(FOX 2) - Our Jill of All Trades, Jill Washburn, takes us outside this week to try her hand at making maple syrup right in her own neighborhood.
To try this yourself, Jill says there are a few things that you need to know.
First you need a maple tree (or trees), preferable a sugar maple, but any variety of maple will work. Your tree trunk needs to be at least 12 inches in diameter (about the diameter as a 5-gallon plastic bucket). Much smaller than that won't yield enough sap, and it could damage the tree. To get the best yield, choose a tree in a sunny spot or one that gets morning sun.
Next, you'll need some gear; a sap bucket with a lid or cover, a spile (spout), a drill and a hammer. Choose either an aluminum bucket made for sap or a food-grade plastic bucket. You can often pick the plastic ones up at a bakery, donut shop, ice cream store, etc. They often get their supplies in these buckets and either give them away or sell them very inexpensively.
Jill says that hers, bought from a donut shop, cost $1.50. Make sure that you get the lid with your bucket.
If you opt for plastic, you'll also need food-grade plastic tubing. It runs about 25 cents per foot. You'll also need the plastic spiles, which are inexpensive. If you choose plastic, drill a hole the size of the tubing through the side of the bucket, near the top. This is where your tubing will feed into the bucket.
If you choose the old-fashioned style of metal bucket, you'll find them available in many places, like Tractor Supply. You can also find them in many places online, including TapMyTrees.com. If you choose metal buckets, Jill recommends getting the lid and the hook, too. That way, you can keep debris, rain, snow, etc. out of your sap. To go the metal route, you'll be investing about $30 for a single tree.
Without question, you'll need just the right weather conditions. Jill says, for best results, daytime temps should be above freezing (preferably close to 40 degrees), nighttime temps should be below freezing. Once the temps warm beyond that, the tree will start to bud out and that ends your sap collecting season. The budding process will change the taste of the syrup.
Time to head outside! Let's get tapping! Choose a drill bit that fits the size of your spile. You want a tight fit. Jill says it's best to drill into the tree at a slight upward angle. You don't need to go in more than about 2 inches. With a hammer, gently tap the spile into the hole.
FOR METAL: If you're using metal, make sure the hook is on the spile before you tap it in. Hang your bucket from the hook. Attach the lid by threading the removable stem in the lid through the hole at the top of the spile and then thread it back through the lid. It'll all make sense when you see it.
FOR PLASTIC: After gently tapping in your spile, attach the food grade tubing to it. Set your plastic bucket on the ground. Feed the tubing through the hole you drilled in the bucket. Place the lid on and snap it shut to keep "varmints" out of it. If your lid won't snap shut, place a rock or brick on top of it, to discourage "forest thieves".
Now we wait…
You should check your buckets daily. Jill says a mature tree in a sunny spot in the right weather conditions, will yield up to a few gallons of sap a day. The sap looks just like water. Straight from the tree, it will taste like slightly sweetened water. It only keeps for a week so, if it's going to take you longer than that to collect what you need, freeze what you've collected. You can do it easily in gallon-size zip-loc bags.
Now for the syrup making…
The sap has to be boiled down considerably to make syrup. It generally takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. If you are working with sugar maples, it will be somewhat less than that; maybe 32 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. It's best to boil it outside, especially if you're doing large amounts. You would not want that much moisture being put into your house and it would leave a sticky film all over your kitchen. Plus, doing it this way, means you have to watch it on a near constant basis.
The Jill of All Trades twist: Jill says she doesn't have the time or patience to do it the traditional way. Since she only wanted to make a small amount, she put her sap into a slow cooker and left it on high, without a lid, for about 24 hours. You may have to keep it going longer than that.
Jill started with 2 gallons of sap that she strained first, and then put it in the crockpot, turned it on, and let it go. It doesn't hurt to check on it occasionally and give it a stir once in a while, but you certainly don't have to babysit it. For Jill, it yielded about a ½ cup of syrup, which is about right. You'll know it's done when it coats a spoon.
**NOTE** Once you've gotten all the sap that you want for the season, make sure you pull out your spiles, so that the tree can heal. If you use the same tree year after year, do not re-use the holes from the previous year. Drill new holes.
PROJECT RATING: Medium (None of it is hard, but there is a time investment.)
If you want to watch Jill taking you through the process, click on the video player above.