Kids can help collecting the maple sap. The young Ziegler children gather maple sap into a plastic five gallon bucket. It used to be popular at grade school show and tell and it also made a great 4 H project. Although the Zieglers do not make maple syrup commercially anymore and their family sugar bush is located near Crystal Falls. (Ziegler photo)
By Bill Ziegler For the Iron County Reporter
CRYSTAL FALLS—Most of us love pure maple syrup, but it is fairly expensive to buy. Many of us Upper Peninsula residents are fortunate enough have maple trees around our residences or our camps.
If you own, or can “borrow”, some maple trees you can try your hand at making maple syrup. When you are lacking enough maple trees, I have found that many people will let you tap their trees for a share of the valuable finished maple syrup. However, you will definitely need to work out an agreement before tapping other property owner’s trees. Some of the most productive maple trees (and earliest to have a sap run) are the maple trees with large tops (crown area) in house yards.
If you have never made maple syrup it you will find it is an excellent family activity. It is a great way to pass on some traditional outdoor skills to your children and/or grandchildren. All you need is about five to ten maple taps (drilled holes for sap spouts) and some basic equipment to get started. There is no upper limit but if you have more than about 20 taps you may need more expensive equipment to boil it down. Any maple tree will work although sugar maples are the best maple species to use. The number of taps in a maple tree varies on its size (diameter). A few large diameter maple trees will easily meet the five to ten taps I previously referred to.
US Department of Agriculture guidelines say you should only make one tap in a maple tree that is about ten inches diameter. The tap holes are placed about two to four feet above the ground. The tap holes are drilled three inches deep so that you access the white “sap wood”. To give some perspective a maple tree with a 25 inch diameter or greater, can be tapped in four spots. If you are tapping a tree that has been tapped before, you should drill the hole at least six inches away from last year’s tap hole scar (the hole heals up on its own).
Commercial maple syrup producers need a large amount of expensive equipment. It is possible to scale the equipment down and produce limited amounts of maple syrup on a budget. More local hardware stores are carrying basic syrup making supplies as this activity has seen resurgence in popularity. For more... get the Reporter online or at your newstand.