How Maple Syrup is Made
Here in Vermont and elsewhere, 99% of the maples grow wild, but it takes about 40 years for a maple to grow big enough to tap (8 to 12 inches in diameter).
VIDEO: Checking the Maple Sap Lines
Tapping Our Maple Trees
In the early spring (around February), we tap the maple trees. To do the least amount of damage to our trees, we use 1/4-inch “health spouts.” A health spout in a tree is a lot like a very small sliver in your arm: after you take it out, it heals fast.
We drill a hole in the maple tree about an inch and a half deep. We usually drill the hole about 4 feet up from the ground, unless there’s 4 feet of snow! Then we pound the spout in with a hammer and put the 5/16″ sap line on it.
Collecting the Sap
Each sap line is attached to a main line that runs downhill to our sugar shack. Think of the veins in your arm: there are lots of small veins that run to your main veins. All the sap flows from the small lines, to the large lines, until it’s collected in a collecting tank at the sugar shack.
What Sap Tastes Like
The sap is like water with a hint of sweetness in it. Usually our sap runs about 2.2% of sugar content at the early part of the season. As the season progresses, the sugar content usually decreases. Everything with maple sap is a guess. The weather determines if the season is a good one or a poor one.
Making the Syrup
When we’ve collected enough sap, we boil it down and make it into syrup. Our arch that we boil syrup on is 5 feet wide x 14 feet long. Most of our handling equipment is stainless steel. In 2012, we tapped 3200 trees and brought in 1800 more taps from other people.
The “Rule of 86”
How many gallons of sap does it take to make one gallon of maple syrup?
Using the “Rule of 86,” you can figure that the number of gallons of sap you need to produce one gallon of syrup is equal to 86 gallons divided by the percent of sugar in the sap.
So if you start with sap that is 2% sugar, you would need to evaporate 43 gallons of water (86 gallons / 2% = 43 gallons) to make one gallon of syrup.
The sugaring season usually lasts 4 – 6 weeks, depending on the weather.
When the season starts in the early spring, our trees are usually producing sap with a sugar content of 2.2%, so it takes 39 gallons of sap for us to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. One year, our trees were producing sap with a sugar content of 2.7%!
As the season progresses, the sap’s sugar content decreases. At the end of the season, sugar content of our trees’ sap generally goes down to about 1.4% or 1.5%, so it takes 57 – 61 gallons of sap for us to make 1 gallon of our Grade B maple syrup.