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Maple syrup making --Help me get started

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Bocefus78, Sep 5, 2012.

  1. Bocefus78

    Bocefus78 Minister of Fire

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    This thread is basically directed at Scotty O. and the others here who make their own maple syrup. I have been kicking the idea around of making a batch this winter and would love any tips you guys could give a beginner.

    Of course I have a few ?'s but I'm sure I can't ask all the right ones so feel free to hit on anything I dont mention.

    I am not looking to make 50gallons or anything. I'm aware of the 40-1 ratio and all that. I have 5 acres full of 20+sugar maples but I live 1.5hrs away. I'm thinking of running plastic tubing to a 300gal IBC tote with a 2" ball valve on the bottom for this reason. Will gravity be enough to make it flow? From what I have read, trees of my size, can be tapped 2 or 3 times. How may trees will I need to tap to fill my tank? How long can it sit in the tank before it needs to be processed? How much wood am I gonna need?

    As far as an evap goes, for the trial run, I'm gonna stick with cinder blocks and huge rectangle resturant holding pans to keep the cost down. What was your first evap like?

    Help a guy get started so I dont get in way over my head here!

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  2. smokinj

    smokinj Minister of Fire

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    Just posting so I can follow this.
  3. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Bocefus, the first thing you should do is buy a good book about making syrup. You'll have all fall and winter to read it and make preparations. Remember that you won't make syrup in the winter, you make it in the spring. Also, do not believe the 40:1 as that can be true but we found that as the season progresses, it can go to 50:1 or more. As for how much wood it will take, that is too difficult to tell because it can take varying amounts depending firstly on what type of wood you have. Then it can depend upon your setup. For example, Scott boils his syrup outdoors. That will definitely take more wood than you would use if you had a shelter. Also, at what point are you going to stop making the syrup? If you like the really light colored syrup, it won't take as much boiling. Darker just needs longer to get there. Will you make any maple candy? That can take a lot to get to that point. How about during the boiling. If you have some fresh snow, you will probably use some of that syrup right then as fresh syrup on fresh snow is delicious. Just don't use yellow snow.

    Of course there is much more and I'll let Scott join in here for some other info. Good luck and have some fun doing this.
    ScotO likes this.
  4. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    First thing to do right now while there are still leaves on the trees, and especially as they change color, is get some ribbon and start marking your sugar maples. It is very, very hard to tell the difference unless you're an expert when February rolls around. Get a leaf comparison chart online so you can tell the sugar maples from red maples, silver maples, etc., or other species. You only want to tap the sugar maples in order to ensure good taste. Other varieties, besides having less sugar, may add weird flavors. Sugar maples are pretty easy to spot in autumn because of their bright yellow leaves.

    You'll have no problem with sap flowing... it's very thin, basically indistinguishable from water. You don't want it to sit out for very long though unless it's below freezing. The best time to tap is when it freezes at night but is mild during the day. If a block of ice sits in your collection bucket all day, the sap will stay good. But if the temperature swings warm and the sap sits above freezing for hours and hours, it can collect mold, algae, insects, etc. Even a little bit can ruin your batch with off tastes. BTW, if you do have a block of ice form in your sap, that can save many logs -- the ice is almost all water, leaving the sap in your bucket with more of the sugar. Discard the ice block and you have less boiling to do.

    If you're going to make your evaporator furnace out of cinder blocks, don't expect them to necessarily last the entire season and certainly not longer. High heat will disintegrate them after two or three weeks of burning. They just crumble. But they can be mostly sufficient for one season, especially as you just get started with it. After boiling off like 60-70% of the water on the wood fire, I'd recommend moving to a propane-fired turkey fryer (outside still). That will allow you to watch and control it more closely to prevent spill-overs or over-boiling while still keeping the moisture out of the house. When it gets real close -- it turns amber and starts getting noticeably thick -- then move it inside to finish off on the cook top. You need to pay really close attention because the time between it being too thin still and it burning is very short.

    Also, don't use your wife's favorite pots and pans in case you do burn any on there. I'd suggest using turkey broiler pans because they have good surface area but relatively high sides. I usually keep three going in different states of doneness. The end-most one has practically perfectly done syrup, to which I add almost-done syrup from the next one regularly as it goes down, to which I add from the just in from the outside pan as it goes down.

    The best part about syrup-making is cleaning up all of the caramelized candy coating on all of the cookware.

    I usually filter three times during the process. First when adding the raw sap to my outside wood burner to remove anything that doesn't belong in there (we don't need to be adding off flavors), second when transferring to my propane turkey fryer, and finally the finished syrup before bottling.

    Sometime soon, I really hope to be able to build a bona fide sugar house.
    Dune, ScotO, fishingpol and 1 other person like this.
  5. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    If it's downhill, it'll run to the tank. Run amounts vary by region and even within regions, but if you're that far away you should have 1 gallon of storage for every tap, per run (round number). It'll stay in decent shape for a couple of days in the tank, as long as it is cold at night & not real warm during the day, and the tank is out of the sun. Later in the season though, it should be boiled in daily or even as soon as you have enough ahead to keep your fire going, get it going. Darker & lighter doesn't really have anything much to do with boil times but rather the sugars in the sap and how they change during the season. Early season = lighter, later season = darker, boil times stay the same everything else being equal, although sometimes sap sugar content will go down a bit towards the end of the season thereby needing more boiling. I'd keep the ice blocks - there will be a bit of sugar in them, and they can help in making your sap last longer if you won't be boiling right away by keeping the sap cold. Watch out for things freezing & breaking during a cold snap or cold night though.

    'Real' syrup is boiled to 7°f above the boiling point of water. The closer it gets to that, the easier it is to scorch your pans, so finishing on a smaller more controllable flame is advised as mentioned above. You can visually get an idea how close it's getting by checking for flaking off a dipper dipped into the boiling syrup - if it just runs or drips off the dipper, still too thin. If it starts dropping off in flakes, you're close. If its for your own use, you could likely just stop there & not bother with a thermometer - might be a bit on the thin side but will still taste good. For the good stuff on the snow, boil it to about 25-28°f above boiling point of water. Keep your eyes open for used equipment - used furnaces/arches can usually be resurrected a bit with some new fire brick & sheet metal if needed - just make sure all castings are in one piece. The efficiency difference between using the real equipment & the cinder block approach will be big. Don't use or get anything galvanized that will be touching the sap or syrup, and by all means don't clean anything you will be using with anything stronger than hot water - throwing filters in a washing machine has ruined many a hard hour of labour even without soap added. A quick 2 cents from someone who's been surrounded by maple his whole life...
    ScotO likes this.
  6. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    One more tip... adding a few drops of light cooking oil to your pots of sap will break the surface tension and help prevent them from boiling over. Also, I second the comment about no soap residues on anything. Only rinse filters with hot water.

    If you do end up leaving sap out in warm conditions for a few days, you might try adding a few tablespoons per gallon of cheap vodka. It will help preserve it and the alcohol will boil off without leaving flavors behind.
    ScotO likes this.
  7. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    Yes, the boiling over. That typically won't happen until you get close to the syrup stage. Lots of things have been used over the years to stop that - hanging a ball of pork fat over the syrup that it'll hit when it gets so high used to be pretty popular. When I was a kid, I used to stand by the syrup pan with a pop bottle full of milk that had a cork that would leak. When it got coming up, I'd just shake a few drops in and it would go down. There are also commercial products for that. It might never happen, if your fire isn't the hottest and you stop cooking short of the real syrup point - but if it does & you're not ready for it, it will make one heck of a mess.
    ScotO likes this.
  8. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    Sorry Bocefus, I just now found this thread! I don't spend a whole lot of time in the DIY forum, fate brought me here this evening! OK, the guys in the previous posts covered a lot of great points. You most certainly CAN run your taps into a storage tank, that is great if you have all of your maples in one central location. The issue is, how often can you get out and empty the tank? 20 trees, with 2 taps each, are going to put out around 40 gallons to 60 gallons a day, depending on the temperature. Put three taps on those trees, and you'll be upping that number to 60 to 80 gallons. If it's cold out, your sap will be fine for a few days in storage. If it is mild outside, you'll have to do some vodka in the barrel as Thomas suggested. I usually collect sap from Monday through Thursday, and start the cooking process Friday evening right through the weekend and finishing off the weekly batch on Sunday evening. Here is a picture of the different cooker methods we use:

    when I started out back in 2007, this was the original method we used. These pics were taken in 2009 and 2010, this kettle method makes the best tasting syrup IMHO. Has an old-fashioned smoky taste.

    maple syrup kettle.jpg barrel stove.jpg maple kettle.jpg the gang during the first weekend of 2010 syrup season.jpg

    When I started out, I had around 40 taps. Each year, I added more and more. My first collection buckets were the 2 liter bottles with a tube and a plastic tap. I have since moved up to one gallon jugs and 5 gallon buckets.

    collection buckets.jpg daniel tasting the sap.jpg emptying the buckets.jpg getting ready to head home from the farm.jpg hauling wood off of the farm for the maple cooker.jpg

    ran out of room for pics, so I will continue on the next post...........
    Thomas Anderson and Lewiston like this.
  9. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    I use 5 gallon pickle buckets which Burger King is happy to give you for free. I run tubing into them... one bucket per big tree, two or three trees to a bucket if they're small trees or I know I'll collect them daily. One tree can put out several gallons per day at the height of the season.
    ScotO likes this.
  10. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    Okay, so anyway, now we are using the big evaporator I built. It is a big homemade stainless pan that will hold over 50 gallons of sap in it. The entire bottom of the pan is touching the heat inside of the evaporator, it'll boil off close to 25 gallon of sap per hour if you are stoking it good. But it sucks up a lot of fuel! It's nothing at all to go through a heaping pickup load in one weekend! Here are some pics of the evaporator, and of our newer collection method:

    2012-02-12_12-19-14_543.jpg 2012-02-25_12-23-57_702.jpg 2012-03-03_13-37-09_101.jpg

    Anyway, some of my tips that I use. I keep my barrels of sap in my cold basement for storage during the week. I bring all the sap home (every evening) and put it in the barrels. Yes, it's a full time job that time of the year, but this maple business isn't easy. That's why imaple syrup is so damm expensive! I fire up the evaporator on Friday evening, cooking it right through the weekend. I dampen the fire waaaay down, fill the pan within an inch from the top, and go to bed late each evening, getting back up very early on Sat and Sunday morning to fire it hard again. I can easily boild off 400+ gallons a weekend by myself, but it's work. Lots of it. The sap likes to boil over, so a drop of oil or such to break the surface tension of the sap every now and then will keep that from happening. I use a little pat of butter every 100 gallons or so. Old timers would hang a piece of raw bacon over the pan. It would drip grease in the pan every now and then, doing the same as butter or oil. Start out small, set some realistic goals, and you'll be canning truckloads of it before you know it!

    2012-02-24_17-46-47_219.jpg 2012-02-24_17-50-57_340.jpg
  11. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    Whereabouts are you located Scotty? I'm just north of Bloomsburg.
  12. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    Thomas I'm just north of Altoona. I was up your way a month and a half ago. We went to Watkins Glen up Rt. 15.
  13. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    Do you sell any of your syrup or is it for personal consumption and gifts? I'm thinking of looking into joining or starting a collective or something. I don't make enough yet (a few gallons) to really make it a business on my own, but maybe with others it would make sense.
  14. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    I mainly barter with it and give it away! You know first hand how hard it is to make in any quantity, its hard to put a price on it! I made 25 gallons last year, that was with only three weeks of run last year, worst year so far. If I can get 5 weeks with 150 taps out, I may sell some next year.
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  15. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Here is a picture of my friend's boiler. Of course you can see only half of it. He has 3 old milk coolers that he stores sap in because this small boiler just can't keep up even running 24 hours. But there is usually a big group of folks there to help out too and we all have fun.
    Boiling sap.JPG
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  16. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    Yes Dennis, it sure is a lot of fun! I'd love to someday have a sugar shack, I think I will build a small room on the end of the woodshed when I build it. I could store the first wood of the season in that section.....by the time maple season came around, It'd be empty and ready to use!
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  17. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Sounds like a great plan Scott.

    Last spring my friend came over with his truck to get some firewood. Seems he ran out even though it was a short and small run. Of course I had to ride him a bit, as in, "You must be getting old!" But he's still quite a bit younger than I. It worked out well as we found some extra syrup last spring and did not wonder where it came from. Love that stuff! Especially on waffles and in vanilla ice cream.
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  18. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    I knew I had a picture but took me a bit to find it. Here is my friend's sugar shack. Maybe I'll take more pictures next spring.

    Sugar Shack-2.JPG
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  19. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
  20. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    that's not a sugarshack, thats a syrup manufacturing center! Nice!
  21. cptoneleg

    cptoneleg Minister of Fire

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    Well heck I don't have any Sugar Maples on my place just Reds- very interisting- thanks all
  22. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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  23. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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  24. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    One should take advantage of the resources that one has available. If I were in cpt's shoes, with only red's to work with, I'd be tapping them to give it a go and make my own judgement if it's worth doing it again the following year. Those who only have access to birch trees make syrup from that as well. Considering where I live now, I'm not a fan of birch syrup, but if birch was my only option, I'd give it a try for myself.

    Doesn't hurt to experiment.

    pen
  25. ScotO

    ScotO Guest

    Birch, shagbark hickory, red and black maple....heck I even heard of someone making walnut (yes WALNUT) syrup.
    When I started out, I used both red and sugar maples, never noticed a difference in taste (but the red maple takes a LOT more cooking to get the same syrup). Sugar maples have usually twice the sugar content as a red maple (reds average around 1 to 2%, where sugar maples average 3 to sometimes 6% sugar). That said, I since quit using the reds because I get more bang for my buck (er, wood) out of sugar maples. But at the end of the day, if all you have is reds, go for it. It should taste fine either way, just a little more work to get there.
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