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Syrup Experiment: the conclusion

My husband ended his experiment about two weeks ago. It has gotten too warm to tap the maple trees. They have begun to start to bud. I understand that once the budding begins the sap’s taste is not good for syrup. So what have we learned from this experiment?

It can be done in the South when the temperatures are just right. This means lows below freezing and the highs in the forties or fifties. It is a very time-consuming process. For the ten gallon  of syrup we would collect at a time, it took over ten hours to boil it down. You just can’t put the syrup on a heat source and leave it. You have to continue adding more sap and making sure that it doesn’t boil down too far where it will burn.

While it is a lot of work, is it worth it? My husband says yes! He was able to get out in the woods during the cold winter. It gave us both exercise by walking up and down the hills collecting the sap. The maple trees we found and tapped were not just off the road. Many of the trees were over a half a mile in to the woods. The buckets, filled with the sap, were very heavy adding more benefit. We were able to produce something from scratch and take pride in this.

Having said all of that, it is not any cheaper making your own syrup? I now have an appreciation on why maple syrup is so expensive in the stores. We used propane as a heat source this year which proved to be very expensive. When you put the dollars that we spent along with the time needed to produce the syrup it was probably more expensive than buying it from the store.

What if anything will we do differently next year? We are looking at having someone locally make us an evaporator pan. (This is the pan that you put on a heat source to boil down the syrup. It is usually not deep and has more surface space directly in contact with the heat source.) This year we used a turkey roasting pan, and a variety of pans to boil the syrup. We are also looking at making a fire pit where we can use fire wood as a heat source. We live in the woods and have access to over 200 acres of woods on top of that. The availability of free fire wood is much cheaper than propane.

We have a year to make these improvements. We will have something to look forward to after the deer season next year. Until then, we will be able to enjoy and share the syrup we made this year.


The Maple Syrup Experiment

My husband has always been interested in how they make maple syrup. Over the last few months, he has studied how they do it up north and the type of maple trees that can be used.

During the hunting season, he identified several trees that could be tapped to gather the maple sap.  The type of trees that he discovered that grow here in Georgia was a cousin of the northern sugar maple. The tree’s name is Florida Maple aka Acer barbatum. It grows naturally in Georgia.

For Christmas all he wanted was the equipment to gather and make maple syrup. He was able to find a place up in Wisconsin that sells used taps and buckets. The taps are what are driven into the trunk of the tree to extract the sap. This can only be done when the high temperatures are in the 4o’s and the lows are 32 or below.

Two weeks ago the conditions were just right to gather the sap so he went down to the woods and inserted the taps into the trees and attached the metal buckets to collect the sap. He was expecting that it would take several weeks to gather enough sap to make it worthwhile to boil down and make syrup. To his surprise within less than a week he had over 12 gallons of sap ready to be processed. (This meant that we had maple sap in our freezer, refrigerator and our spare refrigerator.) Since he worked most of the week, he had to go down into the woods in the dark to check his maple buckets. He said it was hard work carrying 5 gallon buckets out of the woods in the dark with only a flashlight.

Last Sunday, he decided he had enough to begin the boiling down process. He had bought lids to go on pint glass jars that I had bought years ago thinking I would can. He also bought a kit to help him in the canning process. He began the slow processes by using my turkey roasting pan on the grill and slowly adding sap to the pan as it evaporated the water from the sap. He was at this all day on Sunday for about eight hours. He still had more sap to boil down which he did on Monday.

It took longer than usual to boil down the contents on Monday because of a snow/ice storm that hit the Atlanta area. As the quantity began to get reduced he started to boil some of the sap inside the house on the stove. The one problem was that it build steam up into the house so he had to open up the doors and windows to let the steam out. The positive out of this process was that the whole house smelled like maple syrup, mmm…

Finally, around four o’clock that afternoon, he was ready to add the syrup into the hot Ball jars to store them for future use. (You have to boil the jars to sterilize them and get the ready to seal the lids.) The final product yielded a little less than three-quarters of a quart. The sap is mostly water so it takes approximately 40 times the amount of sap to produce syrup.

Was this experiment a success? I think so for several reasons. My husband was able to actually make syrup. It was a little thinner than what you can buy in the store but that could have been because we should have let it boil down a little longer. It was good tasting syrup. It was another thing that you can say that I made myself like they used to do back in the days of old.

It was not a success if we were looking to save money. The time it took to gather the sap, boil it down and bottle it took probably a total of almost two days of time.  The yield was not very great. When many people heard what my husband was doing they asked if they could have some. There really wasn’t much to share on what was the final product. The verdict is still out if this will be something he will do next year. For this year, he is going to try one more time and see if he can make it any easier on himself. Time will only tell if this will become a hobby or just an experiment.