Making Maple Syrup for Fun and Profit

There's a joyous sense of accomplishment in making maple syrup, a healthful, organic sweetener you can use in your own kitchen or sell to friends and neighbors.

| March/April 1972

It's a long way from gathering maple sap in hollowed-out logs and boiling it down outdoors in iron kettles in 1800 to the monstrous reverse osmosis concentrator of maple sap now being tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With equipment somewhere in between these two extremes, a lot of homestead and medium-to-large commercial operations produce a lot of maple syrup in this country every year. Commercial setups generally pump the sap right out of the trees and pipe it directly into specially-designed refineries these days, but the folks on a number of small homesteads still earn spending money by gathering maple juice in buckets and concentrating it over wood fires in homemade "arches." Sarah Funk is one of those folks and here's how the Funks do it up in Michigan.

If you live in the northeastern quarter of this country and have access to one or more hard maple trees, you've probably thought about making maple syrup. Well, by all means, get some equipment and give it a try! Don't let the fainthearts discourage you with their warnings about backbreaking labor and long, tedious cooking. Of course there's some work involved and patience required, but we've found that good things are worth working for ... and sometimes it's that very work which makes good things even better!

There's a joyous sense of accomplishment in producing a healthful, organic sweetener for your kitchen (one less item to buy from the supermarket!) and, for sale or barter, syrup has an advantage over most farm produce: it's not perishable. We put ours away in the basement and sell most of it to summer visitors.

Whether you plan to make syrup for homestead use only or hope to sell some for a small income, think the procedure through both carefully and in advance. Decide how big an operation you want and secure all necessary equipment before you begin. Moments are precious once the sap starts running.

If you establish a small commercial venture as we did, two main factors will limit the size of your operation: one is the number of trees available and the other is manpower.

Let's consider the trees first. A hard maple, five inches in diameter, is large enough for one taphole; a smaller tree can be permanently damaged if tapped. (In The Maple Sugar Book — the definitive work on the subject —  Helen and Scott Nearing say not to tap a tree that is less than 12 inches thick two feet above ground level. In addition, Mr. Paul Richards of Chardon, Ohio and Mr. George Binnig, of Thompson, Ohio — both of whom are in the maple syrup business — strongly advise against tapping any tree under 10 inches in diameter, and even then prefer waiting until the tree is 12 inches thick — MOTHER EARTH NEWS.) A tree twice as large may be tapped twice, while some old trees are large enough for three, four or even five tapholes. Don't be tempted to overtap. When in doubt, give the tree a break.

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