Tapping into seasonal liquid gold: real maple syrup


Sugar’s sweet, but sap is sappier;
Cold nights make the farmers happier!
–The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1989

Native Americans traditionally used maple syrup both as a food and as a medicine, and taught the age-old process of sugaring to the European colonists. Here’s a few DIY tips…

Maple sugaring starts the first of March when maple trees alternate temps between freezing and thawing. Nighttime temperatures must drop below freezing (in the 20s), and daytime temperatures must reach 40 to 50 degrees. Before winter, the maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots, which gets converted into sugar. As spring nears, the sap thaws and the sugar in the sap rises up the tree.

You need cold nights to make “sugarers” happy, so unseasonably warm winters aren’t good for the harvest. All trees produce sap, but it’s the sugar maple that has the highest content of sugar in the sap. Red maples can be tapped, too. There are many ways to tap trees to allow the sap to run out freely. Here’s the most basic way:

To tap a tree, you drill 2 to 3 inches into the south side of the tree at a convenient height, making a hole 3/8- to 5/8-inch in diameter (larger holes for larger trees). The hole should slant upward slightly. Drive a metal sap spigot (available at hardware stores) into the hole, stopping short of the full distance of the hole. Hang a bucket on the spigot to collect the sap.

Assuming you start with a healthy maple tree, one tap will produce 6 to 10 gallons of sap. How quickly the sap buckets fill is based on the weather and how the sap is flowing, but it usually takes about 2 to 3 days to fill a bucket. If it’s a nice warm day, the syrup will keep flowing at a steady drip.

Boil the sap to evaporate the water, producing a liquid with the characteristic flavor and color of maple syrup and a sugar content of 60 percent.

Maple syrup contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey. It’s an excellent source of manganese and a good source of zinc, which sweetens your antioxidant defenses, your heart, and your immune system. It may even have special benefits for men’s reproductive health!

Reference material taken in part from the following source(s): Old Farmer’s Almanac

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