Backyard Sugaring: Tap Your Own Trees to Make Tasty Syrup!
By Raymond Hinchcliffe, Berlin Land Trust Director
Every year in mid-February here in central Connecticut, we start to string together days with temperatures reaching into the 30s (or higher). That means one thing to me: the sap in our maple and black walnut trees will be flowing fast for the next six weeks! It’s time to break out the taps and get ready to make one of our favorite sweet treats.
Which Tree Varieties Can I Tap for Syrup?
The good news for many of us is that Connecticut yards are often planted with maple and nut tree varieties that are ideal for tapping, such as:
· Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
· Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum)
· Black maple (Acer nigrum)
· Boxelder maple (Acer negundo)
· Norway maple (Acer plantanoides)
· Red maple (Acer rubrum)
· Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
· Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
· Butternut (Juglans cinerea)
· English walnut (Juglans regis)
Apparently birch trees can also be tapped but require some extra skill and equipment to create a pleasant syrup. We don’t have any birch trees in our yard, so I’ve never dealt with this!
How Big Should the Trees Be?
Tap trees that are at least 10” in diameter
Equipment for Beginners
· 5/16″ spiles (also called taps or spouts)
· Cordless drill and 5/16″ drill bit
· A hammer to tap the spiles into the trees
· Food grade buckets, preferably with lids
· Mesh strainer
· A large pot for boiling the sap
· Glass bottles or jars for storing the syrup
Collecting the Sap
It can be as easy as drilling a hole, tapping in a spile, and hanging a bucket. You may want use tubes that feed the sap into lidded buckets to keep out insects and debris and precipitation.
It’s a good thing trees produce a lot of sap in February and March, because it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup! The easiest way to boil down sap is to pour it through mesh into a pot and bring it to a gentle boil. Take off the lid so that the steam can escape as you slowly concentrate the sap into sweet syrup. You can use a hydrometer to measure the sugar content... or simply taste test it! Remember to let your spoonful cool off a little so you don’t scald your tongue.
I’ve read that your syrup will safely keep in the fridge for a year. We don’t make nearly enough to last that long, so I’ll have to take their word for it!
The Berlin Peck Library and other libraries in the iConnect program have dozens of books for children and adults about how to make and enjoy maple syrup. Click on the button below to view them all and select the right books for you!
(Bucket photos courtesy of Larry Carrier & Rich Gagliardi Productions)