The Backyard Mapler

Welcome to a new page on the Ohio Maple Blog. I have had several requests for information for backyard/hobby maple production. This is one topic that I really enjoy teaching . One of the first presentations I gave when I started with OSU Extension was on backyard maple production. I have given my class, “Maple 101 the ABC’s of Maple Syrup production” just about every year since I started. Hobby maple production is a fun project for the entire family and as many hobby maple producers have found out it can lead to many sweet rewards. This page entitled the Backyard Mapler will be devoted to you the backyard maple producer. I hope it will help to unravel some of the mysteries of maple syrup production and allow you to make a better product.
Les Ober
Geauga County
OSU Extension

  

Maple Tree identification

One of the first things you need to do before you start tapping trees is to be able to identify a maple tree. Sounds simple but you cannot believe how many Ash and Oaks have been tapped with some very dismal results. First let’s look at maple production in general. Maple syrup production is unique to North America and specifically the area between Minnesota on the west, Kentucky on the south and the eastern Canadian Providences on the north. This is the only area in the world where commercial production of maple syrup occurs. However, maple products are in high demand around the world. The primary reason is that in the world of sweetener’s, maple syrup ranks at the top of the list. It contains many nutrients that are considered to be very good for you. However, the best reason for eating maple syrup is that it tastes so darn good Let’s take a look at the trees we use to make maple syrup.

The most well-known tree used for maple production is the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). This is the preferred maple tree to tap because of the sweetness of its sap. The Sugar Maple will produce sap with a 2% or above sugar content in most years. 2% is the standard and based on that percentage it will take approximately 43 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Another maple tree that is very common in Ohio is the Red Maple (Acer rubrum). It will produce sap that is between 1.5 to 2.0 % sugar in most year. The old timers avoided tapping the Red Maple because of its lower sugar content. It often took 50 to 60 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. This required more time and more fuel to boil and because it took longer the syrup was often darker in color. Today with the eus of the Reverse Osmosis ( removes 75% of the water before boiling) the Red Maples are tapped along with the Sugar Maples. The third tree in Ohio used for maple syrup production is the Silver Maple (Acer saccarhinum) The Silver Maple is usually found in lower wetter areas and it is similar to the red maple. In other areas of the country there are other species such as the Black Maple which are popular to tap but they are not found in any numbers in Ohio. The Black is very similar to the Sugar maple in sugar content and is found in large numbers on the mountainsides of the Northeastern United States and the South Eastern Canadian Provinces.

Maple Tree identification

One of the first things you need to do before you start tapping trees is to be able to identify a maple tree. Sounds simple but you cannot believe how many Ash and Oaks have been tapped with some very dismal results. First let’s look at maple production in general. Maple syrup production is unique to North America and specifically the area between Minnesota on the west, Kentucky on the south and the eastern Canadian Providences on the north. This is the only area in the world where commercial production of maple syrup occurs. However, maple products are in high demand around the world. The primary reason is that in the world of sweetener’s, maple syrup ranks at the top of the list. It contains many nutrients that are considered to be very good for you. However, the best reason for eating maple syrup is that it tastes so darn good Let’s take a look at the trees we use to make maple syrup.

The most well-known tree used for maple production is the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). This is the preferred maple tree to tap because of the sweetness of its sap. The Sugar Maple will produce sap with a 2% or above sugar content in most years. 2% is the standard and based on that percentage it will take approximately 43 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Another maple tree that is very common in Ohio is the Red Maple (Acer rubrum). It will produce sap that is between 1.5 to 2.0 % sugar in most year. The old timers avoided tapping the Red Maple because of its lower sugar content. It often took 50 to 60 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. This required more time and more fuel to boil and because it took longer the syrup was often darker in color. Today with the eus of the Reverse Osmosis ( removes 75% of the water before boiling) the Red Maples are tapped along with the Sugar Maples. The third tree in Ohio used for maple syrup production is the Silver Maple (Acer saccarhinum) The Silver Maple is usually found in lower wetter areas and it is similar to the red maple. In other areas of the country there are other species such as the Black Maple which are popular to tap but they are not found in any numbers in Ohio. The Black is very similar to the Sugar maple in sugar content and is

All maple has a similar configuration. Their branches and their twigs are always opposite in configuration. That means the branches oppose each other. Here are some pictures and description taken from The North American Maple Syrup Manual.

maple treeshref=”https://ohiomaple.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/sugar-maple-bark2.jpg” rel=”attachment wp-att-476″>Sugar Maple Bark

The Bark of the Sugar maple is very furled and rough.

Red Maple Bark<

The bark of the Red Maple is smooth in young tres and becomes rough and scaled with age.

href=”https://ohiomaple.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/maple-leaves1.png&#8221; rel=”attachment wp-att-459″>maple leaves</a

Notice that all of the leaves have 5 lobes and that the petioles of the leaves radiate from the same point. This clearly shows that the best time to ID your trees is during the summer and the fall. Fall being the preferred time. During the period of color change the Red Maples are brilliant red and the Sugar Maples are golden by contrast. You should make the Id and mark your trees with a ribbon or small paint mark so that you know which trees to tap.

Winter ID is harder but not impossible. I would suggest you go to the library and copy some pictures of the tree bark and the buds for each tree. The Sugar Maple is grooved while the red maple is smoother to scaling. The Red maple also has pronounced red buds that almost look like they are about to pop. The sugar maple has buds that are the color of amber maple syrup. Silver maples, although not common are seen in some locations. The leaves have 5 ragged lobes and the bark is very scaled on the older trees while the young trees have a smooth silver colored bark. A very easy tree to ID.

Todays home work for Maple 101 will be to explore your backyard and count the number of maple trees you have. Once you have done this and you are certain they are maples you will be ready to tap. The only problem is that winter is just starting and you will have to wait for spring, that time of year when the sap rises from freezing and thawing temperatures. It is without a doubt the best time to be in the woods. In the mean time in following posts will explore the equipment you will need to get started.

 

 

 

thermometer

 

 

Getting Ready for the Season

By now you have had time to explore your backyard and find out if there are maple trees living there. The next step is to assemble the equipment that you will need to launch you’re your backyard maple adventure. If you are only tapping a few trees this is not a big deal and for the most part you can easily assemble the equipment you need. However, there are a few rules that you need to follow if you are going to be successful in producing a jar of one of nature’s sweetest treasures, pure maple syrup.
First and foremost you are producing a food product that you and your family will be eating and hopefully enjoying. That means, you need to be as careful about producing your syrup, as you are about making dinner for the family. You need to use proper sanitation, you need to process the sap as quick as possible, and everything you use has to be food grade. Another words your gathering and collection containers are made of material that are used to store or contain a food product. Avoid using containers that are made of reprocessed plastic because you do not know what they were used for in their previous life. Also be aware that maple syrup can absorb the flavor of a container that was used to hold products like pickles and spaghetti sauce. Sap can also pick up the flavor of sanitizers. Do not use detergents, heavy chlorine cleaners or other soap products to wash out or sanitize your equipment. The best way to sanitize equipment is to use only hot water and elbow grease.

Be careful&gt

To get the sap from the tree you will need a spout or a tap. I would suggest that you go to a local maple supply store or go online and find a supplier of maple equipment that handles maple and purchase a commercial spout. You want to buy a new 5/16 spout made of metal or plastic. If it is plastic make sure it is sturdy enough to support a bucket or bag that is full of sap (around 20 pounds). Spout is usually categorized as either tubing or bucket spout and you will want the bucket spout. However if you are going to place a buckets on the ground below the tap you can buy a tubing spout and a short length of maple tubing to run from the tap to the bucket. You will need to drill a hole in the tree about 1.5 inches deep to allow the sap to drip out. You only want to tap trees that are greater than 12 inches in diameter. Please, only one tap per tree unless the trees are huge (over 24 inches in diameter) and then no more than 2. We will go over this in detail in the next post. The drill you select should be the same diameter as the spout. In most cases this will be 5/16. Do not over size or under size because it will leak sap. You can buy a maple tapping bit for less than $20.00 and it will last you a life time. It is sized right and is designed to drill straight and clean out the hole. Most producers are using a cordless drill to tap the trees.

spouts;

All of your collections containers need to have been used store a food product. No oil or chemical containers should be used. Many backyard producers find it convenient to buy plastic bags from a maple equipment supplier. Some of the bags can be washed out and reused but if sap spoils in them they can be discarded. The cost is minimal and they are real easy to use. Most are held in place by a bag clip that has a hole to place of the spout and hold it in place. You can watch them fill up as the sap runs and you do not need a cover. If you use buckets I would recommend a plastic bucket for sap collection. You will also want to purchase a cover to keep the rain out. Many maple equipment suppliers have put together a beginner’s kit that includes everything you need to tap a maple tree. Now that you have assembled the equipment for collection you will need a couple of 5 gallon buckets to gather the sap. You can do this by hand or use a cart, wagon or a 4 wheeler to move the buckets full of sap to the site you will be boiling at. During a good run expect around 2 to 3 gallons of sap per tap.

buckets&lt

It takes between 43 to 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Now you are down to boiling the sap. You need to boil you sap in a quick as possible but you also need enough volume to be able to finish off a small amount of syrup at the end of the day. This is why I recommend that the final finishing be done on the kitchen stove. If you do not have enough to boil down on the stove store the liquid in the refrigerator and finish it off with the next batch. The final finishing can be done on the stove in the kitchen but not the whole process, unless you are planning on redoing your kitchen wallpaper.

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You should plan on boiling at least once a week during the season, usually on the weekend. However, you should plan for a big run during the middle of the week. You may be forced to fire up mid-week to keep up with the flow. You will need a heat source and a pan to boil on. Many hobby producers start out with a turkey fryer fueled with propane gas, make sure there is no oil residue left in the fryer. You can also build a fireplace out of block and put a pan over a wood fire. Barrel stoves can be modified to support t a pan for boiling. One of the most important items you will need is a candy thermometer to determine when to add more sap and to determine when the syrup is done. In future posts we will go over the entire process of boiling.

When It Is Time To tapPicture1

By now you have had time to assemble your equipment and it is time to head to the backyard to tap some maple trees. You will need a sharp drill that cleans the hole out and does not leave shavings behind. You will also need your spouts and a container to collect sap. Now the process of tapping can begin. The first question is always when to tap and the second question is when to pull the taps at the end of the season. You want a weather pattern where you have days that are above freezing (40 to 50 degree F) and night s that are below freezing (below 30 degrees F). This usually happens around President’s Day or the 20th of February to the 1st of March. You will pull the taps as soon as the buds start emerging. Usually by then it will warm up, the sap flow slows to a trickle and you will have sap that goes out of condition and the syrup you boil will be strong and dark.

When you walk up to the tree the first thing you need to do is determine the diameter of the tree and its overall general health. You want to make sure that it is at least 10 inches in diameter. The best way to do this is to measure a piece of rope to 33 inches long. Place the rope around the tree and if the ends do not touch then you have a tree that is at least 10 inches in diameter. If the ends overlap, it is too small and should not be taped. Now that you know the diameter of the tree look at it objectively and determine if it is a heathy tree that is capable of producing sap (no dead wood or dead branches) and one where the tap hole will heal over after the season.  A healthy maple will have a large crown with very little damage to the branches. The bark will look healthy, with no dead wood showing. Some maple will have a green moss growing on them and that is natural and not detrimental to the tree. In the process of tapping you will kill a small area of wood around the tap hole. This shows up as stained wood when a tree is cut down and a cross sections of the base is examined. If a tree is taped properly there will be areas of new growth around the stained areas. Tapping is not detrimental to the tree but you need to make sure these areas of dead wood are not on top of each other. This happens when you tap at the same height or on the same side of the tree every year. Do not believe the old wives tail that you need to tap on the sunny south side of the tree to get more sap. Always place your taps staggered evenly around the tree over successive years by tapping both high and low.

You want to place your tap at least 4 feet above the ground. At this time you need to look for old tap holes. If you are starting out with trees that have never been tapped this is no problem. This is when it is a good idea to start a systematic taping program. If there is an old tap hole from pervious tapping then you need to place this year’s tap 6 inches above and 6 inches to the right or left of the old tap. This spreads out the tap holes. The theory behind this procedure is that over the years you will tap around the circumference of the tree. By the time you get back to your first tap in about 10 years you will have allowed the tree to grow a new ring of sap wood over the tap holes. You can keep track of this by placing a paint dot next to your hole at the end of the season when you pull your taps. This way you know where the last tap was placed.

Now it is time to drill the hole. Place your drill in your cordless drill or hand drill. Use one hand to steady the drill and push the drill into the tree between 1.5 to 2 inches in depth. This should take very little effort on your part if you have to push hard on the drill then it is dull and you need to find a new one. Keep the drill steady to prevent drilling an oblong hole that will leak. As you pull the drill from the hole keep it running to clean out all of the shavings. Never blow into the hole to clean out what is left. You will introduce bacteria from your mouth and that aids the healing process. You want to keep the tap hole open for at least 3 to 4 weeks before it heals. If you are drilling many holes it is a good idea to mark your drill at the 2 inch mark so you do not over drill the tree. Many times old maples will be hollow inside and you do not want to hit one of those areas by drilling to deep. Now it is time to examine the shavings. They should be the color of new wood an off white. If they are brown in color you have hit some dead wood. If this happens then you should wait to see if the tap runs. If after 24 hours nothing comes out re-tap in another locations. If you tap early and the tap dries up mid-season I would never re-tap a tree to get more sPicture3ap. This is why you really need to watch your local weather patterns before tapping.

Now comes the time to place the tap and set the bucket or bag. Push the spout into the hole until it is snug, use light hammer or a rubber mallet to set the spout with a gentle tap. Do not use a big hammer and over drive the spout you will crack the hole on the top and the bottom and this will leak sap. Some tap hole will naturally leak sap and show dampness around the hole. These spouts may need to be driven in a little more at a later time. This happens a lot if the wood is still frozen a tapping time. You will know if you have done a good job after the first windy day. Your taps will not be leaking and all of your buckets will be hanging where you put them. Place a cover over the bucket to keep rain out. As I said in a previous article you can also use tubing going to a container at the base of the tree. If you have slope you can tie several trees together with a mini tubing system into a larger container. You can set up a dump station that you can empty your containers into then pump out. The only thing that limits your ability to collect sap is the limits of your imagination.  Picture2

Now you are ready to transfer the sap to the place where it will be boiled down. You can carry it in 5 gallon buckets. Put a small tank on a wagon or a cart and pull it with your lawn tractor or an ATV if you have one. It all works. We will go over the boiling process in the next post.

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Getting Ready to Boil

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You have your wood stacked, pan set and some sap gathered. You are now ready to boil down the sap and make some syrup. Realize this is a long process, it takes at least 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup and that is a lot of boiling. For most hobby producers the pan in the backyard is equivalent to the back pan on a big evaporator. This is where you will boil off 80% of the water. Once you have boiled in all of your raw sap you will take the condensed liquid into the kitchen and finish it off. The pot on the stove is equivalent to the front pan on a big evaporator. The one essential tool that you must have is a candy thermometer that reads from at least 212 degrees to 220 degrees because water boils at 212 and maple syrup is finished at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water 219 degrees. You will also need a dropper bottle with canola oil to retard the foam (use sparingly, two or three drops) that will occur when sap boils. A stainless scoop or a large spoon can be helpful. Another useful tool is a hydrometer. This is used to measure the density of syrup; it has two scales, one for hot syrup and the other for syrup cooled to room temperature. The other thing that you should have is a good pair of gloves that protect your hands and lower arms. . Keep in mind you are dealing with hot pans, hot liquid and a hot fire all of the above can burn you very badly if you are not careful. Any time you boil syrup it is a good idea to keep a couple of pails of water handy to douse the fire or to flood the pan if something goes wrong. With everything assembled let’s get started.

You will need to add enough sap to bring the depth to 2 to 4 inches. You never want to get below 2 inches in the back pan because you increase your chances of running out of sap and burning the pan. On the other hand you do not want a pan that is full to the brim. Two reasons, it takes longer to get up to boil and to bring the boil back when you add sap. The other reason is that sap will foam up during the boiling process and a full pan will only boil over. Build your fire and bring the pan to boil. Take your thermometer and get a reading, it should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the liquid starts to condense the thermometer reading is will rise to 213 degrees. You now need to add more sap. If possible the sap you add should be preheated. You can accomplish this by suspending a pan over the top of your rig, utilizing the steam to preheat your sap. Placing cold sap into a boiling pan will really kill the boil and slow the whole process down. You will have to experiment with the amount of sap you add, every rig is different. Continue this process until you have boiled all of your stored sap. After the last of raw sap is in the pan watch you temperature and the level of sap in the pan very carefully. Remember you have syrup when the temperature rises 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. Trying to make syrup on the main pan can be very tricky. You never know exactly how much finished liquid you have. If you do not have enough liquid to maintain at least 1 inch depth of sap across the pan you are at risk of burning the pan, or at the very least, making some really dark caramelized syrup. Be aware that once you go past 215 degrees things happen very quickly, you can go above 219 degree in a matter minutes. Get everything you need to draw off the liquid assembled for a quick draw off. Check your temperature and your depth level; reduce the heat down to a simmer. Once the boil has slowed down to a simmer draw off the liquid into a collecting pail or pot. Test the temperature of the liquid in the pail it should be reading nor more than 215 to 216 degrees. Once empty remove the pan from the fire quickly or flood it with hot water and clean it for the next boil. Never throw cold water in a hot pan it may warp. Another and possibly safer way is to simply put the fire out and let the pan cool down and then empty it. However, using this method will allow the syrup to continue to evaporate until it and you may end up with some really thick syrup.

hydrometer

Take your condensed liquid into the kitchen and put it on the burner. Bring it to a boil. Once again make sure you can some canola oil on hand in case it starts to foam. Place your candy thermometer in the pot and watch the temperature and the level of the syrup. If you reach 219 turn off the heat remove the pan from the burner and get ready to filter the syrup. If the temperature does not reach 219 degrees and the level is too low to continue you may have to stop the boiling process and cool the liquids and store it in the refrigerator until the next time you boil. Some hobbyists tell me this happens quite often. They say they may have to finish boiling two or three times to get enough to finish the syrup properly.  Attempting to finish off a very small batch of syrup often ends up with a very dark product and a possible burnt pan. Once you have finished batch it must be filtered because syrup when boiled precipitates out minerals that are called niter. This is what makes unfiltered sap cloudy. This process must be done when the syrup is hot enough to go through a filter. Always use a regular syrup filter that you can get from your maple equipment dealers local dealer. Never use a cloth that has been washed with a detergent. You will end up with an off flavor.  Take you filtered product and store it in the refrigerator.

filtering

You have now boiled your first batch of syrup. After you go through the process two or three times you will quickly learn that there are short cuts that help. Designing an outside pan with some kind of preheater on it is a big one. Many design it so the pan is above the main pan with spout that they open to let in more sap when needed. Many have a regular syrup thermometer mounted through the side of the pan. Other have the pan divided in two sections with the raw sap coming in one side and the condensed sap coming off the other. This is similar to way a big evaporator works. I have seen a pan setting on  a frame that allow at the syrup maker to slide a steel sheet in between the fire and the pan allowing  the pan to cool down quickly to get the condensed liquid off. You are only limited to your imagination and your inventiveness. Next time we will cover packing and storing your syrup.

 

 

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