Filtering maple sap and maple syrup can be performed at several stages in the maple syrup making process. First, filter the sap to remove the natural debris that can enter during its collection in the woods. Pour your freshly collected sap through the filter and into another food-grade container. Alternatively, pour the sap through a filter and directly into your evaporator pan. Rinse filter with hot water when finished and allow to air dry. Filters can be used a few times before discarding. Avoid twisting or wringing the filter to prevent damage.
The second step in the filtering process is to filter hot syrup immediately after boiling to remove the niter sediment or sugar sand from your syrup. Once the syrup reaches a Brix rating of at least 66 it is ready to be filtered. Overheating your syrup can result in excess sugar sand and will need more filtering. Place the filter in a sieve or strainer basket to hold it securely in place while pouring hot syrup through it. Extreme caution must be used to avoid burns when boiling, filtering or pouring hot liquids such as syrup. For best results, these pre-filters can be used in conjunction with an orlon or wool finishing filter for maximum clarity. Again, rinse the used filter with hot water when finished and allow to air dry. Each filter can be used several times before discarding.
Finally, after bottling your syrup into clean jars or bottles, allow the syrup to settle for several days. If any stubborn sediment remains, it will settle at the bottom of the jar. You can then carefully pour off your syrup into another jar, being careful not to allow the sediment to leave the very bottom of the first jar. This process is similar to pouring or decanting wine, taking care to leave the sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Sugar sand in syrup varies from region to region, season to season, and even between different parts of the same property. This is due to natural variation in the mineral content of the land where the trees are located.
Filter Care: Remember, never use soap of any kind to clean your filters. Store unused filters in the bag and away from cooking areas, fragrances or where they can absorb any odor. Any odor they absorb over time can be imparted into your syrup and ruin the syrup’s delicate natural flavor.
Maple syrup is one of nature’s best kept secrets. Most people don’t really think about where maple syrup comes from, even though it is commonly used in baking and universally enjoyed on breakfast foods like waffles and pancakes. If you’re here reading about how maple syrup is made, then maybe you’re not like most people. You’re the curious type; the type to ask important questions about the natural world like, “How can I make my own maple syrup” and, “Does maple syrup come right out of the tree that way?”
Those are great questions, so let’s shed some light on the maple sugaring process. Simply put, maple syrup is made from boiling the maple sap that’s collected from the maple tree. It’s then filtered and bottled. That’s it. Nothing is added – it is a 100% natural product.
Boiling the maple sap simply evaporates some of the water content from the sap until it reduces down to liquid sugar. You can make syrup from red maple, silver maple, sugar maple and others. Walnut and birch trees can make delicious uniquely flavored syrups too! The only difference between each type is slight variation in flavor and the amount of sugar naturally found in the sap.
Sugar maple trees are arguably the best for making syrup because the sap contains a higher percentage of sugars. This means you’ll need less sap to make syrup, compared to other types of sap from other species of maples. For professional syrup producers, where the economics of syrup production are important to their bottom line, sugar maple trees are the most efficient to make syrup from due to the higher sugar content. That means less costly to evaporate, and lower quantities of sap required to make syrup. However, for the back yard enthusiast syrup maker, any maple tree available to you is your best resource!
Sugar Making Equipment
To get started making your own maple syrup, you’ll first need tree taps or spouts (sometimes called spiles) to insert into your trees. A small 5/16” hole is drilled into the tree, and the spout is lightly tapped in. Next, a food grade drop line will connect to the spout and lead to a food grade sap collection container. We recommend 5-gallon food grade buckets with lids to collect sap as they’re sturdy and allow for several gallons to collect over a 12 hour period on days where sap flows really well. You can also use an empty spring water jug to collect sap with, though the buckets withstand winds and weather much better.
Maple sugaring season ranges from January to April depending on where you live in the country. Up north, Vermont and New Hampshire will see their sugaring season run well into April; while states further south like Connecticut and Rhode Island may see the season end by late March. You’ll know the season is over once the buds sprout on the maple tree. Once the buds sprout open, the sap will get an unpleasant leafy flavor to it and you’ll have to stop sap collection.
The Right Weatherfor Maple Sap Flow
Maple sap flows when temperatures are at or below freezing at night, and above freezing during the day. The weather is the single most important factor in making maple syrup. Temperatures control the biological processes of the trees, including sap production and their transport of sap throughout the tree. Weather patterns vary by region and year, so the season will change each year. Some years January will be extra cold, so sap will not flow until February and March. In other years, a milder January and faster warm up in March can lead to an early start to the season, and an early end too.
Generally speaking, you want to see temperatures in the 20’s at night and around 40 during the day. That is really the sweet spot – pun intended. Sometimes temperatures will show this exact pattern for 4-5 days in a row, and you will know it’s going to be excellent for sap collection. You may get several very cold days at which point sap yield will drop, but the pattern of 20’s at night and 40 during the day will start again. Monitoring weather conditions will become second nature to you as you get more experience checking your containers for sap.
In my opinion, this is a really beautiful way to be present and connect with nature. You’ll be witnessing firsthand the tree’s processes and response to weather as it gears up its sap resources to prepare for a season of new growth.
Collecting and Boiling Maple Tree Sap
Maple tree sap must be kept cold and refrigerated to keep it from spoiling. It is recommended that you boil the sap collected within 24hrs. This means you’ll be collecting sap and boiling consistently throughout the weeks of the season.
For large quantities of sap, an outdoor evaporator is a good idea. Homemade or enthusiast grade evaporators can range from inexpensive (think: under $100) to upwards of $1,000 or more. Wood fired evaporators are most cost effective compared to propane units. You will go through a lot of propane tanks trying to boil sap down this way. For small quantities of syrup, you can boil at your kitchen stove from start to finish. For medium quantities of syrup, it’s a good idea to invest in an outdoor boil, and you can then finish boiling indoors on your kitchen stove. Figuring out what balance is right for you depends on how many trees you have tapped and what quantities you are boiling. This will fall into place quickly after just a few days of experience.
Filtering the Sap and Syrup
Part of the process of making maple syrup involves filtering out natural sugar sand called niter. This is natural mineral sediment that occurs in the syrup after boiling down the sap. Our tree tapping kits include filters which can be used for filtering freshly collected sap and also double as a great way to reduce the sugar sand by filtering hot syrup. For a completely clear syrup, you’ll need to also run the syrup through an additional orlon or synthetic filter element.
This past Summer we have updated our classic instruction guide on How to Tap a Maple Tree. We’re always looking to improve the product and information to make it as easy as possible to use. With that in mind, we have added some new information to our classic guide originally published in 2013.
The Kaito Ridge Tree Tapping Instruction Quick Guide (Updated August, 2020)
How to Tap a Maple Tree
After properly identifying your maple trees, you are ready to begin tapping!
Gather the tools for the job: drill (cordless preferred), hammer, food grade collection container, and a 5/16” drill bit.
Locate the tree’s southern exposure. The side facing south tends to produce sap earlier than other sides of the trees.
Measure the height of the tap hole carefully before drilling. The tap height is based on the total height of your collection container and the length of tubing. Be careful not to drill too high up, or your tube will not reach your container.
Drill into the tree approximately 1” past the bark, into the white wood, at a very slight upward angle. Total depth will be approximately 1.5 to 2”. Remember to use caution and wear eye protection while drilling. Do not blow into the tap hole to clear debris. Doing so can introduce bacteria into the tree which can reduce sap yield.
Insert the smooth end of the spout into the tree. while the barbed end inserts into your blue tubing. (Pro Tip: place the end of the tubing into hot water for 10 seconds to soften the tube and ease the attachment of the tube to the spout!).
Lightly tap the spout into the tree, and be careful not to hammer the spout in too far or it will be difficult to remove. It is better to have the spout slightly loose than to have it stuck in the tree.
Connect your tubing to a food grade collection container. We suggest using a large white 5 gallon food grade bucket with lid. An empty 1 gallon spring water jug can also be used. Be sure to check the collection container daily, up to twice a day (morning and night) as the flow of sap varies by tree and temperature. Two trees on the same property right next to each other may produce different amounts of sap. This is normal.
When you’re finished collection, the equipment can be cleaned and reused next year! (Pro Tip: to ease disassembly of the tube and spout, place in hot water again for 10 seconds to soften the tube.) Do not insert anything into the tree’s tap hole when your season is finished, Maple trees are self-healing and will repair the hole themselves.
For more information on how to boil down your collected sap, identify the different types of maple and birch trees or to learn more about sugaring, visit us online at http://www.kaitoridge.com
Tapping sugar maple trees and collecting tree sap in the early Spring weather is one of life’s great joys for any outdoors enthusiast, so long as they’re adequately protected from the elements. New Englanders know that maple sugaring season is synonymous with navigating the sporadic, fast-moving Spring snow storms and surprise Nor’easters that make this harvest season unique.
Sugarmakers around the country face the challenge of staying warm and dry while installing their tree taps, drop lines and tubing for sap collection. Tubing installations must be monitored daily in all weather conditions, and sap is collected each day under all weather conditions. With this in mind, we’re proud to announce the Sugarmaker’s Watch Cap™.
Our watch cap is designed for the Sugarmaker and made to last. Each cap is handcrafted in New York, USA from 100% Wool sourced from US Woolen Mills. Wool is a natural fiber that’s naturally water resistant without the use of synthetics or chemicals. Our caps are built to US military spec standards and are the same caps issued to the US Navy. Trusted to perform at Sea and at home.
With performance and construction requirements established, we had to make sure that our caps were also aesthetically on point. The hats are based on classic US Navy or Fisherman’s watch cap styling. This classic design never goes out of style, made famous by icons such as actor Steve McQueen and explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.
With sustainability as a priority, our packaging is minimal and our product tags are made from 100% recycled cotton t-shirts. No trees were harmed to produce paper for our packaging, protecting trees for future generations of sugarmakers!
Two colorways are now available, black and orange. Black is classic and matches any outdoor gear or casual wear for a sleek look. Orange provides additional safety and high visibility while working out in the sugarbush.
Maple syrup is one of the most universally loved natural food products ever discovered. Long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans were producing maple syrup from the land.
The standard grading system rules for maple syrup officially changed in 2015 with slightly different names announced by the USDA. The grading system describes how syrup’s flavor and color spectrum ranges from light to dark with several variations along the way. There are 5 different grades, however we will discuss the three most popular today.
Traditionally known as “Grade A Light Amber”, the new description for this syrup is “Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste”. This light, golden syrup is produced very early in the season when the sap flow first begins. As any maple tapper knows, the first sap flow of the year is eagerly anticipated as we come out of winter’s deep freeze. The early sap flow is easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention to the weather patterns in your region.
This early sap flow that produces golden color syrup is very short, approximately the first two weeks or so of the season. This light, golden syrup is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, its delicate and subtle flavor is unmatched by the darker grades produced as the season progresses. It has a floral quality to it with wildflower notes and a very mild finish of caramelized sugar. Secondly, this golden color syrup is usually harder to find and produced in smaller quantities due to the nature of the season. The early sap flow required to make it is short, so it’s rare in that sense.
Golden color, light tasting syrup pairs well with blueberry waffles, Camembert cheese, or drizzled on top of your favorite organic fruit dish. Try using it in tea as a replacement for your usual sweetener.
As the maple season progresses, the syrup produced darkens slightly into the classic “Grade A Medium Amber” now called “Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste” under the new USDA grading system guidelines.
This rich tasting amber syrup is the most classic flavor of maple that most people will think of when looking for maple syrup products. Its flavor is much stronger than the light grade, with a beautiful color of aged Scotch. This grade will be produced throughout the bulk of the harvest season and is most commonly found throughout the Spring and Summer until syrup producers sell out. Pair with anything and everything!
If you’re looking to give a gift of maple syrup, the amber color rich taste is the classic bottle to go with; it will be enjoyed by everyone.
Finally, as the maple sugaring season draws to an end late in the Spring, the syrup produced steadily darkens. Changes in the weather and the trees’ internal chemistry cause the sap to develop this way. The syrup produced during this time traditionally known as “Grade A Dark Amber” is now called “Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste.”
This late-season grade has wonderful toasted caramel and brown sugar notes. The initial flavor on your palette is like melted browned butter, which is a joy to experience. The stronger flavors are perfect for holiday baking and use in all of your recipes, as the flavor comes through better after cooking than the lighter grades. Pairs well with robust Vermont and English Cheddar cheese or cooked down with Fall squash, sprouts, and pumpkin.
No matter which grade of maple syrup you prefer, there is no right or wrong choice! There is no best or worst rating system. Just like selecting wine, there is a syrup choice and pairing that’s right for each person and each culinary purpose. If you can’t decide, a tasting sampler is the best way to experience several grades with a fun little maple syrup tasting. Tasters usually come with three or four small bottles of syrup ranging from light to dark, an affordable way to try them all.
As a note, there are also two more grades not photographed in this article: “Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste” and “Commercial Grade” or “Processing Grade” which is used in commercial food production.
So you want to tap your maple trees for the first time? Maybe you’re thinking of upgrading your current supplies? Well, you’ve found the right place! Kaito Ridge maple tree tapping kits include 5/16” blue food-grade tubing that blocks the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays to prevent bacteria growth in the tubing all season long.
The drop line tubing is specially formulated for sap collection, and is the same tubing used by professional maple sugaring operations around the country. The blue color also helps provide visibility in the woods, so you can see exactly where you’ve placed taps for fresh sap collection. This added benefit is always welcome after an early Spring snow storm!
You’ll also receive 5/16” tree saver spouts that are so sturdy, they’re practically indestructible. This diameter spout is the industry standard in sap collection; it allows sufficient sap flow for collection while allowing the tree tap hole to heal within the same year. Other suppliers may provide larger spouts that can be damaging to the overall health of the tree. We only provide 5/16” tree saver spouts as preservation of nature and long-term sustainability are our core values.
Each tree tapping kit includes a maple sap filter which can be used both as a pre-filter for raw sap straight from the tree and as a hot maple syrup filter after your sap boil. Filtering syrup after boiling down your sap helps reduce the amount of natural sugar sand that’s often present in your final syrup product. The filters can be rinsed and reused.
As always, each kit includes a complete tree tapping instruction quick guide and our top-rated customer support for all of your maple sugaring needs and questions. For further reading and frequently asked questions, see some of our recent posts below:
The start of maple sugaring season varies each year depending upon two important variables: weather and location.
The season typically runs from January to April, and sap can run for several periods during these four months. In the 2017 season, warmer weather here in Connecticut started the season off early in January and ran through March. We had above average temps by the third week of February which resulted in a crazy sap flow – more than we could keep up with!
By mid-March the weather warmed up so quickly that the buds on the maple trees started to sprout, and that marked the end of the sap collection for us. Even though temperatures dropped again for a few weeks in April causing sap flow, it was not collectable because the buds had already sprouted.
Once the buds sprout, the tree begins to produce nutrients that spur leaf growth – yet it can be tasted in the sap and is not pleasant. Its nature’s way of letting us know the season is over. We refer to that as the sap tasting “buddy”.
It’s pretty common in recent years here in Connecticut to have an early start to the season, so we have been tapping in mid-January due to warm weather patterns. However, January 2018 started out with historically cold temperatures below zero, and the thaw did not come until later towards the end of the month. Timing when to tap your trees is a balance of looking at your current week of temperatures, while looking closely at the 10-day forecast in your area.
If you’re located further North such as up state New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine or in the Midwest such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa where weather and temperatures are typically colder, your tapping may not begin until February. The season lasts well into April up north in states like Vermont and New Hampshire as it stays colder much later into April.
States located farther South such as Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, New Jersey and Kentucky may find that their season starts earlier and ends earlier than those of us located in New England. It would not be uncommon for people tapping in those states to end their season in mid to late March as the weather warms up and stays warm.
To read more on when to tap your maple trees, see our other posts here.
Have a specific question about when to tap maple trees in your area? You can always send us a message on Facebook and Instagram!
Ah yes, the age old question of how many taps per maple tree is upon us once more. At this point in your maple sugaring adventure you have your maple tapping kit ready to go, and you’re looking at the best trees on your property to tap. You wonder, “exactly how many spouts can I put into my big sugar maple out back – and how many in the small tree next to it?”
Tree diameter determines the number of spouts
Older, large diameter trees can support more spouts than younger, smaller diameter trees. While most trees will be fine with just one spout, sometimes you may want to put in two spouts to maximize your sap production from a very large tree. Generally speaking I would not recommend installing more than two spouts in even the largest trees. As stewards of the land, sustainability and tree health must be our priority.
Measuring a tree’s circumference and calculating the diameter
You’ll need a measuring tape and piece of string to measure the circumference of the tree.
First, wrap the string around the the trunk at breast height – about 4.5 feet high and mark the string with a pen.
Lay out the string and measure its length to determine the tree’s circumference.
Divide the circumference number by 3.14 to calculate the diameter.
Let’s say, for example, the tree’s circumference is 38 inches around. Divide that number by 3.14 to get the actual diameter. In this case, 38 / 3.14 = 12.10 inch diameter. We can put only one spout in this sized tree.
Trees at least 12” in Diameter
Trees should have a diameter of at least 12” to be tapped. Some guides allow for 9-10 inch diameter trees to be tapped, but it is best if you leave those younger trees with more time to grow.
Trees from 18” to 24” in Diameter
Trees with a diameter from 18” to 24” should receive no more than two spouts or taps. While it may be tempting to add a third spout to these giants, don’t. Future generations of sugar makers will thank you!
Need more tree tapping information? Curious about how deep to drill maple taps? See our FAQ here for a comprehensive list of most frequently asked tree tapping questions.
Tapping your maple, birch or walnut trees is one of the most simple and enjoyable Spring activities for the outdoor enthusiast. While this activity is quite simple in theory, knowing the small details can help bring you a successful season of tree tapping. One of the most commonly asked questions we hear is, “How deep do I drill a tap hole in the tree?”
How Deep to Drill a Tree Tap Hole
Generally speaking, we drill one inch or 1” past the bark of the tree. The thickness of each tree’s bark is the variable; which is dependent upon both the species and the age of the tree. Older trees generally have thicker bark than younger ones, so a tap hole’s total depth may be deeper than on a younger tree. You may also find that species such as the red maple may have thicker, chunkier bark – especially if the tree is large and very old.
Measuring the Drill Bit Depth
We recommend measuring out 1” to 2” on your drill bit with a measuring tape or ruler. You can mark the bit using a small piece of painters tape wrapped around the bit to serve as a depth-guide for drilling the trees. The correct size bit is 5/16”. We have medium aged trees with average bark thickness, so we marked out a depth of 1.5” on our bit. This allows for approximately 1/2” thick bark and an additional one-inch drilling-depth past the bark.
Drilling your Tap Hole
Carefully drill your tree at a very slight upward angle on the side of the tree where the sun is shining on it. If the sun shines on that side for the majority of the day, it tends to produce more sap flow. If you tap on the shaded or dark side of the tree, it tends to produce less sap flow. Allow the bit to remove the wood shavings, and never blow out the hole with your mouth. Blowing into the hole can contaminate the tree with your saliva. That will cause the tree’s internal healing process to go into overdrive and close up the hole faster, resulting in less sap flow and a shorter season.
Inserting the Spout into the Tree
Carefully tap the spout into the tree, gently, and not too hard. We are not putting nails into a deck – there is no need to pound the spout in hard. You should be able to twist and pull the spout out of the tree with a little effort without damaging the tree or the spout. If you destroy the spout upon removal, it’s likely because you drove the spout in too hard and too far into the tree. A few light taps so it is snug, nothing more. As you can see in the photo below, ice-cold sap immediately begins to drip from the spout.
Connecting the Tubing
Slip your 5/16” food grade tubing onto the barbed end of the maple spout or spile. This can be difficult in colder weather, so you may want to warm the tubing in hot water first. Hold the end of the tubing in hot water for 10-15 seconds and then connect to the spout.
Choosing a Sap Collection Container
The best collection container is a clean, food grade container such as a five gallon bucket with lid, or gallon size spring water jugs. We don’t recommend used gallon milk jugs, as the flavor of milk is very difficult to clean out. Tree sap is very delicate and can pick up flavors from the collection container very easily. For best results, use spring water jugs to collect sap. Be sure to check the container twice a day – morning and night – as sap flow varies throughout the season. You may find some trees produce more sap than others, and that is totally normal and to be expected.
Do you have more questions about tree tapping and making syrup? Check out our FAQ page here, or connect with us directly on Facebook and Instagram. We’re happy to answer any of your sugaring questions, no matter how small!