Thursday, January 28, 2016

Maple Sugaring at Home

I have been wanting to experience maple sugaring for a while, but just haven't set up an appointment with a local park to take the kids. I was thrilled when Tap My Trees sent us a Starter Kit with Aluminum Buckets to review. Now we can do it ourselves! We are big do-it-yourself-ers and make the majority of our food from scratch, so making our own maple syrup is a perfect project for us. Plus, it's just plain fun!

The kit comes with all the following supplies:
  • 3 Alluminum Buckets: Each 2-gallon bucket is used to collect the sap as it drips. The sturdy aluminum and reinforced holes of the buckets give them stability as they hang from the trees.
  • 3 Metal Lids: The lids prevent rain, snow, and other material from entering the bucket. They attach with a metal rod that easily slides through a hole in the spile.
  • 3 Spiles: These stainless steel spiles (also called taps or spouts) are inserted into trees to transfer the sap into the buckets.
  • 3 Hooks: The hook is attached to a spile and used to hang the bucket.
  • Maple Sugaring at Home Book: This 44-page guide provides step-by-step instructions to tap trees. It includes information and pictures to identify maple trees, how to tap trees, the collection and storage of the sap, uses for maple sap, directions for making maple syrup, and frequently asked questions. There is even a spot in the back for taking notes.
  • 1 Drill Bit: A 7/16 drill bit with 3/8 shank is used to drill the tap hole that holds the spile in the tree.
  • Cheesecloth: This is used to filter any solids, tree bark, or any other unwanted materials when transferring the sap from the bucket into a storage container.     

Once you have all your equipment ready, it's time to find a tree to tap. Due to the sugar content, the best trees for tapping are in order as follows: sugar maple, black maple, red maple, silver maple. The booklet gives very detailed descriptions of each of the trees, including which region of the country they're located and how to identify them by the leaf, bark, twig/bud, and fruit. 

The best time to identify trees is in the summer or fall when the leaves are still on the trees. Since we didn't get our kit until wintertime, that makes it a bit more difficult to know. We do have a maple tree in our yard, and based on the information in the booklet and looking in various other places, I believe it may be a silver maple. The problem is that the tree is injured. It has become home to a family of squirrels for the past many years as the inside has hollowed, creating a safe home within. Even if we could tap some sap from it, I wouldn't feel comfortable with it. 

If you don't have access to any maple trees, you can also get sap from walnut and birch trees. Thankfully, my brother and his wife have 2 beautiful black walnut trees in their yard and have agreed to allow us to tap them. Yay! The diameter of the tree determines how many taps it can support. Based on the information in the book, we'll be able to use all 3 sets for tapping, since the trees are large and healthy. 

Maple sap generally begins to flow between February and March, when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and nighttime temps drop below (with low 40s and mid 20s being the ideal numbers). The rising temperature creates pressure in the tree and causes the sap to flow. We haven't hit that point yet here in Michigan, so no tapping has taken place, but we are very excited to try it soon.

I have never seen tapping done and have never participated myself, but I am confident that we'll have no issues with the process. Oh, no, I'm not saying that it's because we're just talented people. I can say that because Tap My Trees has given us everything we need to get it done. The materials are strong and well-made. The Maple Sugaring at Home book literally contains all the information for every step of each part of the process. I have learned so much from reading it. For example, I had no idea it takes about 10 gallons of sap to make 1 quart of maple syrup. Or that you need to boil the sap for a very long time, preferable outdoors because of the amount of steam it produces. I also learned that there are other uses for the sap like replacing water with it in cooking and drinking, using extra or spoiled sap in the garden to replenish nutrients, or freezing it to save for the birds in the spring.

I am thoroughly impressed with this starter tapping kit and would recommend it to anyone looking to try maple sugaring at home. I can't wait for the next part of the process in the coming weeks! 

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If you'd like to see how other homeschool families used this kit, please read the reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
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  1. Hope you will follow up with pictures!! Can't wait to see how it works out! Yummy!

  2. Sounds like you're having lots of fun!