February - March is Maple Syrup TimeIn our Midwest climate, March is usually prime maple syrup time. We learned that sap is gathered more easily in March because it starts to flow up the tree. By the time spring hits the sap is dispersed in the branches and leaves.
The best time to tap a tree is when the night is just below freezing and the day gets above freezing. This rising temperature creates pressure in the tree that makes the sap rise. Sap will flow for 4-6 weeks. You can tap a tree 1-4 times depending on how old the tree is. Trees that are over 100 years old can be tapped 4 times, just not directly above or below another previously made hole.
How to Tap a Maple Syrup TreeTo tap a tree you drill a hole (power or manually) about 3 feet off the ground. Now insert the spout or spile, you may need to use a hammer to get it in the hole. You should begin seeing tap come out pretty quickly.
Collect Sap from a Maple TreeNow you will need to attach a clean container to collect the sap. Any food grade container will work. It is recommended that when sap is flowing you collect your sap daily, using a cheesecloth or similar to filter out any foreign material. Collected sap must be stored at about 38 F and used within 7 days. Sap is like milk and will spoil.
Turning Maple Sap into Maple SyrupIt is important to boil your maple syrup to kill any bacteria that may be there. The picture below is what maple sap looks like – clear and very runny.
Because of the large amount of steam, it is recommended to boil your sap outdoors.
Continue boiling until it reduces dramatically; add more sap and continue boiling. It takes about 20 galloons of sap to make 1 galloon of maple syrup.
When it has been boiled down it will be a golden color and will be somewhat thicker. On our fieldtrip we got to taste some freshly made maple syrup – YUM! (They had us use pasta to dip in the syrup to taste so the “spoons” could be composted. So clever!)
If you’d like to see how Maple Syrup is made first hand like we did check your local forest preserves, historic farms, and national parks for dates and locations in your area.