Family Fun in Maple Syrup

Do you have maple trees on your property?  Do you like maple syrup on your pancakes or waffles? Looking for a late winter family activity? If you said yes to these questions then small production of maple syrup could be for you.

The first step to starting your maple syrup hobby is to identify trees that are of course, maple trees. However, identifying the type of maple is more important. There are 13 species of maple trees native to the United States. For syrup making, two are preferred. The first is the sugar maple, and the second is the black maple. These two are preferred because the sap is sweeter than the other maples. The other common maples to the area are red maple and silver maple.

Once the maple trees are found, the next step is to determine the number of tapholes.  Measuring the diameter of the trunk at about 4 ½ feet above the ground will give you an estimate of the number of tapholes the tree can accommodate. This is important because we want to keep the tree healthy throughout the process so that we can harvest sap in future years.

Figure 1

Diameter of the treetrunk at 4 ½ feet Number oftapholes
Less Then 10” None
10”-14” 1
15”-19” 2
20”-24” 3
24” 4


Now that you have determined the trees that you want to tap and the number of tapholes per tree, it is time to insert the tap. Start by taking a drill and bore a hole into the tree with a slight upward angle into the trunk. This allows the sap to run freely and not collect into the tap. Drill the tap holes about 1 ½ – 3” deep. You want to drill only into healthy light colored sap wood.

Next, the collecting spout or spile is inserted into the taphole and tapped lightly to seat the spile. Collection buckets or bags are hung on the spile. If using a bucket, make sure that it has a lid to keep water and debris from getting into the bucket.

Sap flow becomes the next task. The flow depends upon the weather and is not always constant. A thermometer will signal to you when the sap will run. Sap runs when the night time temperatures fall below freezing and day time temps are above freezing. There will be days when you will not get any sap and days where you will get a gallon. Sap should be collected often for the highest quality syrup.

Now that the sap has been collected, it is time to make the syrup. This is done through boiling the water from the sap, which is a long and steady process. It takes approximately 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Pour sap into a pan. Use a pan that is at least 6-8” in height and start boiling. Do not fill the pan completely full or the sap will boil over. As the sap boils down, you will need to add more sap. Keep approximately 1 ½” of sap in the pan. Keep a close eye on the heat source, so that you do not scorch the syrup. As the density of your liquid increases, the chance of scorching also increases.

Finishing the syrup is dependant on the sugar content of the solution. As you boil the water the off, the percent of sugar increases. Because you have more sugar in solution, the boiling point increases. When the boiling point gets to 7.1°F above the boiling point of water, you have syrup. This temperature is very critical to producing quality syrup that will store well.

The final step is bottling or canning the syrup. Run the hot syrup solution through a filter to remove sediment such as sugar sand. Place the syrup in clean bottles and seal at a temperature of at least 180°F to insure sterilization.

You are now ready to enjoy your pancakes or waffles at the family breakfast table with a product that you and you family can take pride in.

For more in depth information on the process of making maple syrup:

• Focus on Food Safety When Making Maple Syrup By: Barbara Ingham, Extension Food Scientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

• Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association online at:

• North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual online at:

Author: Adam Hady

Agriculture Agent, Richland County UWEX

Originally Published: The Weekend Farmer, Winter 2006/07