Making Maple Syrup in Your Own Backyard

The secrets to backyard sugaring, including planning ahead, tree selection, how, when and where to tap and making an evaporator.

| February/March 1992

I suppose I got involved in backyard sugarin' the day my determination to make maple syrup ran smack dab into my good wife's determination that the boiling down not be done on the kitchen stove. I must say she has a point. You see, the main thing about making maple syrup is you have to boil off about 32 parts of water in the form of steam to end up with one part of maple syrup. That means that if you're boiling down a batch some Saturday afternoon on the kitchen stove and are aiming, say, for three quarts of syrup, you're going to put about 24 gallons of water into the air before the boiling's done.

Unless you've got one awfully powerful exhaust fan, you'll end up with water streaming down the walls and enough steam to impair visibility across the room. And, when things finally do clear, you're apt to find the wallpaper lying on the floor. Then, too, even if the batch doesn't boil over, which it can, the sugar spray from all that furious boiling gets all over the stove and is harder than blazes to get off. So, if you want to maintain a measure of domestic tranquillity, it's best to do your boiling — most of it anyway — outside, or in a handy garage or shed.

Anyway, the day I lost my kitchen privileges was the day I started figuring out in earnest what equipment I might need to set up a proper evaporator in a little sugar house. I was soon up to my eyebrows in catalogs and books on the time-honored methods used to make maple syrup. This all made good reading, but the smallest evaporator I could find was designed to handle up to 35 buckets, producing about 12 gallons of syrup during the season and costing better than $600. When I figured out the number of buckets I'd need to collect enough sap to make it worthwhile to run the evaporator — plus the holding tanks, instruments and other gear, not to mention building a small sugar house to store everything in — I knew I was looking at an investment well into four figures. It became clear that I'd have to get into the business of selling syrup just to make ends meet.

I wasn't about to make that kind of commitment to sugarin', but I was just as determined to make my own syrup — say three or four gallons a year. I had my own sugar maples, plenty of firewood, an attraction to maple sugar like a bear has to honey and enough Yankee blood in me to take pride in saving upwards of $56 a gallon in the process.

So the only solution I could come up with was to improvise. I scrounged up an old 18-by-24-inch commercial baking pan, built a firebox under it out of cement blocks, stuck some used stovepipe out the back and produced what I consider to be a very satisfying batch of golden delicious right out there in the backyard.

Planning Your Backyard Sugarin'

With backyard sugarin', one of the things you have to do is plan ahead. Since the amount and type of equipment you'll need depends a good deal on the quantity of syrup you're planning to make, the first thing to decide is just how greedy you are.

1/2/2008 3:35:52 AM

Great writing Rink. I am going to try to follow along in your footsteps and do it all at home. I have 5 trees that will support 3 or 4 taps and many that will have 2 taps and a bunch of small trees with only one tap. I guess I should have about 50 taps in all. My health isn't the best but still get around outside and stay close to my truck or tractor. My wife has given me a couple of pans that were in here turkey cooker. 12 x 17 and 6 inches deep. Now the stove, was thinking of using my gas turkey cooker gas burner but the pan won't fit totaly over the flame, I also have a ashley wood stove that has a lip on top so the pans can't slide or fall off the top of the stove. think the wood stove is best but have a shortage of wood. O'h I got wood but don't feel like cutting it much so will probably start with gas.with gas the heat can be cut off quickly so would be good for finishing. I was going to use 2 pans and preheat in one and cook down in the other, adding sap as we go to mak a larger batch of syrup what say. I am now retired and 71 years old so won't be fast but intend on having a bit of syrup. If sap runs ok what do you think my yeald might b if I work hard. thomas deitzman

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