Thursday, March 5, 2015

Maple Sugaring, Part 1

Yesterday was a very exciting day, here on the Homestead! With a forecast of a few above-freezing days coming up, we were finally able to tap our maple trees for the start of Maple Sugaring! This is the first time we've attempted this, so we're definitely winging it, but here's how we got started:

Drilling holes for the tubing
into the lids of the buckets
I ordered some spiles and tubing from a maple sugaring supply company. We opted for plastic spiles with tubing, instead of the old fashioned metal spiles that drip directly into a bucket because we heard that tubing kept everything cleaner and easier. I'm sure there are differing opinions of this subject, but for now, this is what we're going with. Next, I ordered some food-safe five gallon buckets with lids from ebay, for the sap to drip into.

Once everything was delivered, I prepared my equipment. I fit the plastic tubing onto the spiles, and I used a drill with a half-inch bit to drill holes in the lids of the buckets, for the tube to fit in.

The hardest part so far has been waiting for the weather to warm up enough to get started! In order for sap to flow, weather conditions need to be just right. You need to have warm (above freezing) days and cold (below freezing) nights. According to the forecast, this is what we have coming up for much of the next week or so (with the exception of one or two colder days) Yesterday it was in the low 40s... perfect day to tap!

Drilling the hole for the spile
I got out my trusty cordless drill again, and I headed out to the yard with my equipment. I drilled a little more than an inch into the tree, at a slight upward angle (this allows the sap to flow out better) I drilled my holes about three feet up, since that was a good height for the tubing to reach down to the top of my buckets. As soon as I started drilling, I could already see some sap dripping out, which was pretty exciting! A couple of our trees are really big, so we were able to do two taps in each of those. Smaller trees just get one tap.

Next, I inserted the spile into the drilled hole, and tapped it in very gently with a hammer. I put the other end of the hose into the hold in the lid of the bucket. It was neat to hear the sap drip-drip-dripping into the bucket!

Tapping in the spile
One thing about collecting sap... sap is perishable, so it's important to keep it nice and cold until you're ready to boil it. One good thing about all the snow we have out there, it makes it easier to keep the sap fresh. I piled snow around the buckets, to keep everything well-chilled. It's also best to avoid waiting too long to boil. Most sources say you shouldn't keep your sap much longer than a week at the most.

So now, we just wait for the sap to flow! It takes quite a lot of sap to make syrup... roughly 40 gallons of sap for each gallon of syrup! Later in the season, when the sugar content of the sap is lower, it takes even more sap. We'll be setting up a makeshift evaporator in the yard when it's time to boil. Can't wait!

As of this morning, about 17 hours from when the taps went in, we have between a half inch to 3/4 of an inch of sap in each bucket... not a bad start! Since I have never done this before I have no idea how much to expect, so I'm pretty happy to see any sap at all! 

While waiting for the buckets to fill, I'm also starting to plan our garden! I'll share some of that, next post! Meanwhile... stay warm... Spring is on the way!

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