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Maple Sugaring in Ohio

Maple sugaring is the process through which raw sap is collected and then converted, through evaporation, into syrup. Backyard maple sugaring refers to a variety of ways in which this can be done at very little expense. It's an endeavor that's part preparation and planning, part experimentation and improvisation. People who learn and apply themselves to the process often find that they can produce enough syrup to satisfy their own needs for sweetener and possibly even have extra left over to sell.

The essential work involves collecting good sap and then boiling off about 32 parts water to get one part of syrup. In other words, 24 gallons of accumulated sap can be turned into 3 quarts of syrup. So your basic requirements will be: (1) trees to tap, and tapping spouts and buckets, (2) an evaporator set-up for boiling down your sap (preferably not in the house, as this produces a lot of steam), and (3) means for storing your sap and, later, the resulting syrup.

How you accomplish these steps will depend in large part upon your overall goals. How many quarts of syrup do you want to end up with? How much time do you have to devote to tapping, collecting, and boiling? In simplest terms, you'll probably end up drilling one hole, setting one spout, and hanging one bucket for every eventual quart of syrup. One good way to save money at this stage is to substitute milk bottles for commercial sap buckets. But it's advisable to choose your trees early, like in the summer time, when you can still identify them by their leaves. Of the four kinds of maple trees that produce syrup, sugar maples contain the most (about 3%) sugar. The sap from these trees is also the lightest colored and most flavorful. Sugar maples have five-lobed leaves with a U-shaped sinus between each lobe. Look for trees with abundant branches, and consider how accessible they'll be in the wintertime when there's snow on the ground. Also, ask permission to tap if the trees aren't on your property.

Typical sugaring time is late winter, when the temperatures drop below freezing at night but then climb well above freezing during the day. Set one tap early in the season, and then set the rest of them when you start getting sap flow in the first.

A homemade evaporator rig will probably require half a cord (a stack 4 feet long and 2 feet wide and high) of firewood to make 5 gallons of syrup. You can cut costs here by cutting down deadwood and storing it in advance to dry. Pile it near your evaporator site, and cover it. Evaporating sap requires a blazing fire. Also, find a pan that's relatively shallow (but not so shallow that you risk burning your syrup) and has a lot of boiling surface area. Construct your evaporator so that the flames of your fire will hit directly on the bottom of the pan. Some sugarers build their evaporating contraptions within enclosures, while others boil their sap outdoors.

Finally, you'll want to plan storage for both your sap and your resulting syrup. Sap should be kept cool. Don't store too long before boiling, as it can spoil like anything else. Plastic garbage cans work well as holding tanks, as do fifty-gallon drums. Whatever you use, keep it always in a shady place. Metal containers, like coffee cans, are ideal for syrup, though a glass jar with a screw top can also work well so long as it won't crack when hot syrup is poured into it.

 by T Walker
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