The nights are crisp and the days vacillate between freezing, warm, and close to freezing - it's spring in Minnesota!
This year my family and I took part in one of the great time-honored spring traditions as we tapped some of our maple trees and made some liquid gold (maple syrup for the uninitiated). Many vacation property owners have at least a few trees they can tap on their property and it makes for a great family experience. In fact, my kids are convinced that our syrup tastes better than any other they've tried. Also, in these days when we seem to hear of food recalls every week you will at least know where your syrup came from.
I happen to love maple syrup! It is all-natural and also contains a number of minerals, making it one of the healthiest forms of sugar available as well as being the most flavorful.
Here are three important tips if you decide to try your hand at making liquid gold:
1. Buy the commercially made spiles (taps). We tapped our first trees with standard half-inch copper pipe and although it worked, it did not produce as good of results as the manufactured spiles. The reason is two-fold: the manufactured taps have hooks and they are tapered. Because they have hooks you don't have to drive a nail from which to hang your bucket or jug from. By putting a nail above the container you create another port for the sap to leak from, which hinders production. Also, because the manufactured spiles are tapered they make a better seal so that all the sap makes it in the bucket as opposed to leaking down the tree.
We found that our production was almost double on the trees with the manufactured spiles, making them well worth the two bucks.
2. Don't use a propane turkey fryer to boil the sap down. Although we are tapping as a hobby and want to allow our kids to experience the joy and pride of harvesting their own food, we didn't want it to cost more than buying maple syrup at the store. If you try to boil it down with a turkey fryer it costs you more than buying it due to the expense of propane.
After the first round, I went to a restaurant supply store, bought a couple buffet pans, rigged some cattle panel on top of rocks, chopped some wood and boiled it down much quicker and for a lot less money.
3. Do involve the whole family. Even our two-year old "helped" by throwing rocks in our buckets of sap as we collected it. tWe simply fished the rocks out later.
It's great to teach ourselves and our children self-sustainability and self-reliance.
Our older children chopped wood, tended the fires, and we all gathered sap. We were all involved and that makes the syrup that much sweeter.
This is an easy activity to do when you are up doing spring maintenance at the lake cabin or hunting shack. The sap typically starts to run in mid-March and can carry on for about six weeks. You don't need to tap the trees for the whole run - you can just collect sap on the couple weekends that you frequent your property. If you have maple trees on your property of residence you can collect some there as well. It will take around 30-40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. If you use some five gallon buckets on a few good trees you can let the sap run all week and collect it on the weekend. A good tree can give you a few gallons a day.
I encourage you to give it a try. You'll find that one of the joys of land ownership is allowing the land to pay you back with good food and fond memories.