The sap must flow! 2023

The tree is the sap. The sap is the tree. The sap enhances waffles & French toast. The sap expands waistlines. The sap maple (and a few other tree varieties), of course.

So what the hell am I doing, making syrup barely more than a week into February? It’s too damn early! That’s what a lot of us maple syrup producers are wondering. Used to be, early to mid March was prime sap collecting time. But with global climate change bringing subfreezing nights and 40 degree days earlier and earlier, the sap flows earlier than ever.

I put 9 taps in yesterday. I’d planned to put a test tap into my two big producers, but the sap flowed so copiously I figured I’d best strike while the sap is to be had. So in went multiple taps on the big trees. Less than 24 hours later, I had over 6 gallons of sap, and now the bags are filling again outside as the slushy snow flies and as I boil down my first collection. Last year it took 44 parts sap to get 1 part syrup, but I sure made a rich dark amber product redolent of maple flavor. We only ran out of our 2022 harvest a few weeks ago.

This year I got a near neighbor’s permission to put a few taps into one of his gigantic maples, for the price of 1/3 of the syrup that tree produces. A bargain for us both. I’ve also got some huge maples deep in the woods on my property, but it’s too much of a PITA to get to them on a regular basis, so tellwiddem.

Not sure if I’ll do walnut syrup this year; my lone black walnut tree generally gives enough sap to make a pint or two of the stuff. It is quite tasty, but delicate and not at all “walnutty” since it’s made from the sap, NOT the nut. Its flavor gets overpowered by many foods, and we reserve it for use on vanilla ice cream and basic cheesecakes.

I’m still just a backyard hobbyist here; no trees strung together by mazes of tubes, no vacuum systems, no reverse osmosis gear. Heck, I don’t even have a sugar shack with a wood fire. Just a rangetop setup with filters, kettles, thermometers and a hydrometer. That last bit of equipment helps me not overconcentrate the syrup and thus end up with a huge chunk of maple sugar at the bottom of the syrup bottle. Though crunching on maple sugar does have its pleasures . . .

Anybody else making syrup this year? I’m looking at you, @tofor! Have you started yet? Memorable anecdotes of past sugaring? Tragic losses of syrup when containers spill or explode? Anybody want to take up the hobby?

After having 6 acres and then 2 acres, I am now happily living on 10,000 sq’ and half of that is house, deck, driveway, etc. So even if I wanted to take it up, I couldn’t at this point.

Your prior thread did have me jealous though. I went from a kid who didn’t like “Maple Syrup” as we only had the corn syrup crap to discover the wonders of real “B” grade syrup. We always have that in the house.

Sorry, I think “B” grade is now known as just Dark or grade “A” dark as too many people thought “B” meant inferior.

Quote from UNH: Despite the variation on the outside, the syrup inside can only be one of four grades—Golden, Amber, Dark or Very Dark . Maple grades are made of two components, color and flavor, and the flavor corresponds with the color. The darker the syrup, the stronger the maple flavor.

Here’s a nice chart comparing the old style of grading Maple syrup vs the new way.

A neighbor taps his trees and makes syrup. He also has bee hives. We let him tap trees on our property and he gives us a bottle as thanks. Sadly, he only does this every three years or so.

His bees feed on our clover (horse pastures). I’ve purchased his honey, which is delicious and costly.

I have not tapped anything yet, but I was considering a few test taps today. Typically I start tapping in February, get a little sap, then it gets cold again and I’m stuck checking empty buckets for weeks before it really starts to flow. So I’m a little reluctant to jump the gun.

Understandable. If I didn’t have a local forecast of ideal temps for the next 10 days, I’d not have started.

We used to stock both grade a dark and grade b. My husband and daughter preferred grade b, i felt it tended to have mild off-flavors.

Now we get “dark robust taste”. Or, we will. We’re still working on a couple of gallons we got before the changeover.

I’ve wanted to try tapping and making my own maple sugar since we took our kids to a local park to experience a maple sugar-making event years ago. It was really interesting. In addition to tapping the many maple trees in the park and making syrup in a sugar shack, they had several encampments representing different eras with people dressed as Native Americans, French and British colonists boiling sap down to maple syrup over campfires.

We have several maples on our 1-1/2 acre property, including one giant old maple that shades our house and keeps it cool in the Summer, so I probably could get a fair amount of sap, but just never got around to trying it. Also I would be leery of stressing the old maple, though I know done properly, tapping doesn’t hurt the trees.

@solost Well, go for it then. I began by putting two taps in my largest tree, that drained into a 5 gallon bucket. It was great fun, and I expanded in following seasons. All my trees are a short stroll away, no slogging deep into the woods etc. All the trees I tapped did not suffer from it; it’s well documented that tapping properly done will not stress a mature tree.

I don’t know where you are located, but I’m sure the local farm supply store like Fleet Farm, Farm & Fleet, Tractor Supply or other has handy kits to get you going. Tap my Trees is a good website for beginners too.

Hmm, can you tap a small red maple? It’s quite old, but the main tree was cut down, and then a ring of new trees formed, and maybe I trimmed those to a few. Anyway, there aren’t any large boles. And of course, red maples don’t get as large as sugar maples anyway.

@puzzlegal As long as the trunk is at least 10 inches in diameter and you can tap a point on it below a healthy larger offshoot, it should be fine. One of my big producers is an old red maple, another is an old silver maple.

I’m not surprised you are tapping early @Qadgop_the_Mercotan. Last week, I read an article that said spring is coming early to the Southeast. Despite La Nina’s cold blasts, we are having a pretty mild winter in Minnesota and WI is even milder. Even in this morning’s single-digit cold (F), the birds were chirping up a storm, announcing spring is on the way.

Mmm, maple syrup on corn cakes.

We have a couple sugar maples on our property (those are the ones with the most neon reddish orange leaves in the Fall, I believe) but our big old house-shading maple tree I mentioned is also a silver maple. Do you notice a difference in syrup quality between different types of maple trees?

Yeah, here in SE Michigan, it’s been so warm lately I don’t know if it even freezes at night. And as Qadgop said in the OP, that’s key for optimum sap harvesting-- nights temps below freezing but day temps above.

I’ve always mixed the sap from my mix of maple trees. Sugar maple is preferred for syrup producers because it generally has the highest concentration of sugar in its sap (up to 2.5% or more), but they too will mix the sap from many different maple species together. I’ve not read reports that the sap of different acer (aka maple) species (and there are 160+ species, ~10 of which are considered best for tapping) make for different flavors, though I suspect there would be some variation.

The variation arises when one taps different genus of tappable trees: Walnut, Birch, Sycamore, Hickory, Ironwood. I’ve only tried walnut (very mellow and subtle) and birch (rather medicine-like).

We bought some birch syrup once. I love wintergreen, and thought i would like it, but it was horrible.

I used to participate in an active email list that included several people who made maple syrup. One claimed that he routinely won contests and his secret ingredient was the mix of maple species.

Yeah, I love birch beer so thought I’d love birch syrup. Not so much. I’d like to try sycamore syrup, as its flavor is described as ‘butterscotch-like’.

Last year, sap was dripping from birch trees in the parking lot of the library where I volunteer, probably courtesy of woodpeckers. I considered tasting it but didn’t.

I’ve chewed on twigs of black birch, and they are very tasty. They have the same flavor component as wintergreen, and are actually less bitter than wintergreen leaves.

I’ve also eaten “icicles” that grew off maple trees in the spring that taste like maple syrup.

Interesting. I knew you could make syrup from the sap of a couple different tree species, like birch, but I didn’t know you could from that many.

Does birch sap actually contain methyl salicylate?


Apparently birch trees do contain wintergreen oil. Cool.

I suppose I could try tapping a couple of our black walnut trees (previous residents planted at least a half-dozen of them, and they are now sizable mature specimens). The limiting factor would be the trouble involved (just harvesting and processing the nuts the one time I did it was a hassle).