How to Make Maple Syrup on a Homestead

maple syrup how it's madeIt's time to teach ourselves how to make maple syrup on a homestead.

We're coming up on to Valentine's Day up here in the coldest reaches of New Hampshire, and it's just as likely that when the bouquets of roses enter the homestead, they will accompany some new-to-us, slightly pre-loved (the best kind of homesteading additions) making maple syrup equipment. 

Tip number one, buy used if you can. There's plenty out there's a quick look will yield results. On the old urban homesteading experiment we put off tapping our massive, old-growth sugar maples, but now that we're on our little slice of heaven the time is right.

Sure, there's plenty of information online, but when it comes to the understanding the finer details there's no better homesteading source than from someone who has done it for themselves. So, my day today included having a conversation at the feed store about buckets, taps and being mindful not to overthink the process. Knowing how to make maple syrup is just like any other skill. A little education is good while a lot of it all at once can swamp out the experience.

How to Make Maple Syrup on a Homestead

I learned that the most important thing is timing. Sap doesn't flow like it should all year round, so tapping is very closely tied to the thawing of winter. We live in New England, and the best time to learn how to make maple syrup is when the sap is flowing. That would be right now.

Old timers set their homesteading tapping schedule for mid-February, when the days are above freezing (32 degrees) during the day while the nights still drop below freezing. This means we can possibly go until mid-March with our harvesting. We aren't doing this to make enough to sell, but just enough for ourselves and friends to enjoy. That means this year we're only running two buckets.

Making Maple Syrup Equipment

making maple syrup equipment
When making maple syrup equipment is kept fairly simple. At minimum you need a tap (also called a spile) and bucket for collecting, a large kettle and propane burner (we use our turkey fryer set up) and bottles to store your finished product.

If you live in an area where maple syrup production is common practice like we do, making maple syrup equipment is fairly common to find in feed stores and hardware stores. I bought two used set ups consisting of bucket, tap and lid from our local feed store for under $40. If you don't have access to making maple syrup equipment in your area, you can certainly buy it online new.

When to Tap Maple Trees

when to tap maple treesKnowing when to tap maple trees is as simple as paying attention to the weather. You can also check out the Farmer's Almanac for changes in temps or go with the old New England standby of tapping on Valentine's Day (like us) and keep harvesting until the flow stops sometime in March.

You will know when to tap maple trees when the daytime temperatures are mostly above 32 degrees on average, while the nights still dip below freezing. A nice bonus to this is when you check the buckets, you might be surprised at a little frozen maple ice on the bucket lid to satisfy your sweet tooth.

How to Tap a Maple Tree

how to tap a maple tree
So, how to tap a maple tree. The drill bit your choose should be just a hair smaller diameter than the small tip of the spile you are going to use. Drill your hole 2-2.5" deep with a slight upward angle and at a comfortable level where you can hang the bucket. This will make it accessible so you and the kids can collect it easily. Kids, we've found, are short.

Once the spile is fit snuggly in the drill hole, hang your bucket on the attached hook. Place your lid on top so the sap can drip into the bucket and use zip ties to create a DIY hinge for the lid. If it's above 32 degrees outside, you should almost immediately see sap flowing. 

If you don't, confirm you have actually tapped maple tree instead of an ash tree (it happens). If it is maple, remove the tap and put the drill bit back in the hole, trying to wiggle it a bit to remove anything clogging the pores in the wood. Replace the tap and you should be all set. If you're still having issues with how to tap a maple tree, drop us a line in the comments. We can help.

Maple Syrup How It's Made

maple syrup how it's madeWith maple syrup how it's made is just as much fun as tapping trees and collecting the sap. Start by safely hooking up your propane burner outside and use a large boiler as your cooking pot. You don't want to do this inside, even in small batches, because the steam contains sugar particles that will really mess up your paint or wallpaper.

Fill up the pot 3/4 of the way and bring your sap to a rolling boil. Once the liquid reduces to about 1/4 of your initial volume, refill with fresh sap until you have used all you want. You can store collected maple sap in temps below 32 degrees for about a week, but after that you'll want a fresh batch. Keeping it outside is fine as long as it stays relatively covered. 

Remember that the sap is organic and will go wonky if left alone too long. We will collect it in 5 gallon food-safe buckets for a day or so before boiling. As a note on volume, your yield will be about 40:1. This means forty gallons of sap will boil down to 1 gallon of syrup. It seems like a lot, but you'll be amazed how easy it is to get this volume. Or so I'm told.

maple syrup how it's made
Once the maple sap has been reduced, pour it warm into your storage bottles. We plan on using canning jars, but you can buy specialty maple syrup jugs at the same place you bought your equipment. 

Again, with maple syrup how it's made is a great deal fun, but just be mindful of your cooking. The last thing you want to do is walk away format during the process. If it starts to boil over, drop in a teaspoon or so of vegetable oil to bring it back under control. Once it's bottled and capped, your maple syrup is ready to eat. Enjoy!

We love sharing our experiences from our little off grid homestead, and really enjoyed sharing our lessons in how to make maple syrup on a homestead. Do you tap your trees? Are these types of homesteading projects high on your list of family activities? Do you have further questions on maple syrup how it's made? We'd love for you to join the conversation below with your stories!