It's Maple Syrup Season in Michigan and You Can Make Your Own

Tracy Stengel

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You may have noticed buckets hanging from trees on your drive around the neighborhood. Consider it good news. It is one of the earliest signs of Spring! March is maple syrup season in Michigan, and you can join in the excitement with just a few items and very little elbow grease. This is a project that the whole family can enjoy!

Sugar maples set the landscape ablaze with color in Autumn with their vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds, but in the early Spring they give us liquid gold. Maple sugar is Michigan’s first agricultural harvest of the year.

Maple syrup can come from the trees in your own yard. If you own black, red, or silver maples, you have trees able to produce the sap needed for syrup. You can also use box elder trees. But if you want to make the best tasting maple syrup, the sugar maple reigns supreme due to the high concentration of sugar in its sap. Sugar maples can be found throughout Michigan as it is the most common native tree species in the state!

It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to yield one gallon of syrup. The average sugar maple requires almost a week to produce the necessary sap for a gallon of syrup. The process is slow, but the result is worth it!

If you want to try tapping your own trees, now is the time!

The pressure which makes the sap flow comes from temperatures varying between freeze and thaw temperatures. When the thermometer dips below 32 degrees at night and rises into the 40s during the day is when sap runs best. That is a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Once the maple trees begin to bud, the season ends. When leaves form, the sap becomes bitter.

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To tap a sugar maple, find a tree that is 10 inches or more in diameter. Drill a hole into the tree using a power drill with a 7/16” or 3/8” drill bit that corresponds with the tapping spout you select. The hole should be 2 inches deep and tilted upward at a slight angle. Drill the hole at a height easy for you to access, about 3 or 4 feet high.

Next, you’ll need a spile, or tap. You can buy one or make your own with a half-inch wooden dowel that is 3 inches long. Drill a 1/8” hole through the center of the dowel, tapering one end. The tapered end is the end that goes into the hole you drilled into the tree. You’ll want it to fit snug. Notch out the widest end of the tap to provide a place to hang your bucket.

Your collection vessel can be whatever you have around the house. Coffee cans, metal or plastic buckets, or milk jugs are good choices. They will need to have a cover to protect your sap from rain and debris.

Hammer the tap into the hole in the tree and hang your collection vessel. Now comes the fun part! Collect the sap daily and transfer it to another container. Keep it covered and refrigerated until you have enough to begin boiling it down.

When you have at least a gallon, pour the sap in a large, wide pot and bring to a boil. Then adjust the heat to medium high so that it is at a low boil. After about an hour, check the sap to see if it has thickened. Check the sap with a candy thermometer often. It must reach 219 degrees for the sap to become syrup.

Strain the syrup twice through a cheese cloth to ensure any debris is removed. Canning jars work best to store your syrup. To make sure the glass doesn’t crack when pouring in the hot syrup, fill the jars with hot water and then dump it out just before adding the syrup. Cap them immediately.

Your syrup has a shelf life of two years. Once opened, keep refrigerated for up to a year.

Enjoy!

If you’ve made your own syrup, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI
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