With this past winter storm behind us, itâ€™s time to think ahead to early spring maple tree tapping. With only about 20 trees to tap, we make enough top-shelf maple syrup for our small family by repurposing our milk jugs, which would otherwise be tossed out as garbage. By experimenting with a triangle cut on the side of the plastic milk jug, weâ€™re able to fashion our own collecting jugs for maple sap.
We start collecting the plastic milk jugs about November, rinsing them out and storing them in large plastic garbage bags. Every year, we think November is too early to start. But when we need 50 or more jugs by February, November is not too early.
Come February, we drill the holes in the maple trees, pound the spiles, and attach the milk jugs, eagerly awaiting the first warm, sunny day above 40 degrees, and cold nights.
Next comes the storage of the collected sap. The poor-manâ€™s storage in our little woods is simple: dig a shallow spot in the snow for plastic storage bins, pour the sap into large plastic containers, set the lid, and youâ€™re able to store the sap out in the woods until youâ€™re ready to boil. Freshness is key, so boiling needs to take place very soon after collection.
For several years, Iâ€™ve been boiling the sap in the house. Itâ€™s fortunate we have a good stove vent to vent out the moisture, as it takes about 38 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. When you reach the last stage of boiling sap, you cannot leave it for a moment when it boils down to the stage of pouring the syrup into canning jars for quick sealing. By watching the bubbles creep up the sides of the roaster pan, you know that thatâ€™s the time to get ready to take the sap off the heat to be immediately placed in the canning jars. Being prepared with all your jars, lids and other preparation cannot be overstated enough.
Two years ago, I pulled the spiles way too early, thinking the maple sap run was finished. It wasnâ€™t, and we missed out on extra syrup that makes these long winter days so much more enjoyable. Once you have fresh maple syrup, your taste buds will not allow store bought high-fructose corn â€œsyrupâ€ ever again.
Reminiscing back to the days of the deep-woods maple sap boiling sugar shack by my bachelor great-uncles takes me back to a time of extremely hard work on the part of the relatives, and lots of fun in the woods for the kids. The men hauled full trees for the 24-hour-a-day boiling in the woods sugar shack, and their lives were made just a bit easier by an abandoned railroad track at the back of their property where they could pull those logs out of the woods by rail. The kids got to play in abandoned cars from the 1920s, and our imaginations took us to all corners of the earth in those rusted-out hulks.
How to tap your own trees: How to tap your own (maple) trees
For spiles, search the internet for keywords maple tap spiles.