Great Lakes Permaculture Portal

Welcome to the watershed!

Maple Syrup Season part 2.

In the first maple syrup season article Jeremy Kenward discussed maple sugaring as a community in the Northwest corner of Detroit. In it he mentioned the difficulty of sugaring as an individual. For this installment, we talk to Clarkston native Brad Davies, author of Raising Quail for Meat and Eggs, about his one man sugaring operation. He covers his design iterations and what you might expect from sugaring on your own.

Brad Davies

GLPP: How many trees do you tap and where are they located?

BD: I tap one tree! We live in the suburbs and the house came with a maple in the backyard. Tapping it seemed like a pretty good way to start obtaining a yield while waiting for other systems to become established.

GLPP: One tree! How much syrup do you end up with?

BD:  I’m sugaring for personal consumption, so it saves a lot on materials if I only extract what I need. Plus I’d be using more resources if I started harvesting further away and had to lug the sap around. We end up with about ½ gallon of syrup from the sap (about 20-25 gallons), though it can vary a bit based on when you start tapping. Also, it is a pretty big tree, so you might not get as much from smaller ones.

GLPP: How are you boiling down sap?

BD: Propane turkey fryer. One of the other things I do is brew beer, so I use the same equipment for both activities. I mostly boil down the sap as I go, because I don’t have a great storage set up at the moment. It’s really recommended to collect a good amount at once, store it at a cold temperature and boil it down together. This prevents scalding of syrup.

Scalding creates a burnt flavor. Careful monitoring can prevent scalding. With the serial boil down method using the turkey fryer I’ve found stirring and making sure it does boil down too far are pretty effective at making an excellent tasting syrup.

GLPP: So it’s not too difficult? What are the costs involved?

BD: This is definitely something almost anyone can do. Just about everything you use should be useful for other tasks throughout the year, except for the taps. Taps are a couple of bucks a piece and I purchased mine at a home brew store. Don’t forget you’ll need a drill to make a hole for the tap to rest in.

For sap collection I’ve tried a few different things. A 5 gallon bucket with a lid turned out to be the most effective. I’ve also re-used a 2 gallon water jug I had from a camping trip and milk jugs. The problem was they had a tendency to overflow. Also, clear containers aren’t great for long term storage. Photolysis can break down the sugars in the maple syrup.

If you do not already have fuel source, this is where the major cost could be. I wouldn’t recommend completely boiling down sap on an indoor stove because of the sticky humidity. That means you need some sort of outdoor heat source. For me, the propane fryer is working for now though it’s not really sustainable long term. It takes me less than a small sized tank for the full boiled down of sap from my tree. Wood heat is a more sustainable route, as long as we keep planting trees. The major consideration is keeping the heat constant and not.

GLPP: How did you learn to tap trees? Are there specific resources you recommend?

BD: The internet

GLPP: You did an experiment on sap production with your tree. What did you find?

BD: Last year I tapped the cardinal directions [north, south, east and west] on my tree. I found the tap on the south side produced more syrup than those on the east or west sides. The north side tap hardly produced at all! This year I’ll only be tapping the south side of the tree.

More info

For a detailed how-to about the process of sugaring, check out The Process of Tapping Trees and Making Maple Syrup – A Blessing from the Maple Trees written by another Clarkston resident, the Druid Dana, about their communal sugaring process last year.

We also overlooked a series of Maple Syrup events happening in Troy. The Troy Nature Society and Troy Historical Society co-host Maple Syrup Time – Past and Present on March 1, 8, and 15.

A very good question arose regarding the first article. Soil lead contamination is an issue in Detroit: won’t my syrup be contaminated? Oregon State University provides some good information on the subject:

It is important to note that plants do not absorb or accumulate substantial amounts of lead. Lead does not readily accumulate in the fruiting part of vegetables and fruit crops (e.g. corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, and apples). Since lead is tightly bound to clay particles, higher concentrations of lead will therefore be on surfaces of leafy vegetables from lead laden dust (e.g. brassicas), and on surfaces of root crops (e.g. carrots and potatoes) if soils are contaminated. Actually, there is more concern about lead contamination from external lead on unwashed produce than from actual uptake by plants. This raises the need for everyone to always wash their produce before eating/cooking and places a big responsibility on growers to always wash their leafy vegetables before marketing them since lead laden dust can blow from distant places.”

Great Lakes Permaculture Portal © 2013 Frontier Theme