SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

by Victor Morejohn, photos by Tal Blankenship

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington.

Five syrup producing species of maples (Sugar, Black, Red, Silver, Box Elder) are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. These species overlap in geographic distribution from the southern Great Lakes region eastward. The Sugar Maple (Acre saccharum), often called hard rock maple, and the Black Maple (Acre nigrum) are considered the most important syrup producing species in the United States.

The Box Elder (Acre negundo) and the Big-leaf Maple (Acre macrophyllum) are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

When to Tap the Trees

Whether you live in the northeast, midwest or along the Pacific slope, the time to start tapping the trees may come anytime from mid-January to mid-March, whenever spring begins fingering into winter. In most areas of the northwest, January and February are the months to begin tapping. The time to tap maples for sap is on clear, warm days after a snowy, icy or frosty night, when the temperature drops below freezing. At this time of year, west of the Cascades in central and southern Oregon, weather conditions from year to year, however, are unreliable. We may have five to six weeks without frosts, overcast days or intermittent rains with night-time temperatures above freezing. If so, no maple syrup for that year. Or we may be blessed with clear, sunny days with above freezing daytime temperatures and crispy, frosted clear nights below freezing. This type of weather makes the sap flow.

I generally cut a branch tip off below a bud and watch it for a few minutes. If it begins to bleed sap, it is time to get your brace and 7/16″ wood bit and start drilling your holes. We have over fifty-five Big Leaf Maples along a 3/4 mile stretch of our farm along the South Umpqua River. I try to be selective and choose trees that are not too crowded with Ash or Cottonwood trees. I choose open-crowned trees that have not been reaching for sunlight under the larger Cottonwoods. These trees produce more leaves (have more chlorophyll) and consequently are capable of putting more sugar in their sap.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Figure 1: The commercial type of spile (below) with hook attached and its solid steel driver (above). The part of the spile that fits into the hole in the tree is to the right of the hook. Note that it has openings along the tapered side and at the tip.

How to Tap Trees

Although it is recommended that holes be drilled on the southern side of maples for more sap flow, I have found that some trees located on southern exposed river banks, where I could only tap the north side, have yielded as much sap as trees of similar size tapped on their southern side.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Figure 2: The steel driver, between thumb and forefinger, is inserted into the spout end of the spile. Together they are placed into the tapped hole and with several hammer blows, the spile is driven in snug up to the hook.

Make the holes about waist high, three to four inches deep, slightly inclined upward into the tree; and clean out all shavings with a narrow, pointed knife. Once the hole is made, a conveyance is necessary to direct the sap into a container. Any type of cylindrical, hollow structure may be used, such as finger-sized, straight twigs that have pithy cores. These may be hollowed out and will do the job. Plastic or galvanized pipe also may be used. Commercially these things are called “spiles” (Figure 1) and are available in several styles relatively cheap ($.30 to $.75) and may be purchased from several midwestern or northeastern maple syrup and equipment and supply companies. Homemade spiles are not as efficient as the commercially manufactured types, mainly because plastic or galvanized pipe sections are not tapered. The commercial types are conical (tapered sides) for several reasons: the neck of the spile is larger in diameter (1/2″) than the bored hole (7/16″) and are hammered into the hole to make a snug fit at the neck of the spile (Figure 2). In this manner, the conical part of the spile in the hole does not touch the sides of the holes. Essentially the neck of the spile plugs the hole, preventing leakage, and sap can freely flow into the space around and in the spile tip. The metal nubbin above the spile spout serves to allow a claw hammer or small prybar to remove the spile for cleaning or for end-season removal. Plastic or galvanized pipe sections have parallel sides, fit tightly along the length of the hole, allow sap to enter only from the end within the hole, and are difficult to remove from the trees. Our neighbor, Ray Hicke, downriver from us, told me that when he was a youngster back in the Dakotas, he helped his Dad tap maples. For spiles, his Dad used old sickle bar teeth, slightly bent from tip to base to serve as spouts. He drove them point first into the trees below a drilled hole and used the rivet holes on the end of the base to wire on his containers.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Figure 3: Most any container can be used. This one had holes made with a nail below the rim, and a bail was made from a piece of wire. The sap as it comes from the tree is clear and looks like water.

Collecting the Sap

Any container may be used to collect the sap. Buckets especially made for the purpose are also available commercially. I have used any clean, metal container that I could get ahold of. The container may be fastened to the spile hook through a hole punched with a nail below the container rim, or a wire bail may be readily made and fastened to the container through two holes punched opposite each other below the rim (Figure 3). I prefer to use bails because the containers do not necessarily nest into each other as commercial bail-less ones do, and I can carry several empty ones in one hand by using their bails.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Figure 4: Our sap generally begins to flow about noon. We empty the containers at mid-afternoon and sundown into larger collecting buckets. These white plastic buckets are 3-1/2 gallon capacity.

Depending on the size of the sap containers and the rate of sap flow for the day, you may have to visit your maples once or twice in the afternoon. Bring along large collecting buckets. We use three to five gallon plastic buckets with snap-on lids (Figure 4). If you have a lot of sap to collect, carrying these large buckets filled with sap can be hard on one’s shoulders, back or elbows. If you do not have a tractor, truck or team to bring in the daily sap, use a wooden yoke over your shoulders.

From Sap to Syrup

Once the sap has been brought in, syrup making can commence. All sap should be strained to remove debris and insects. We used milk filters. Strained sap may be boiled in any container, but to be efficient it is best to use a flat pan filled three to four inches in depth with sap. If done in the home kitchen, steam from the evaporating sap can be damaging to woodwork and painted surfaces in the immediate area.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Figure 5: We partly buried a small logwood stove in the floor of an outdoor shed to reduce radiation of heat from stove. We removed the stovetop lids and exposed the entire bottom of the broaster pan (evaporator) to the fire. We kept the sap at a rolling boil and periodically added warmed sap (in bucket behind stove pipe) to maintain a 3-inch level in the pan. A piece of plywood was propped up a couple of feet away to protect the stove from chilling breezes.

One of the problems in making maple syrup outdoors on a small scale, is to be able to maintain a rolling boil in the syrup pan. If you use part of your barn, implement shed or wood shed, try to set up some form of protection from cold winds blowing on the stove (Figure 5). Be sure to keep all inflammables (hay, straw, oil, gas, etc.) away from the area where the sap is to be evaporated. On a larger scale, a “sugar shed” is constructed especially for this purpose.

As the sap boils, water is evaporated and the sugar concentration relative to the sap volume increases. The level of the boiling sap will drop slowly during evaporation and more sap will need to be added periodically. Too much cold sap added to the boiling pan will quell the boil. You have to learn to judge the correct amount to add for the size of the pan. We used a large turkey roaster pan. Allowing the fire to go to embers before more wood is added will also put down the boil. The sap should continually boil. We learned that by putting freshly gathered cold sap into large metal pots, pans or buckets on our wood stove inside the house, we could raise the temperature to near boiling, effect some evaporation and kill the yeasts and bacteria that sour sap if it sits around for a day or two during warm days.

Outside in our “sugar shed” we kept a large metal bucket warming next to the stove pipe of the log-wood stove we used for evaporation. We ladled hot sap from this bucket into the boiling syrup pan. Periodically we filled this bucket with the hot sap from the stove in the house. In this manner no cold sap was poured directly into the boiling syrup, and we had no difficulty maintaining a rolling boil.

Dependent upon your vigilance in maintaining a rolling boil, accomplished only by judicious care of the fire, the amount of firewood you will burn to produce a given quantity of syrup will approximate one cord of wood to about 25 gallons of syrup. Richard Lamore (in Thompson, Syrup Trees, 1978, p. 50) estimates one cord per 28 gallons of syrup.

It is difficult to determine the amount of time needed to evaporate a given amount of syrup to sap. There are many factors of the environment that bear upon this, such as air temperature, wind and of course the sugar content of the sap. On the average, midwestern and northeastern maple syrup producers evaporate 55 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. This figure is for the industry at large. The sugar content of individual trees may vary from as little as 1.5% to as high as 7%. The average is about 2.5%. Our Big-leaf maples have given us a ratio of 38 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup. This is a higher yield than the sugar maple, but it is not surprising, since the Big-leaf maple has the greatest leaf area of all maples to use in photo-synthesis (making sugar from carbon dioxide and sunlight) and has a longer growing season in most northwestern regions, than midwestern and northeastern maples.

As the clear sap slowly evaporates to syrup, it will begin to take on a light brown color, and it will now readily boil up into foamy froth that must be controlled. It is critical at this stage to know when you do, in fact, have syrup. A candy thermometer will work very well. First determine the temperature at which water boils in your area. This will vary depending upon barometric pressure. It may boil at 209°F or at 212°F. Simply add 7°F to whatever temperature at which water boils in your area, and when the candy thermometer registers that summed temperature, you have syrup. Syrup that has been boiled beyond 219°F becomes dark brown and strong-flavored. Some home syrup makers judge when syrup is ready to bottle by the way it looks and runs. Bailey (in Small Farmer’s Journal, Fall, 1981, page 67) writes of the way syrup “aprons” off a ladle when ready to draw off (Figure 6).

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Figure 6: The finished batch of syrup is light amber in color and weighs eleven pounds to the gallon. As some have said, “The test of syrup is in its taste.”

Although the sap was filtered at the outset, the syrup now will have to be filtered again since different ingredients of the sap have crystallized into a sandy substance referred to in the trade as “sugar sand.” This will plug milk filters quickly, and it is best to use commercially available maple syrup filters, flannel or felt if one is to have clear syrup with nothing to settle in the bottom of the jar. We poured the boiling syrup into a metal bucket, brought it to the house to filter, and bottled it in sterilized pint jars. We then processed the filled pint jars in a steam canner as double insurance against spoilage. High quality syrup is amber colored and weighs 11 pounds to the gallon.

End-Season Cleanup

Maple syrup is a farm crop, whether made from sap of wild grown trees or maples planted as in an orchard. A paramount concern is for a long productive life for the tree. Maples are not pruned to increase production, but decay of the wood should be prevented in the region of the tree where holes were drilled. After sap ceases flowing for the season, all spiles should be removed and the holes disinfected with a 1 to 10 solution of Clorox. Use a plastic squirt bottle. The holes will heal by themselves within a couple of years. All equipment used should be thoroughly cleaned with a detergent solution, rinsed and put away dry.

Tools, Equipment and Supplies Needed

  • Hatchet
  • Pruning shears
  • Brace
  • 7/16″ wood bit
  • Knife, tapered & pointed
  • Spiles
  • Spile driver
  • Hammer
  • Buckets or tin cans
  • Wire for bails
  • Candy thermometer
  • Pliers with sidecutters
  • 16d common wire nail or punch
  • Large roaster pan with lid
  • Log-burner stove
  • Firewood, split 2″ x 3″, dry
  • Plastic squirt bottle
  • Chlorine bleach (1.10 water)
  • Dipper
  • Slotted spoon
  • Flannel filters
  • Canning jars & lids

References

Agricultural Extension Service, University of Minnesota. 1974. Information on how to collect maple syrup and make maple syrup. St. Paul, Minnesota.

Bailey, L. H. 1907. Maple sugar and maple syrup. Reprinted from Cyclopedia of American Agriculture in Small Farmer’s Journal, Fall, 1981, Vol. 5, No. 4: 64-67.

Domico, Terry 1979. We make sweet syrup from Pacific Northwest trees. Mother Earth News. No. 55 (Jan/Feb): 65.

Kappel-Smith, Diana 1982. Pipeline in the sugarbush. Country Journal, Vol. IX, No. 2 (Feb): 66-74.

Nearing, Helen & Scott, 1950. The Maple Sugar Book. Schocken Books, New York.

Nickerson, Nancy 1982. Box Elder syrup. Organic Gardening. Vol 29, No. 2 (Feb): 126-128.

Pieper, Ruth 1975. We make our own maple syntp. Organic Gardening and Farming. Vol. 22, No. 1 (Jan): 78-80.

Seymour, John 1976. The Guide to Self-Sufficiency. Popular Mechanics Books, New York.

Thompson, Bruce 1978. Syrup Trees. Walnut Press, PO Box 17210, Fountain Hills, AZ 85268.

U.S. Department of Agriculture 1965. Maple Syrup Producers Manual. Agriculture Handbook No. 134. Washington: Government Printing Office. Revised Ed.

Wilson, Barbara H. 1982. Tapping the Front Yard Maple. Organic Gardening. Vol. 29, No. 2 (Feb) 122-125.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Horse Breeding

This is an excerpt from Horse Breeding by M.W. Harper, a Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin from January 1928. In breeding horses the perfection of the animals selected should be carefully considered. Occasionally stallions are selected on the basis of their pedigree. Such practice may prove disappointing, for many inferior individuals are recorded merely because such […]

The Milk and Human Kindness Part 1

The Milk and Human Kindness

by:
from issue:

I know what it’s like to be trying to find one’s way learning skills without a much needed teacher or experienced advisor. I made a lot of cheese for the pigs and chickens in the beginning and shed many a tear. I want you to know that the skills you will need are within your reach, and that I will spell it all out for you as best I can. I hope it’s the next best thing to welcoming you personally at my kitchen door and actually getting to work together.

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Forging is that defect of the horse’s gait by reason of which, at a trot, he strikes the ends of the branches or the under surface of the front shoe with the toe of the hind shoe or hoof of the same side. Forging is unpleasant to hear and dangerous to the horse. It is liable to wound the heels of the forefeet, damages the toes or the coronet of the hind hoofs, and often pulls off the front shoes.

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

Multiple Hitching with One Set of Lines

by:
from issue:

A great deal of interest has been shown the last several years in using multiple hitches in horse farming, especially in spring fieldwork. The question often asked is how to keep it simple and easy in driving and assembling the hitch as far as lines are concerned. We demonstrated our method at the Horse Progress Days at Mt. Hope, Ohio in 2003 and have been asked numerous times how we drove four, six and eight-horse hitches using only two lines.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hand Plucking Poultry

by:
from issue:

I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.

Horseshoeing Part 3A

Horseshoeing Part 3A

An examination should be made while the animal is at rest, and afterwards while in motion. The object of the examination is to gain accurate knowledge of the direction and movements of the limbs, of the form and character of the feet and hoofs, of the manner in which the foot reaches and leaves the ground, of the form, length, position, and wear of the shoe, and distribution of the nail-holes, in order that at the next and subsequent shoeings all ascertained peculiarities of hoof-form may be kept in mind and all discovered faults of shoeing corrected.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

by:
from issue:

In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Work Bridle Styles

Work Bridle Styles

Here are fourteen work bridle styles taken from a 1920’s era harness catalog. Regional variants came with different names and configurations, so much so that we have elected to identify these images by letter instead of name so you may reference these pictures directly when ordering harness or talking about repairs or fit concerns with trainers or harness makers. In one region some were know as pigeon wing and others referred to them as batwing or mule bridles.

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

by:
from issue:

The French breed of Ardennes is closer to what the breed has been in the past. The Ardennes has always been a stockier type of horse, rude as its environment. Today the breed has dramatically changed into a real heavy horse. If the Ardennes had an average weight between 550 and 700kg in the first part of the last century, the balance shows today 1000kg and more. Thus the difference between the Ardennes and their “big” sisters, the Brabants in Belgium, or the Trait du Nord in France, has gone.

Ask A Teamster Driving

Ask A Teamster: Driving

I have been questioned (even criticized) about my slow, gentle, repetitious approach “taking too much time” and all the little steps being unnecessary when one can simply “hitch ‘em tied back to a well-broke horse they can’t drag around, and just let ‘em figure it out on their own.” I try to give horses the same consideration I would like if someone was teaching me how to do something new and strange.

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

by:
from issue:

Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.

Ask A Teamster Hauling Horses

Ask A Teamster: Hauling Horses

For a claustrophobic animal like the horse, being confined to a small box while speeding down the highway at 60 miles per hour is a mighty unnatural experience. Luckily, equines are adaptable animals and are likely to arrive in good condition – if – you make preparations beforehand and take some precautions. Here are some tips to help your horse stay healthy, safe, and comfortable while traveling.

Ask A Teamster The Bit

Ask A Teamster: The Bit

I work at a farm that uses their team of Percherons to farm, give hayrides, spread manure, etc. One of the horses gets his tongue over the bit. I’ve been told he’s always done this since they had him. I have always thought: #1. You have very little control, and #2. It would hurt! The horse is very well behaved, does his work with his tongue waving in the air, and sometimes gets his tongue back in place, but at that point it’s too late. They use a snaffle bit. Any suggestions?

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.

The Anatomy of Thrift: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 2: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Harvest Day is the second in the series, which explores the ‘cheer’ that is prepared on the day of slaughter, and dives deep into the philosophy and psychology of our relationship to animals.

Mini Horse Haying

Mini Horse Haying

by:
from issue:

The first mini I bought was a three year old gelding named Casper. He taught me a lot about what a 38 inch mini could do just by driving me around the neighborhood. He didn’t cover the miles fast, but he did get me there! It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home. I presently have four minis that are relatively quiet, responsive to the bit, and can work without a lot of drama.

The Equine Eye

The Equine Eye

by:
from issue:

The horse’s head is large, with eyes set wide apart at the sides of his head; he seldom sees an object with both eyes at the same time and generally sees a different picture with each eye. In the wild, this double vision was a big advantage, making it difficult for a predator to sneak up on him. He can focus both eyes to the front to watch something, but it takes more effort. Only when making a concentrated effort to look straight ahead does the horse have depth perception as we know it.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT