Sweet Stuff

This year, Tiny House Ontario is a sugar shack. Maple sugar, that is. I have been on sugar bush visits over the years. Basically just to buy the yummy end product. As for how to do it, I got the gist: drill a hole in a tree, put in a spile, hang a bucket, collect and boil the sap and that this eventually becomes maple syrup.

Unlike homesteaders in the old days, this skill was not handed to me by my family. I did a bit of research on the internet I learned there is not much more to it than the above. So, it was decided to invest $30 in three – 2 gallon buckets, three lids and three metal spiles. I honestly did not know if I would like to produce syrup so decided to simply boil the sap on my BBQ instead of going to the trouble of making a covered structure and organizing the things I would need to build a wood fire. By doing this, I could use my own large stainless kitchen pot. It was easy as pie to start. A 7/16ths hole is drilled in the tree, the spline is hammered in, the bucket hooked up and the lid is threaded on. Each bucket took about a minute and started to drip immediately!

I had no idea how long it takes to get from sap to syrup. Do you know that it takes about 20 gallons of sap to make a quart of syrup? It is a lot of boiling! Too, on cold days, the trees do not produce enough sap to keep the pot on the heat, and this means turning off the fire and reheating the entire pot when you have enough sap. This is a waste of fuel and time. Finally after 2 days, some additional plastic spiles and tubing were purchased and added so that each of the buckets was handling more than one tree. In all, 11 trees were tapped and this was the sweet spot where the sap and boiling matched one another reasonably well.

I collected for about 10 days and boiled for about 40 hours out of the month long season. This produced 4 full quarts but, unfortunately, I spilled one full quart. What a sticky mess to clean up from the cement floor of the cloth porch and a costly because a full quarter of production was lost. I don’t use much sugar in my house so I guess that this will be enough for us for the year. Plus the end product needs to be cold stored. Fortunately, in this case, I am still not transitioned to full time living at THO and was able to send the syrup to the Hamilton house to be stored in my root cellar there.

Once the three remaining quarts all neatly bottled, the spiles were pulled and the trees were corked. It is a good idea to cork the trees you tap, particularly if you do not intend to collect for the entire season. This is done so that the tree does not bleed out. Note too, because there is no storage shed at THO, all the maple buckets, tubing and spiles were sent to Hamilton as well. Have I mentioned that THO really needs a shed?

Making sugar is slow paced work that allows one to do other things at the same time as things are dripping and boiling. I really enjoyed the entire sugar making process and intend to do this every year. This fall, there is so much to do in preparation for the 2014 season. Before winter of this year a small covered structure will need to be built. In this there will have to be a stone or block fire pit that a grill can be placed on. Kindling and wood split will need to be split, stacked and ready. Lastly, I have to scour yard sales and bargain places for a large flat stainless pan because new ones are insanely expensive.

If I get this all done in 2013, I will feel much more confident entering into this homesteading project, in 2014! Perhaps I will be a farmer yet?


Laura Moreland is a contributing writer for Tiny House Listings.  She lives in a tiny woodland cottage near Kingston Ontario with a pack of dwarf dogs.  Her woodsman ensures that she never accept apples from old ladies.  You can learn more about Laura through her website “Tiny House Ontario” here.

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Also, here’s a video from Deek over at RelaxShacks.com on how to create some low (no) budget sap collectors.

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Category : Blog

2 Comments → “Sweet Stuff”


  1. Pat Rayta

    Mar 24, 2013

    I just read your blog about sugaring, I love reading when newbies try it for their first time. I live and produce here in VT. You put out a little bit of misinformation, and may have skipped some too. First, it is called a “tap”, not a spile. Second, it takes roughly 40 gallons or so of sap per gallon, so if you got a quart out of 20 gallons, something is up, it may not be syrup yet. Did you use a hydrometer or even a candy thermometer so that you know you had syrup? If not, and you went by eyeball or taste, it may spoil on you. What about the cloth strainers that are necessary to remove the nitre that forms while boiling? Also, did you know that by boiling in just one pan, like you are doing, you will produce a darker product than if you have the proper pan? Just some thoughts, looking forward to your response.

    Reply

  2. Laura

    Mar 28, 2013

    Yes, you are probably correct. Without the benefit of a mentor there is a lot of learning by doing. Sometimes if you are lucky a person with skills will stop and give you some information – just as you have here.

    The only place where I take exception to your corrections is, up here in Canada, we call the little things that go into the trees a spile not a tap. That you don’t use the word spile explains to me why the spellchecker does not accept the word. There is no Canadian spell check, you see.

    As far as how many gallons of sap to make syrup you are the one with experience so I am going to assume that you are probably right. We don’t use the imperial system here since the early 1970′s. The reason I am so far off is that the bucket size is not written on them so I was guessing. Clearly, I don’t know how big a gallon is.

    I have a thermometer but I decided not to use it but to use the old way to test it for bubble in the way that my neighbour did when I was a kid. I was about 5 years old when he showed me, but I trust my memory, so we will see… if the syrup spoils this year then next year I will pop in the thermometer into the mix.

    I did not filter the syrup at all. Again, I will see how it goes when I use what I made this year.

    No, I did not know that the syrup gets darker by making it all in one pan. Honestly, I just made some for my own use anyway, so the colour of it is insignificant to me.

    I don’t expect that my answers made you feel any better about the maple syrup that I made, but even so the stuff I made is mighty sweet to me.

    I hope you had a great season!

    xo
    Laura

    Reply

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