That’s right it’s that time of year again. The time when the trees are ready to give up their sap, so that we can make delicious Vermont Organic Maple Syrup. 2016 is proving to be a very interesting year in the sugarwooods. With very little snow, and cold the trees, and as a result sugar makers are confused about whether this will be the worst year ever or an average year. We’re always hopefully this will be the year we blow all of our records out of the water, but it doesn’t seem like it will be. Never-the-less we’re so glad to be sugaring. For those of you that know little to nothing about making syrup here’s a little breakdown of how it all works.
The trees, both hard and soft maple, are tapped using Spiles. You’ll often here Spiles referred to as Spouts or Taps, but they’re called Spiles. It’s not like I have a problem calling them those other things, it’s just wrong and who wants to be wrong, right?! (No worries fellow sugar makers, it’s all in jest – mostly. You call “them” spiles whatever you like). Anyway, as I was saying, The trees are tapped by my husband and I along with our 4 kids and one very helpful neighbor in late January, early February. It’s when the trees are usually frozen and there’s little chance they’ll thaw out and refreeze which could create cracks in the trees. The trees survive this splitting, but I would prefer to keep stress on the low side for them. We use drills and special bits to create the hole for the spiles.
Enjoy the following photo tutorial:
Drills and bits look like this
When we tap a tree we only drill through the sapwood of the tree. Hence the name “sap”. The tap hole is set 3 inches in, and tilted slightly upward to aid in catching the sap. We never tap the heartwood of the tree. For one it would be totally useless for us to do so. We’d get no sap at all, and for our efforts the tree would eventually die. We certainly don’t want that!
Spiles can look like this, but I’ll be the first to admit that this is an incomplete list. There are several types and styles all claiming to do one thing or another. We use what is called the health spout which is pictured first below.
At this point you attach the receptacle that you want to catch the sap with. You can use anything! I’m not kidding! Check these out!
But this is by far the best receptacle
After catching all the sap, and it takes so very much, (48 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup), you have to boil most of the water out of it. It comes in to the sugarhouse at 1-2% sugar. In order for it to be legally called Vermont Maple Syrup we must get that sugar content up to 66%. This means we do a lot of boiling to accomplish this. Most of this boiling has to take place at night since we’re busy during the day collecting the sap from the woods. The tool we use to boil the sap is called a Rig. They come in several shapes and sizes.
If you wanted to try this at home you could do it this way, but I’ll warn you it will take a long time and if you have wallpaper you can kiss it goodbye. Steam is not a friend to wallpaper of any kind.
Well That’s it. It takes several long hours, (usually at night), of boiling the sap to make syrup. Mother Nature only allows us to gather syrup at a specific time of the year; spring. Our sugaring season can run from 3-6 weeks and that’s it. We have to make our entire crop in that short amount of time, so we are usually exhausted, sleep deprived, and as a result punch drunk.
But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Just for fun
Just in case you have more time to kill here’s a very funny 13 minute video about what you can do if you think you’d like to make maple syrup at home to save money. I enjoyed it, and I hope you do to.