Discovering the Joy of Maple Sugaring at Home

Most people don’t realize that the Sugar Maple is not the only tree that yields syrup. We had thoroughly enjoyed our first experience maple sugaring when the kids were toddlers. Now that we have returned to Oregon, we are delighted to revisit our sugaring experience with Tap My Trees.bigleafmaple

We received a Tap My Trees starter kit in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

There are 13 species of maple trees that grow in the United States. The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharin), one of America’s best-loved trees, is the most well known due to its historical and economical importance.In Oregon, Sugar Maple is an ornamental and found only on college campuses and occasionally in someone’s yard. Oregon’s most prevalent native maples are Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maple (Acer circinatum). Learn more about Our Native Maples in my earlier post. 

bigleafOur Maple Sugaring Experience

I shared a more in-depth look at Science of Sugaring a few months ago. From everything we have read and from our past experiences, we knew that sap would immediately start to flow after tapping the tree if the weather conditions were just right. Cold nights and warm days were what we needed.

We waited. We watched the forecast. Then my dad telephoned, “This week looks to be a good time to go sugaring?!” Yippee! We gathered our gear and piled into his truck.

Oregon Geography

The Oregon Coast is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Mountain Range on the east. It is 30 to 60 miles (48 to 97 km) wide and averages around 1,500 feet (460 m) in elevation above sea level. Temperate rain forests with high peaks and steep ridges dominate this region.elliotstateforest

In the southernmost section of the Coast Range where we live, you can find the Elliott State Forest. The forest is home to over 50 mammal species, over 100 species of birds, and nearly 30 reptile or amphibian species that spend significant portions of their life cycle in the mountains. It is here that the Big Leaf and Vine Maples grow.

Tapping the Trees

It took about an hour to drive up to the forest and locate the Big Leaf Maples. We found a several in the mid elevations on relatively dry slopes. As the terrain is so steep, most were out of our reach but we did manage to find a couple near the road. Sadly, when we tapped them, the sap was not running. Dad said this was an ominous sign but we hung our bucket anyway and gave it a go.

rainforestWe then drove to a lower elevation in a narrow, moist valley where we located a grove of Vine Maple. You can see in the photo above the abundance of ferns and bryophytes in the understory. When we tapped the Vine Maple, the sap started flowing immediately.

Maple sap is a clear fluid and resembles water. The collection amount may vary. Some days you will collect only a small amount and other days your buckets may overflow if not emptied.

We thereby hung several bottles amongst the vine maple shrubs that covered the hillside. For these smaller trees, we recycled a plastic soda bottle by poking a hole in the side and sliding the bottle onto the spile.

vinemaple

Collecting the Sap

We returned a few days later to retrieve our materials and any sap we collected. Much to our chagrin, the bucket on the Big Leaf was dry. It was just the wrong time. We’ve wanted to try again but the weather hasn’t been very cooperative this year. We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter and lots of rain.

The vine maples, however, were more cooperative. We collected about a quart of sap which when processed yielded only about 2 tablespoons of syrup. Enough for one pancake serving anyway. We all agreed it was very similar to the pure syrup we purchase, but with a little more tangy taste.

It is clearly much more work and effort to tap trees in Oregon, thus making the endeavor economically disadvantageous. This is due in part to the difficulty in reaching the trees but also that a larger quantity of big leaf or vine maple sap is needed to produce equivalent volumes of syrup than the sugar maple.

However, I highly recommend the sugaring experience to families, especially if you have access to maple trees where you live. It is great opportunity to get outdoors and bond together over shared memories – not to mention all that one can learn through the process.

While 2016 wasn’t a good year for tapping the Big Leaf Maple in Oregon, we’ll be sure to try again next year. Sugaring has become a lifelong hobby everyone in our family enjoys.

Maple Sugaring with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is the #1 provider of sugaring supplies for the hobbyist. Devoted to educating families about the practice of maple sugaring Tap My Trees has made donations of supplies to nature centers hosting maple sugar events and they’ve made quite a few products available for teaching Maple Sugaring at Home.

They offer 4 starter kits with the highest quality supplies to tap maple trees at home. You can also customize your kits by ordering sugaring accessories individually. The instructive guidebook outlines the steps to making the maple sugar and contains all the information you need for a successful sugaring from identifying the appropriate tree to how weather affects the sap run, when to collect, and how to boil down the sap.

The lesson plans also include a timeline beginning in the winter and go month by month listing the topics for each month leading to the sap collection and syrup making. Sugaring is a fabulous unit study covering botany, ecology, meteorology, physics, and even history!

Connect with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is committed to sugaring education and they provide recipes and other information on social media. Their products are also available on Amazon, if you prefer. Be inspired!

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The Science of Sugaring with Tap My Trees

When we first started homeschooling, we did a lot of unit studies. Often, our studies revolved around a book I was reading aloud to the kids.

One of our fondest memories of homeschooling revolves around Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  We had recently read about the Ingalls’ family sugaring time and a few days later, while enjoying pancakes with real maple syrup, Geneva inquired, “How do you make maple syrup again, Mom?”

I have long been intrigued with the notion of tapping trees to make syrup. I quickly took her question to heart and we launched into an integrated unit on maple sugaring.

Read more of our early experiences here, Sugaring Time: Making Our Own Maple Syrup

While Oregon does not typically come to mind when one thinks of maple sugar, I can attest that we do in fact have maple trees. Come along with me as I share the science of sugaring.

reading up on sugaring In preparation for this post, I received a maple sugaring starter kit for free and was compensated for my time in writing it. All the opinions below are mine and I was not required to write a positive review.

The Science of Sugaring

Products derived from Sugar Maple trees are common in house holds throughout the country, particularly the maple syrup and sugar industry in the Northeast. The earliest written accounts of maple sugaring were made in the early 1600s by European explorers who observed American Indians gathering maple sap.

I love real maple syrup. Growing up, even when times were tight, my dad always insisted we had real maple syrup. When I was in middle school, my dad became intrigued with the notion of tapping trees to make syrup. “Couldn’t you also tap other trees?” he would ask. “We have a lot of Big Leaf Maple? Can you make Alder syrup? What would it taste like? What about Willow and Oak? Certainly their sap would be sweet as well.”

The next thing I knew, my dad had ordered a spiles kit and we were hiking into Oregon’s coast range to tap trees. After numerous attempts and modifications to his collecting devices, we were successful.

We managed to collect enough sap from several trees to process into syrup – essentially the sap is filtered and the excess water is boiled from the sap. You would be surprised just how much maple sap is required to make just one quart of syrup … 10 gallons (though this varies by species)!

Our research revealed the most commonly tapped maple trees are Sugar, Black, Red, and Silver Maples. My father’s inquiry experiments proved that while other trees can be tapped to collect sap, including Birch, Walnut, and other maple species like Big Leaf and Boxelder; tapping a Sugar or Black Maple yields the best results.

Tap My Trees

Today, Sugar Maple stands and roadside trees provide private landowners with an annual cash crop as well as a rewarding hobby. I am excited to discover and share with you the #1 supplier of maple sugaring supplies for the hobbyist, Tap My Trees. They are the leading site for home based maple sugaring – the process of sap collection and making maple syrup.

Collecting maple sap is a green, environmentally sustainable process that can be enjoyed by anyone with a healthy, mature maple tree. The Tap My Trees website provides you with step-by-step instructions on how to tap your maple trees and turn that sap into maple syrup.

The process is actually quite simple. It does, however, take some time and a willingness to get outdoors and experience this miracle of nature – Charlotte Mason would be so proud!

sugaringkitThe Tap My Trees kit is a wonderful way to jump into the sugaring hobby. Here’s a peak of what is included in the kit:

  • Maple Sugaring Lesson Plan: Lesson plan for the maple sugaring process. Can be adapted for third grade through high school.
  • Maple Sugaring at Home book: This guide provides step-by-step instructions (complete with pictures) to tap maple trees. Includes information on how to identify maple trees, how to tap trees, collection and storage of sap, uses for maple sap including how to make maple syrup, and frequently asked questions.
  • 1 Aluminum Bucket: 2 gallon aluminum bucket is used to collect the sap as it drips from the spile.
  • 1 Metal Lid: Lids prevent rain, snow, and foreign material from entering the bucket.
  • 1 Spile with Hook: Stainless steel spile (tap) is inserted into drilled hole to transfer sap into the bucket. Hook is used to hold the bucket.
  • 1 Drill Bit: 7/16 drill bit with 3/8 shank used to drill tap hole into your maple tree.
  • Cheesecloth: Used to filter any solids (such as pieces of bark) when transferring sap from the collection bucket to a storage container.
  • Filter: 24″ X 30″ filter sheet to filter sediment from finished syrup. Durapure grade filter.
  • 1 Bottle with Lid: Empty 12 oz. maple syrup bottle used to store finished syrup.
  • Thermometer: Candy thermometer for making maple syrup. Instrument Range: 100 to 400°F / 40 to 200°C. Stainless steel housing with mounting clip

Join me next month for a maple trees nature study post and again this spring as I share with you our own experiences in tapping trees.

Sugaring Time: Making Our Own Maple Syrup

A month or so ago, while Sweetie was enjoying her pancake breakfast, she inquired about how they make maple syrup. I explained the process to her as best I could from memory and as I concluded she asked if we could try to make some ourselves.  I assured her that we could. That in fact, her Papa J was an expert on making your own syrup.

It’s Sugaring Time!

I pulled out an article he wrote for his company newsletter years ago in which he described his experiment tapping Big Leaf Maple, Alder, and Wild Cherry trees in the Willamette Valley. We gave him a call and he shared a little more about his experience tapping Maple trees. We talked about getting together with him but travel and work obligations just didn’t cooperate. We would just have to play it by ear and see what developed.

A few days later, we met up with him for a birthday dinner and he presented us with the taps. “You’re in luck, Sweetie. The weather the past few days has been just right for tapping trees,” Papa said. “You’ll just need to find some over there in Central Oregon.”

Making Our Own Maple Syrup

By sure luck, as I was explaining this endeavor to my girlfriend, she mentioned that her grandmother had a Sugar Maple in her yard. “I’m always having to rake her leaves in the fall!” she exclaimed, and she gave us permission to tap it.

We tapped it on Monday around 12:30 p.m. and within a few hours we had collected nearly 1 liter! I was actually surprised with how quickly it started to flow. Unfortunately, the weather has since changed and the flow has slowed significantly.

The bottle was in place for just a couple of days as we had a bit of a cold spell and the sap flow had slowed significantly. We were fortunate though to collect nearly a 1/2 gallon of sap from that one tree. As we wanted to do the experiment with Papa, we stored the sap in the refrigerator and waited until he came to visit.

Papa came over a week later and we got to boiling down the sap we had collected previously. You can see in the photo, that the sap has just come to boil… from that point, it took about an hour and a half to finish the process. Unfortunately, we yielded only about 1 tablespoon of syrup but it was so yummy! While they waited, Papa read a book about Maple Sugaring to Sweetie and thereafter, they spent the rest of the evening drawing.

Fortunately, in the weeks that followed, we were also able to locate several other trees and obtained permission to tap those as well.  As the weather was more conducive to tapping in the following weeks, we employed 8 taps and collected enough sap to yield a greater quantity – enough to enjoy on our pancakes!

Thank you, Dad, for sharing your experience with me. Your love of nature has certainly shaped who I am as a woman and is a major part of why I chose to home school the kids.

Maple Syrup Unit Study

We covered a variety of topics associated with maple syrup such as:  trees to tap, parts of a Maple tree, where maple syrup is produced, tapping tools, maple syrup products, the maple syrup process and even more.  It was a great week of fun learning.  Here are a few of the resources we used throughout our study:

Literature

For a unit study on maple sugar, Little House in the Big Woods, is the perfect book. Told from four-year-old Laura’s point of view, the story begins in 1871 in a little log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and includes chapters devoted specifically to sugaring time.

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s treasured Little House series, which was based on her life growing up as an American pioneer. You might also be interested in the complete Laura Ingalls Wilder set that includes: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years.

Hidden away since the 1930s, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s never-before-published autobiography, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, reveals the true stories of her pioneering life. Some of her experiences will be familiar; some will be a surprise. Pioneer Girl re-introduces readers to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions of people around the world.

With this heavily annotated edition, with maps and appendices that enrich the text, readers can revel in her memories of her family and their pioneer life from 1869 to 1888 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakota Territory.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker is far from just a cookbook, it’s about a way of life that was a hard existence, but one that many of us dream of. Whether you are already a “Little House” fan, or are new to the series, this book can be enjoyed by all “wanna-be 1800’s pioneer women.”

It includes more than 100 recipes introducing the foods and cooking of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneer childhood, chronicled in her classic Little House books. This is not just a cookbook, it’s an interactive history book, and an in-depth analysis of Laura Wilder’s Little House books.

We also enjoyed:

The Maple Syrup Book by Marilyn Linton

Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky

Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall

Memory Work

From where I lingered in a lull in March
outside the sugar-house one night for choice,
I called the fireman with a careful voice
And bade him leave the pan and stoke the arch:
‘O fireman, give the fire another stoke,
And send more sparks up chimney with the smoke.’
I thought a few might tangle, as they did,
Among bare maple boughs, and in the rare
Hill atmosphere not cease to glow,
And so be added to the moon up there.
The moon, though slight, was moon enough to show
On every tree a bucket with a lid,
And on black ground a bear-skin rug of snow.
The sparks made no attempt to be the moon.
They were content to figure in the trees
As Leo, Orion, and the Pleiades.
And that was what the boughs were full of soon.

~ Robert Frost

Lapbook

We created one of our first lapbooks, Maple Syrup, as a part of our unit study. This free download covers the how-to of sugaring very well.  There are mini-books for the tools and equipment, the process of tapping trees, what trees can be tapped, and science experiments.

Websites

  • Tree Ring Diagram (from Arbor Day) provides a description of tree layers. As the kids are young, our focus was on understanding there are layers to the tree and that the sap runs in the one called sapwood.