During the first winter back here in Michigan, soon after receiving and buying several self-sufficiency books about homesteading, we wondered if the two maples trees in the front were sugar maples. It is easiest to tell when they have leaves, so we waited till summer to find out. Sure enough, they were. But then we learned that the best time for sugaring (getting th’ sap outa them trees) is late winter or early spring. The next winter we plumb forgot until we noticed the squirrels licking the underside of the branches and we wondered why. By that time, the sap was really flowing and we were still unsure of ourselves and did not have any of the equipment. So, we waited another year.
This time, as soon as we heard that the temperatures were going to be in the 40s during the day, and below freezing at night, we went into action. B took the kids up to a sugaring supply place north of here, and last Saturday I tapped the tree. I drilled it with a bit that looked like it would be the closest fit for the tap size, about 2 inches in. We read that if the sap is already flowing (testified by the wet turnings from the drill) you can take it 2 inches deep. I pounded the tap in with a hammer, and it broke off, flush with the bark of the tree. So now I had a hole with a metal plug, which also had a hole, with maple sap streaming out. I used a few BBQ sticks to plug it, and drilled another up and to the right of the first. This time I was a little gentler with the tap and it held. We hung up the sap bucket, put on the lid and let it drip.
We did have some very warm days, and during that time the sap flow was slow. Recently the weather has been perfect, and yesterday I harvested over a gallon of sap from a single 12 hour period. Today looks like it will be perfect too, as will the next 5.
Today we decided to cook down our first batch (1 1/3 gal.), and within a few hours we had around 12 oz. of golden red syrup. This being our first time sugaring, we did not bother to filter the syrup afterward, so it is still a little cloudy. The next few batches I will experiment with filtering. We also don’t have either a candy thermometer, or a refractometer to determine precisely when the syrup is ready. The sap is 2% sugar when it comes out of the tree, and the syrup should end up being between 66% and 67%. Below 66% and the syrup will not keep, above 67% and it will start crystallizing. So, we will see how long ours lasts. I vaguely remember a part in the Little House on the Prairie books where they threw some in the snow to see if it was ready… there may have been other details that would help, but I will have to go look them up.
This seasonal food thing is great. Now starts all the spring planning of the gardens. I think that this year we will have a bean-tepee…