Start 2024’s maple syrup season in your own backyard

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Have you always wanted to try making your own maple syrup? Then you’re in luck because maple syrup season is almost here.

A group of buckets in the snow next to trees during maple syrup season.
Learn how to collect and process your own maple syrup. Now’s the time because maple syrup season is almost here. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

The 2024 maple syrup season is on the horizon, so now’s the time to learn how to collect and produce this popular syrup. All you need are some basic facts and equipment. You don’t even need to leave your yard to start producing natural maple syrup that’s perfect to top pancakes with and bake into your favorite desserts.

Shifting maple syrup season 

Maple sap flows during freeze-thaw cycles, periods of time when the temperature drops below the water’s freezing point and then rises enough for the frozen water to thaw. These cycles typically occur over a 6- to 8-week period. According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the optimal time for tapping trees occurs when these cycles are most frequent. If these conditions occur earlier in winter, tapping starts sooner.

As NIFA reports, the 2023 maple syrup season began weeks earlier than expected, continuing a trend that has emerged over the past several years. This goes hand-in-hand with a renewed interest in backyard tree tapping. In 2021, for example, the New York Times reported that tapping backyard trees surged as a hobby among families during the pandemic. 

The rise of backyard tree-tapping

A weekend outing to a maple syrup festival is nothing new for families across the Northeastern U.S. and the Upper Midwest. However, the allure of producing maple syrup at home increased during the pandemic. 

According to the Times article, backyard maple syrup Facebook group memberships grew. At the same time, home maple syrup tapping kits flew off the shelves. More people stayed close to home, interested in saving money and looking for screen-free outdoor family activities.

Why tap maple trees 

In a post-quarantine world, making backyard maple syrup offers a fun DIY alternative to visiting a crowded maple syrup farm. It appeals to people interested in honing their homesteading and self-reliance skills.

Fun and simple

The hands-on process of collecting sap to boil into syrup requires time outdoors, attention to detail and patience. Learning how to tap and make maple syrup offers an educational experience for people of all ages, deepening their connection with nature and understanding of where their food comes from. 

Healthy natural sweetener

Maple syrup is healthier than regular sugar and rich in antioxidants like zinc and manganese. It also makes a delicious natural sweetener for people interested in moving away from 0-calorie sweeteners. If you have a sweet tooth, your own syrup supply means you can experiment more freely with the unique flavor in maple syrup dessert recipes.

Know before you tap for sap

When tapping, remember to choose healthy, mature maple trees. If you’re keen to try tapping your own backyard trees this maple syrup season, keep these tips in mind. 

1. Know which variety of maple trees grow in your yard. Some varieties, like sugar maples, yield thicker, sweeter syrup due to their high sugar content.

2. Gather your equipment and supplies beforehand, as these may sell out quickly in your area.

3. Watch the weather. Tap the trees when nights are cold and days are warmer.

4. Depending on the sap’s sugar content, which varies by maple tree variety, you’ll need about 43 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.

4. Hang buckets to collect the sap for boiling down.

5. After boiling, filter the syrup and store it in a cool, dry place.

What you need to tap trees

In addition to suitable trees, you’ll need some equipment to tap in your backyard. Here are some of the items you should consider.

1. Drill and drill bits for drilling holes in the trees.

2. Spiles or taps to insert into the drilled holes.

3. Buckets or sap bags.

4. Lids or covers to protect sap from debris and rain.

5. Large pot or evaporator for boiling sap.

6. Thermometer for temperature monitoring during boiling.

7. Filters to strain impurities.

8. Storage containers for the finished product.

Kathie Lapcevic, a longtime backyard tree tapper and owner of simple living site Homespun Seasonal Living, advises holding off on investing in fancy or expensive equipment until you know it’s something you want to do. “There are all kinds of spiles and tubes on the market,” she says. “Look on eBay or other sites for a deal.”

To save even more money, upcycle what you have. Lapcevic has been tapping her trees for syrup for 15 years and says to get creative with containers.

“Use any container for the collection — it doesn’t have to be the expensive or professional metal sap buckets of old,” she advises. “Our first year, we punched holes in plastic vinegar bottles that were well cleaned and hung those from the metal spiles for collection. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.”

Not all maple trees are created equal

While many producers choose to tap sugar maples for syrup, other maple varieties across the northeastern and upper midwest states also produce good sap for syrup. As the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources notes, boxelder, silver maple and black maple also produce good sap. 

Maples aren’t the only syrup-producing tree

Other trees, including the sycamore, black walnut, English walnut, white walnut and some birch trees, including the paper birch, can be tapped for their sap and syrup production, according to the PDCNR. The sap from these trees varies in flavor and sugar content, offering a unique alternative to traditional maple syrup.

Make the 2024 maple syrup season memorable by tapping your backyard trees, a simple and low-cost activity. It’s a great screen-free way for families to spend time together outdoors while learning a practical skill and creating a natural, healthy addition to your pantry.

Sarita Harbour is a homeschooling, homesteading mom and a long-time business and finance writer. Sarita created An Off Grid Life to help people become more self-reliant. Sarita and her family live off the grid in Canada’s Northwest Territories. 

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The content presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary changes. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.

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