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Backyard Maple Syrup From Start To Finish

Learn everything you need to know from tapping your trees to filtering and bottling your own maple syrup right here! Everyone loves it and you don’t really need any special equipment to get started. Even just a turkey fryer will make you some amazing homemade maple syrup. And many folks would love to make their own with the maple trees that grow in their backyard. It’s really not complicated at all. You tap your maple trees. You collect your maple sap. You boil your maple sap down into near syrup, or what we like to call 'nearup'. You take your 'nearup' inside the house to finish it up into your own homemade maple syrup. You bottle your maple syrup so it is shelf stable. Here is every single step from tapping trees to bottling in one short video on how to make your own maple syrup at home.

What Trees Can You Tap To Make Your Own Maple Syrup?

Maple trees belong to the Sapindaceae family. The scientific name for maple is Acer, and within the Acer genus, there are various species of maples, including the well-known sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum), and many others.

The main difference between sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and other types of maple trees when making maple syrup lies in the sugar content of their sap. Sugar maples generally have a higher sugar content in their sap compared to other maple species, making them more efficient for syrup production.

The sugar content in maple sap is crucial because it determines the amount of sap needed to produce a given volume of syrup. Sugar maple sap typically has a sugar content of around 2-3%, while other maples, such as red maple, may have lower sugar content. As a general rule, the ratio of 40:1 is used when using sap from sugar maples. It takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup. This means that it takes more sap from other maple species to produce the same amount of syrup, resulting in a longer boiling process. The resulting syrup from non sugar maple trees is equally as sweet and delicious as syrup from sugar maples. It just takes a little more sap and a little more boiling time. Using a RO filtering system can greatly reduce the time needed to evaporate your sap. RO systems can be costly and aren't a necessary component in making your own maple syrup.

Here is a list of some of the most common trees in the Acer family used to make maple syrup at home:

  1. Acer saccharum - Sugar maple

  2. Acer rubrum - Red maple

  3. Acer negundo - Box elder or Manitoba maple

  4. Acer platanoides - Norway maple

  5. Acer pseudoplatanus - Sycamore maple

  6. Acer macrophyllum - Bigleaf maple

A good tree identification book can be very useful when deciding which trees you should tap to make your own backyard maple syrup. Two field guides that I recommend for identifying maple trees to tap are Audubon Field Guide To North American Trees: Eastern Region and Audubon Field Guide To North American Trees: Western Region.

Will Tapping Maple Trees For Sap Harm The Trees?

When done correctly and responsibly, tapping maple trees for sap generally does not harm the trees. In fact, tapping has been a traditional and sustainable practice for centuries. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind to minimize potential impacts:

  1. Tapping Technique: The tapping process involves drilling a small hole into the tree and inserting a spile to collect sap. It's important to use proper tapping techniques to minimize stress on the tree. Tapping should be done during the late winter or early spring when sap flow is most active.

  2. Tree Size: Trees should be of a certain size before they are tapped. Typically, only mature trees with a trunk diameter at breast height of at least 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) are tapped. Smaller trees may be more susceptible to harm.

  3. Location and Rotation: Tapping should be done on the sunny side of the tree and rotated each year to avoid tapping the same spot repeatedly. This helps the tree heal more effectively.

  4. Limited Tapping: A healthy, mature maple tree can usually support multiple taps. However, it's important not to over-tap a tree. The number of taps per tree depends on the tree's size; larger trees can support more taps than smaller ones.

  5. Timing: Tapping should coincide with the natural sap flow period, typically in late winter or early spring when temperatures fluctuate between freezing at night and above freezing during the day. This is when sap flow is most active.

  6. Proper Spiles: Using appropriate spiles and collecting methods is crucial. The equipment should be clean, and the collection system should not damage the tree.

What Are Spiles And How Do You Choose The Right Ones?

Spiles are the 'taps' used in the process of tapping maple trees to collect sap for making maple syrup. These devices are inserted into holes drilled in the tree to facilitate the flow of sap from the tree to collection containers. The sap collected from the trees is then boiled down to produce maple syrup.

There are different types of spiles, and they serve as conduits for sap to flow out of the tree and into tubing or buckets. The sap flows through the spile by gravity and is collected in containers placed on a hook attached to the spile, or at the base of the tree. Spiles are essential tools in traditional and modern maple syrup production methods.

Some common types of spiles include:

  1. Bucket Spiles: These spiles are designed to support hanging buckets beneath them to collect sap. The sap drips from the spile into the attached bucket.

  2. Tubing Spiles: These spiles are designed to connect to tubing systems that channel sap from multiple trees to a central collection point. Tubing systems are commonly used in larger-scale maple syrup operations but are growing in popularity with small backyard maple syrup producers.

How Do You Tap Maple Trees?

There are a number of maple tree tapping kits available that include everything you need to start a small backyard maple syrup operation. Here's a rundown on the items needed to tap your maple trees.

  1. Maple trees (any of the trees in the list above can be tapped)

  2. Drill with a 5/16" or 7/16" bit

  3. Spiles (taps)

  4. Hammer or mallet

  5. Collection containers (buckets or tubing)

  6. Covers or lids for the collection containers

  7. Tubing (if using a tubing system)

  8. Brace and bit (optional, for traditional tapping)

Tapping maple trees involves drilling holes into the trees to extract the sap. Here's a general guide on how to tap maple trees:

Select Suitable Trees:

Choose healthy, mature maple trees with a trunk diameter at breast height of at least 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 centimeters). A DBH Tape, or Diameter At Breast Height Tape can take the guess work out of measuring your trees. Sugar maples are the most commonly tapped, but other maple species can also be used.

Determine Tapping Time:

Tapping is typically done in late winter or early spring when temperatures fluctuate between freezing at night and above freezing during the day. This is when sap flow is most active. Most tree tapping is done from late January through April depending on location and seasonal weather & temperatures

Prepare Equipment:

Ensure that all equipment, including spiles, collection containers, and tubing (if used), is clean and in good condition.

Drill Holes: Drill holes into the tree at a very slight upward angle to allow sap to flow more easily. The drill bit you use will depend on the size of your spiles. The two most common sizes are 5/16″ or 7/16″. Be sure to match your drill bit size to the size of your spile. There are drill bits available for tapping maple trees, but you are fine to use a regular drill bit designed for wood. Drill to a depth of about 2 to 2.5 inches, depending on the thickness of the tree's sapwood. Measuring to 2 inches on your drill bit and using a piece of masking tape as a guide ensures you'll be at the correct depth for your tap holes.

Insert Spiles: Gently tap the spiles into the drilled holes using a hammer or mallet. The spiles should fit snugly but not be forced. If the sap is flowing, you should see your spile begin to drip almost immediately.

Collect Sap: If using buckets, hang them from the spiles, making sure they are securely attached. The conical shaped buckets for collecting maple sap are ideal when hanging buckets from your spiles. If using tubing, connect the tubing to the spiles and direct the sap flow to a central collection point. Food Grade 5 gallon buckets are popular collection containers when using tubing. Cover the collection containers to prevent debris, insects, and rainwater from contaminating the sap.

Monitor and Empty Containers: Regularly check the collection containers and empty them as needed. Sap flow is generally highest on warm, sunny days several degrees above freezing when the previous nights temperature was several degrees below the freezing point.

How Do You Boil And Evaporate Maple Sap?

Boiling and evaporating sap to make syrup is a simple process, but it requires time, attention, and the right equipment. Here's a basic guide on how to boil and evaporate maple sap into syrup:

Items Needed:

  1. Collected maple sap

  2. Large boiling pan or evaporator pan

  3. Outdoor heat source (such as a propane burner or wood fire)

  4. Thermometer, hydrometer or refractometer

  5. Screened filter such as a cooking oil filter or a fine mesh strainer.

Filtering The Sap: Filtering the collected sap is a good idea to remove any debris, insects, or impurities. For this step, use a cooking oil filter or a fine mesh strainer. Simply pour your collected sap through the filter into a clean container or directly into your boiling vessel.

Boiling Setup: Set up your boiling pan or evaporator pan over a heat source. Folks commonly use turkey fryer setups to evaporate sap. Propane can get quite expensive when boiling sap. Wood fired boiling setups can be much more economical especially if you have access to cheap or free wood. The type of wood doesn't really matter, but don't use treated or painted wood due to the fumes that the chemicals will produce when they are buring. One option for a wood fired setup is constructing a fire pit with cement blocks and using chaffing or steam pans to hold the sap. A tripod holding a large pot over an open fire is another option. There are also evaporator pans made specifically for evaporating sap on a small scale available. These stainless steel evaporator pans are an excellent choice if you are handy and want to build your own backyard maple sap evaporator.

Boiling Sap: Pour the filtered sap into the boiling vessel. As the sap boils, water evaporates, and the sap becomes more concentrated. Maintain a consistent boil, and as the sap level decreases, add more sap to the pan. You may want to have a secondary vessel that you can use to preheat the sap that will be added to the evaporator pan. Continue adding sap to the evaporator until you have run out of sap to add.

Monitoring Temperature: Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the sap. The goal is to reach a temperature of approximately 219 degrees Fahrenheit (104 degrees Celsius), which is the temperature at which maple syrup is typically ready. It's important to use a dependable thermometer when making maple syrup, and make sure you calibrate your thermometer each day before beginning to boil. Environmental conditions such as weather can change the temperature that water boils at. Water boils at 212 Fahrenheit (100 Celcius). Syrup is finished at 7 degrees Fahrenheit above water boiling, or 4 degrees Celcius above water boiling. You will probably want to remove your near-syrup, or 'nearup' from the fire before you reach the final temperature though, and finish things up on a more controlled heat source such as your stove top in your kitchen. This nearup stage is also a good time to filter your syrup again - especially if you are using wood as the heat source. It's inevitable that you'll have some ash or other debris that has managed to get into the syrup. At this point you'll want to use an Orlon filter to begin removing more impurities from your nearly finished syrup.

How Do You Filter and Finish Maple Syrup?

Finishing and Filtering: Now that you've moved your 'nearup' to an appropriately sized vessel to finish your syrup, things will happen quickly. As the sap reaches the desired temperature, keep a very close eye on it. The syrup may foam as it approaches the finishing point. You may want to have something on hand to use as a defoamer. For the small scale maple syrup maker, this is as simple as some cooking oil, butter or olive oil. Just a couple of drops of any of these will help keep your syrup from boiling over. Lifting the pot off of the burner is also effective, but you run the risk of the syrup boiling over the top of the pot and potentially burning your hands. Heat adjustments will be crucial in the finishing stages to keep the syrup boiling at it's optimal rate.

You'll need to have your calibrated thermometer ready. The easiest way to do this is to use a candy thermometer that stays attached to the pot while you are finishing your syrup. You are trying to achieve 7 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees Celius above the boiling point of water on a given day. A couple of other tools that aren't necessary but that can really help you dial in your finished syrup are either a maple syrup refractometer or a maple syrup hydrometer. These tools will measure the brix. Brix is a measure of the sugar concentration in a liquid, commonly used in the food and beverage industry. The brix measure of pure maple syrup is in the 66 to 68 range.

Once the syrup reaches the correct temperature and consistency, remove it from the heat and move on to the final filtering stage.

Filtering Again & Clairfying Your Syrup: Filter the hot syrup once more through a clean orlon filter to remove any remaining impurities and nitre that has accumulated. This step helps produce a clear and smooth syrup. While this filtering step is not completely necessary, it will result in a much clearer syrup. Alternatively, transfer your finished syrup into suitable storage vessels such as 1/2 gallon (2 litre) large mason jars and allow the syrup to settle in the fridge for a few days. The nitre will settle to the bottom and the clear syrup can be carefully poured off into a separate container for heating and packaging. Nitre is a sediment or crystallized material that can sometimes form in maple syrup. The presence of nitre can affect the clarity and texture of maple syrup, and it may settle at the bottom of containers. It's important to note that nitre does not pose a health risk, and its presence is more of an aesthetic concern. Producers and consumers often prefer clear, sediment-free syrup, so efforts are made to minimize the formation of nitre during the syrup-making process. Once you have filtered the nitre out, if at any time you heat the syrup above 195 Fahrenheit, or 90 degrees Celsius, you risk more nitre forming in your syrup.

How Do You Bottle Maple Syrup For Shelf Stable Long Term Storage?

For shelf stable maple syrup storage, you have a couple of different options. You may wish to use traditional glass maple syrup bottles or you may decide to use canning jars in whatever size you prefer. To ensure a shelf stable maple syrup using either of these storage containers, heat your syrup to between 185 & 195 degrees Fahrenheit, or 85 & 90 degrees Celsius, keeping in mind that you do not want to go above those temperatures in order to prevent more nitre from forming. Keep your glass canning containers warm in a large pot of hot water to reduce thermal shock when filling with hot syrup. Transfer your hot syrup into your warm jars or bottles and put the lids on immediately. Flip the jar or bottle for a few seconds to allow the hot syrup to come in contact with the lids. This step sterilizes the lids. Set your jars or bottles upright on a flat surface leaving adequate space between jars and they will seal themselves. The button on top of canning jar lids will not flex if the jar has sealed properly. The styrofoam insert inside the lid of the maple syrup bottles will form a seal on top of the bottle preventing any air from entering the bottle.

Can You Boil Sap Inside Your House?

Boiling maple sap to make syrup is typically done outdoors due to the large volumes of steam generated during the boiling process. Boiling sap indoors can lead to high humidity levels and potential condensation due to the release of steam. If you do any of your own canning and preserving at home, you are probably experienced in boiling water for long periods of time. Boiling sap is essentially the same situation. As long as you are able to ventilate your indoor space enough, you won't experience many problems. There are plenty of old wives tales out there about boiling sap in your kitchen. One of these revolves around making the inside of your house 'sticky' due to the sugar. The truth is, however, that the sugar stays in the pot. The water evaporates and condenses on your walls. Anything 'sticky' you might find on your walls is old buildup of various things inside your home. It is NOT sugar from boiling sap. There is the possibility that you may see your wallpaper peeling due to the high levels of humidity, but again, this is another old wives tale that you may take with as many grains of salt as you choose.

If you decide to boil sap indoors, you may encounter the following issues:

  1. High Humidity: Boiling sap releases a significant amount of steam, which can increase indoor humidity levels.

  2. Condensation: The steam produced during boiling can condense on windows, walls, and ceilings.

  3. Ventilation Issues: Proper ventilation is crucial when boiling sap to ensure the release of steam is exhausted to the outdoors - usually a vent hood above your stove or range is adequate.

How Do You Make Granulated Maple Sugar?

If you'd like to take your maple sugaring skills to an entirely new level, you can try making your own granulated maple sugar. Maple Sugar can be used in place of regular white granulated sugar at a ratio of 1:1. Check out our instructions on how to make your own maple sugar here: How To Make Granulated Maple Sugar At Home.


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