Pure maple syrup is made by concentrating the slightly sweet sap of the sugar maple tree through a process of heating and evaporation.
In spring, as the days become longer and warmer in late February or early March, we prepare the sugarbush by clearing the snow and fallen limbs from access roads. Then, we set up our sap collection systems.
While there is no set time to tap our maples, we watch carefully for the signs of “sugaring weather.” The milder daytime temperatures bring melting snows, while the nights are below freezing. This is the weather that makes the sap flow. This is when we begin to tap our trees. Normally, our sugaring season lasts from 4 to 6 weeks.
Tapping maple trees with tree-friendly “health spouts” involves drilling smaller sap-carrying holes about waist high. A spout is tapped into this hole and when the temperature rises above freezing, the sap flows through the spout and is carried by a tubing system to collection tanks. A typical tree will be more than 12 inches in diameter and have one or two taps. Each tap hole will yield about 10 gallons of sap, enough to make about a quart of maple syrup. Every one of the trees we tap is at least 40 years old and is in excellent health. Seven generations of Bascom Family Farmers have taken great care as not to endanger the health and well-being of our maple trees. Some of our trees are over 300 years old and more than 6 feet in diameter.
When the trees have been tapped and all the equipment is ready, we are ready for the “first run” — the first time of the new season when the sap begins to flow. Typically, the sap is a clear, slightly sweet liquid containing about 1- 4% sugar. Prolonged periods of below freezing temperatures, days without freezing nights, or prolonged warm spells will stop the sap flow. When conditions become favorable again, the flow resumes, and another sap “run” begins.
To produce the finest quality maple syrup, the sap is taken to large storage tanks in our Bascom Family Farms sugarhouse then flows into our evaporator and is evaporated as soon as possible.
Evaporators are level heated (wood- or oil-fired) pans that have changed little over the years. As the water is boiled off, the liquid becomes sweeter (more concentrated), and begins to move towards the front of the pan. This is where we see the boiling sap turn golden. We frequently check the temperature of the boiling liquid. When it reaches 7F degrees above water’s boiling point, it has become maple syrup. What was 98% water and 2% sugar is now 33% water and 67% sugar. The sweet-smelling steam rising from the sugarhouse is a sure sign to people (and curious bears) that the sugar-making season is in full swing!
When the finished boiling syrup is drawn off the pan, it is filtered, and packaged. Depending on certain weather-related variables, 40 gallons of sap yield about one gallon of pure maple syrup.