How to Make Maple Syrup

With a few pieces of equipment, some maple trees, and patience, you can easily make delicious, pure maple syrup in your own backyard.

We lived in Vermont. We had maple trees behind our place. During a particular time of year in Vermont, late winter, there is no good reason to do anything outside. We were all about trying to get our kids outside, so we thought: Let’s drill a hole and get some sap.

I bought pails and the proper drill bit, and some cold-resistant tubing. Then I tapped the trees I remembered being maples from their beautiful colors in the fall. Maple trees turn first and give off the most beautiful colors for the autumn. I can remember, as a kid, picking up the seed pods from maples—we called them helicopters—peeling them apart and sticking them on my nose. My kids do that now, too.

We boiled the sap in my garage over an old propane turkey fryer. Once we did that, a bulb went off in my head. We did all that work, I thought, so we might as well tap more trees and get more syrup. So we did. Eventually it turned into a business. We make syrup, but we also accomplished our original goal: My kids get outside in the part of winter when no one really wants to go outside in Vermont. And they do it with us. On top of the syrup, that’s another gift the maple tree gives us.—Dave Ackert, CEO of Maple Craft Foods in Sandy Hook, Connecticut

how to make maple syrup

When Is Maple Syrup Season?

In a good year, tapping season is six weeks long, starting in late winter and ending in early spring. That’s when sap actively transports nutrients within the tree. “Sap goes into the roots during the cold night, collects starch, and turns it into sugar. During the warm day it will shoot up the trunk so the branches can bud out in the spring,” says Robert Pougnier at Heartwood Farm, a maple syrup and produce farm in South Albany, Vermont. You want daytime temperatures in the mid 30s and nighttime temperature in the mid 20s.

Do I Need a Lot of Equipment?

You need three things: a tap, a collection bucket, and a lid. The tap goes into the tree to pull out the sap, which drops into the collection bucket. The lid goes on top to keep out pine needles, bark, snow, and bugs.

How Much Will This Cost Me?

Less than $100. Taps are the cheap­est part. You can get five stainless-steel taps on Amazon for $25. Any bucket will do, even one of the plastic five-gallon buckets from the hardware store. Just make sure it’s clean. You’re going to eat this stuff, after all. After that, it’s just the boiling equipment. You’ll need a big pot and something to boil it on, such as a propane turkey fryer.

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How Long Will It Take?

Collection is relatively quick, and it involves little work from you. A few minutes to set up your tap, then a few more to get the sap running. “A good-size sugar maple tapped in a couple of places can fill a five-gallon bucket in about two days,” says Dave Ackert. The real time is spent boiling down the sap. For sugar maples, you need 40 to 50 gallons of sap to get one gallon of maple syrup. (Other trees reduce even more.) It’s an easy process, but expect to spend three to four days boiling per gallon of maple syrup you want to produce.

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Where To Find Sugar Maples

Sugar maples are the most popular tree for making syrup, because their sugar content is the highest. Forty gallons of sap yields about one gallon of syrup.

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What if I Don’t Live in a Sugar Maple State?

Don’t worry. You might still be able to make syrup, but it’ll be tougher. Almost any tree with sap can be tapped, but you won’t get the same flavor, and the yield might not be worth your time. If you live in the Southeast, for example, you can try tapping a silver or red maple. But only if you happen to get cold enough weather, and if you don’t care that you might end up with syrup for only one pancake.

How Many Trees Do I Need for This To Be Worth It?

One big sugar maple or a handful of small ones will keep you busy.

Am I Hurting the Tree?

If you tap a tree with a diameter less than ten inches, you can kill it. But on larger trees it’s not a problem. Very big trees can actually be tapped in as many as five places at the same time without causing damage.

Can I Make Syrup From Other Trees?

Adventurous types have made syrup from spruce, birch, and walnut, but no guarantees on taste.

Can I Tap the Same Tree(s) Every Year?

Yes. Just leave some space between the old and new holes.

Can I Add My Taps Now, Before It Gets Cold?

No. Taps start healing as soon as they’re drilled. Wait until it’s time to harvest.

This appears in the November 2018 issue. Want more Popular Mechanics? Get Instant Access!

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