
Today, I boiled a little less than 1 gallon down into about 40 ounces of syrup (or almost syrup). I’ll explain in a minute.
Step 1: Getting the glassware ready
The first step in making maple syrup is to get the glass jars sterilized for storage.
Place the glass jars in a single layer in the bottom of the stock pot.
Fill the pot with water so that there is at least an inch of water over the top of the lids.
Boil the jars for about 10 minutes to sterilize them.
Record the temperature that water boils at
One of the ways you are supposed to be able to tell when the maple sap has been transformed into syrup is when the temperature reaches 7 degrees Fahrenheit above boiling.
Water boils at 212 degrees F at sea level, but that temperature at which water boils increases if you live in a higher elevation.
Plus, your thermometer may not be perfectly calibrated.
So, in order to figure out when the sap is done, a good next step is to boil some water and record the temperature.
My hand got pretty hot there. I recommend you wear an oven mitten when measuring your own temperature.
If I was smart, I would have just taken the temperature of the boiling water in the sterilization pot…but I didn’t.
Step 3: Boiling the sap
Even though I had already reduced the volume of the sap significantly over the past few days, by boiling a few gallons each night, there was still a fair amount of evaporating needed to convert the sap into syrup.
The color of the sap became darker and more amber colored as it cooked.
Step 4: Watch the boiling pot closely
Ever hear the phrase “a watched pot doesn’t boil”? Well, here’s a new one. A pot full of sap boils…over…if you don’t watch it.
The boiling sap was fairly unpredictable. The rolling boil was under control most of the time, but periodically, it would foam up and ‘try’ to boil over.
If watched carefully, you can remove the pot from the heat and the bubbles settle back down to normal.
Miss it…and the pot boils over and you have a big, sticky, smelly, smoky mess on your cooktop.
More about that, in a bit.
Step 5: At 7 degrees above boiling
At 7 degrees above boiling, things got a bit tricky.
For starters, the sap foamed up a lot more. I’d take it off the heat, but it would bubble right back up, as soon as I returned it to the heat.
The liquid still looked a bit runny, but it did have a bit more surface tension than the sap did previously.
Step 6: Pour the syrup into the jars
The sixth and final step was to pour the syrup into the jars.
I filled them up, pretty close to the top and then slipped the lid on, tightening the ring so that it was finger tight.
Step 7: Try to make some candy and make a big mess instead
My kids asked me to make some maple candy from the sap, too. So I reserved some syrup to make candy.
To make candy from maple syrup, you are supposed to heat the syrup up to about 235 degrees F (or even higher, according to some info I found online).
Then you let it cool for 5-10 minutes (without disturbing it) and then stir it for 5 minutes until it gets creamy.
Well, I never got that far, because my pot boiled over and made a major, major mess.
The volume of syrup in the pot, at this point, was about 40% of what it was a few moments earlier (because I had portioned out the first 60% into the syrup jars) and it still boiled over in the blink of an eye.
The syrup started burning immediately, filling the room with smoke. I don’t have a good picture of that, because I was too busy dealing with the mess.
The outside of the pot was now covered in sticky, dried syrup (thicker than the syrup I canned).
This picture doesn’t do the mess justice. The burner in the front right of the picture was covered in syrup which turned black, almost instantly and started to burn and smoke.
Syrup went everywhere and covered the other burners and the pot.
I had no options left but to hope the syrup had reached the proper temperature.
So I waited
But the syrup never got creamy. It just looked like syrup.
So I canned that too.
While I’m a bit bummed that I wasn’t able to make maple candies from the syrup, that experience (and mess) did teach me something valuable and important about making maple syrup.
I pulled the syrup and started bottling as soon as it reached the temperature I thought was the ‘right’ temperature and it started foaming more often (acting differently).
But after trying and failing to make the candies, I realized that the viscosity of the syrup left behind from the batched candy operation looks and feels a lot more like the proper syrup viscosity.
The stuff I jarred first looks a bit runny, in comparison. I knew it was runny when I bottled it, but I assumed it would ‘thicken up’ once it cooled.
It did. But perhaps not enough.
So I know now that you want to look for these three things before pulling your syrup off the heat:
Reaching at least 7 degrees above boiling point–and it seems like you could even go a bit higher without too many problems–I think I will aim higher next time
The syrup will make a lot more foam that it did just seconds earlier
The viscosity, even if hot, will change and be thicker
I filtered my sap through a reusable coffee filter, when it was liquid sap, removing all the particulates.
When the syrup is boiling, it looks perfectly clear, but as it cooled in the jar, some particles settled out of solution.
Take a look:
Those are sugar crystals and minerals.
If you don’t want those in your syrup, you will have to filter the syrup as well.
One final tip/observation about making maple syrup or maple candy:
Don’t take your eyes off the syrup once it’s that close. I went to the fridge to get some butter because the recipes I found online generally called for a couple of drops of butter or oil, to ease the surface tension (and ironically, prevent boiling over).
The pot boiled over when I looked away and grabbed the butter from the fridge. So…have your supplies ready.