Sap to Syrup

This was our first year tapping our maple trees and what fun it has been! Sadly (for sap collecting) this winter has been mild and thus the sap has not been flowing as it normally does, or so I hear. Sap can be collected from maple, birch as well as walnut trees. I’m not sure what birch or walnut sap is used for but I do know that maple sap makes some deliciously sweet syrup!

If you’re interested in tapping some trees yourself or if you’re just curious about the process here is what we did:

First we identified our maple trees. There are different types of maple trees, most commonly sugar maples are tapped but we only have swamp maples and they work too. Once the daytime temperature is above freezing we tap the trees. This requires a 7/16 drill bit and my favorite tool- the cordless screwdriver/drill. Now you can tap a tree more than once if it is large enough but I only had 8 taps so I placed them around the property- one per tree. Some trees were more productive than others-especially those with more sunlight exposure. So we drilled  2 1/2 inches in- about 3 feet off the ground, on the south side, and when possible over a large root or under a large branch. We tapped the spile in and hooked our jugs on. We used clean milk and water jugs with a hole for the spile to drip the sap into the jug and another hole for the hook to grab on to keeping our bucket on the tree. We made these holes as close to the handle as possible as the plastic is strongest there and as high as we could so the jug could hold more before starting to leak all that precious sap on to the ground. If the tree starts flowing right away  it’s not really a steady drizzle but it’s also more than an occasional drip. Now we wait for the sap to accumulate. Once there’s enough (how long this takes depends on the temperature) we pour it into a 5 gallon bucket and since we are a small operation we start boiling it down a little at a time. You can store it longer either outside if it is cold enough or in the fridge or freezer.


You can also drink the sap straight or use it pretty much like water. It tastes like water with a very slight sweetness to it. It’s good! The boys request sap regularly and even run down to steal a swig or two when they can. It takes A LOT of sap to make syrup- it’s a 40:1 ratio. As in 40 gallons of sap makes 1 gallon of syrup or for a smaller visual  40oz of sap makes 1 oz syrup (that’s a shot glass).


So far this year we’ve made a little over a quart of finished maple syrup. How you boil it down is up to you- however do it outside as vast amounts of evaporated water is too much for indoors (unless you’re trying to remove wallpaper). Wood heat is common and cheap and commercial evaporators are expensive I decided to use my electric pressure cooker (lidless) set to keep the sap boiling. As the sap cooks down it turns a light amber hue. Keep adding sap and cooking it down. Eventually you’ll have a smaller amount you can finish off on the stove top. How do you know when it’s done? Use a thermometer. Syrup boils at 7 degrees above boiling water. At my elevation water boils at 212F so the syrup is ready at 219F. Then filter, bottle and enjoy!

When temperatures remain above freezing and buds start to form tapping season is over- remove the spiles and remember to leave 6 inches when drilling next year. Over time the previously drilled holes will heal-over.

Hopefully that was through but if I did forget something ask away. I got a lot of my info from they also sell tapping supplies but struggling_along brought the spiles at our local hardware store and the jugs I saved as we used them.

To see photos of this process see my recent post Tapping the Trees- A Short Photo Essay.


17 thoughts on “Sap to Syrup

  1. The folks we buy our maple syrup from in Northern Michigan are having a lot of problems with this mild winter too. I guess the trees need a really cold spell or the sap doesn’t flow properly in the spring.
    I always wondered why maple syrup was so expensive, now I know! It takes a lot of work, and the ratio 40:1 means you have to tap a whole lot of trees!
    Great explanation thank you!

    • Yes the trees need sub-freezing temps at night with warm (above freezing) days so there’s pressure from the rising temps causing the sap to flow i.e. transfer sap between the above and below ground parts of the tree. If the nights don’t get cold enough there’s no pressure and thus no flow.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. We tapped a few trees this year also. It was our first time too. I now have an appreciation of how much time is put into making maple syrup! I now know why it is so expensive. I used the side burner on my gas grill with my pressure canner. It took sooooo long. I’m glad i did it though. It’s always great to learn a new skill.

    • It does take awhile and I only made a bit more than a quart! I’d like to scale up next year but I think I’ll have to find another/additional method for boiling it down. I’d also like an outdoor summer kitchen hmmm….

    • I hear it makes good, but different tasting than maple, syrup. Apparently birch sap is used to make birch beer which I love. I always wondered how they got the birch flavor- I think I’m going to have to try it one of these years!!

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  4. In Kerala, southern part of India from I am . Coconut sap and rubber sap is collected some what like this . It brings out lot of memories. Thanks for sharing with Hearth and soul blog hop.

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  6. hello, i found you via soulemama! i really enjoyed this post- i wanted to tap the few maples in my yard this year but didn’t have the funds. Then at the very end of the tapping season I discovered an ingenious idea for free tapping spouts at our local nature center- tree branches with holes drilled out!! (get out your favorite drill again!) If you’re interested, I snapped a few pictures of the setup

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