Michigan's Maple Syrup Season Has Arrived -- Get in on the Fun!

Tracy Stengel

Photo byDorrel Tibbs/Unsplash

The warm temperatures in Michigan have snow melting, birds singing, and sugar maple sap running. The sap from sugar maples is what makes delicious maple syrup — Michigan’s liquid gold!

If you’ve noticed buckets hanging from trees, you can bet Spring is on its way. One way to celebrate the season is by making your own maple syrup. You and your family can get in on the fun with only a few supplies and very little effort.

Maple syrup is Michigan’s first agricultural harvest of the year. You can make your own from the trees in your backyard. The best tree to tap is the glorious sugar maple, due to its high concentration of sugar in the sap.

Typically, a sugar maple needs 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. The average maple tree needs almost a week to produce the sap required for one gallon of syrup. No wonder it is pricey, fetching over $45/gallon.

Now is the time!

There is a small window of opportunity to tap your maple trees — only four to six weeks. In order to create the pressure which causes the sap to flow, freeze and thaw temperatures are needed. Optimally, sap runs best when the temperatures drop below 32 degrees at night and rise into the 40s during daylight hours. When you see the maple trees budding, that means the season is over. Once the tree begins to leaf out, the sap takes on a bitter quality and loses its sweetness.

Tools you will need:

  • A power drill with a 7/16” or 3/8” drill bit that corresponds with the tapping spout you select
  • A spile. You can purchase one or make one yourself using a half-inch wooden dowel cut to a 3-inch length. In the center of the dowel, drill an 1/8” hole and taper it at one end for the tap to fit snuggly into the hole in the tree. Put a notch atop the wide end of the spile — this will support your sap collection vessel.
  • Containers to collect the sap. You can use plastic buckets, metal buckets, milk jugs or coffee cans. You will want to make a cover for them to keep out rain and debris.
  • A hammer to tap the spile into the hole in the tree.
  • A wide, deep pan to boil down the sap into syrup. 
  • A cheesecloth to strain the syrup.

Step 1 — Select your tree.

Choose a tree with a diameter of 10 or more inches.

Step 2 — Drill the hole.

Using a power drill, bore a hole 2-inches deep and about 2 to 4 feet off the ground. Be sure to tilt the hole upward slightly. A 5-degree angle is perfect.

Step 3 — Insert the tap.

Tap the pointy end of the tap, or spile, into the hole with a hammer, ensuring it fits tight. Hang your collection container from a hook on the notched end of the spile. You can also run tubing from the spile into a plastic milk or water jug. Drill a hole to accommodate the tubing into the cap and set the jug on the ground.

Step 4 — Collect sap.

Check your container daily and empty it into another container. Cover and refrigerate until you have enough to boil it down.

Step 5 — Boil the sap.

Bring the sap to a boil over high heat, about a gallon at a time, in a large pot. Lower the heat to medium high and leave it at a low boil for about an hour until the sap thickens and drips slowly from a spoon. Use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature of the sap. When it reaches 219 degrees, your sap has become syrup!

Step 6 — Strain the syrup.

Use a cheesecloth to strain the syrup twice to remove any debris.

Step 7 — Store your syrup.

Canning jars work well to store your syrup. Fill them with hot water and then empty them right before decanting to keep them from cracking. Pour the hot syrup in and cap them immediately. The syrup’s shelf life is two years. Once opened, it will remain good in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Have you made your own maple syrup? Please share 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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