I’ve always liked the idea of producing my own maple syrup. However, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) used in authentic maple syrup production doesn’t grow in our high pH soils. Having abandoned my wish long ago, I was intrigued upon discovering a long-forgotten spile (a small wooden or metal peg used draw liquid from trees) and collection jar in a native big-tooth or canyon maple (Acer grandidentatum) near my home.
This brought buried longing for home-produced syrup back to awareness. Imagine my elation upon finding out that the big-tooth maple, the same common native maple that gives our hills and canyons vibrant fall colors, is a close relative to sugar maple. In fact, one of its lesser-known common names is Western sugar maple.
Unfortunately, as with most good news, there is a catch. Sugar concentration is much less in big-tooth maple than in sugar maple. In fact, it takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to create 1 gallon of quality maple syrup. It takes 160 gallons of big-tooth maple syrup to create that same gallon of syrup. Daunting yes, but impossible no!
For nostalgic nuts like myself, producing my own maple syrup isn’t about efficiency or income. It’s about the process and gaining the distinction of being able to say, “I made this myself.” If you’re a little (or a lot) weird and making your own maple syrup intrigues you, this may be just enough information to get you preparing for a syrup marathon.
It’s not only big-tooth maple that can be used to make syrup. So can Norway maple (Acer platanoides), silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and even boxelder, otherwise known as Manitoba maple (Acer negundo). Any maple can be used to create syrup, and even some non-maples too. You can tap the trees in your yard or on nearby landowners’ property (with permission of course).
Guidelines are available for collecting sap while maintaining tree health. There is potential to impact tree health, but this risk is minimal if proper procedures are followed.
Specific directions on what supplies you will need and how to complete the process is given in the provided websites. The timing of your collection is a little trickier. You will want to collect sap when the days are warming (40 degrees F) and nighttime temperatures are still cold (20 degrees F). The timing of the syrup season will vary from one locale to another. Begin looking for a flow of sap in later February or March. When daytime thaws begin, make a trial cut through the bark of a likely tree. If the slash oozes sap, it’s time to start collecting. Once leaf buds start breaking, the flavor of the sap becomes unpleasant. That signals the end of sap collection.
You may be interested in starting a new family tradition. Often late winter could be termed the recreational doldrums. Some fight boredom with a cruise. Others inflict their children with labor disguised as leisure. The syrup process is long, and the payout is especially small with our maple varieties. Don’t start with great expectations. Focus on the experience rather than the product. https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9163/html https://extension.sdstate.edu/harvesting-maple-syrup-south-dakotaC