My husband ended his experiment about two weeks ago. It has gotten to0 warm to tap the maple trees. They have begun to start to bud. I understand that once the budding begins the sap's taste is not good for syrup. So what have we learned from this experiment?
It can be done in the South when the temperatures are just right. This means lows below freezing and the highs in the forties or fifties. It is a very time consuming process. For the ten gallon of syrup we would collect at a time, it took over ten hours to boil it down. You just can't put the syrup on a heat source and leave it. You have to continue adding more sap and making sure that it doesn't boil down too far where it will burn.
While it is a lot of work, is it worth it? My husband says yes! He was able to get out in the woods during the cold winter. It gave us both exercise by walking up and down the hills collecting the sap. The maple trees we found and tapped were not just off the road. Many of the trees were over a half a mile in to the woods. The buckets, filled with the sap, were very heavy adding more benefit. We were able to produce something from scratch and take pride in this.
Having said all of that, it is not any cheaper making your own syrup? I now have an appreciation on why maple syrup is so expensive in the stores. We used propane as a heat source this year which proved to be very expensive. When you put the dollars that we spent along with the time needed to produce the syrup it was probably more expensive than buying it from the store.
What if anything will we do differently next year? We are looking at having someone locally make us an evaporator pan. (This is the pan that you put on a heat source to boil down the syrup. It is usually not deep and has more surface space directly in contact with the heat source.) This year we used a turkey roasting pan, and a variety of pans to boil the syrup. We are also looking at making a fire pit where we can use fire wood as a heat source. We live in the woods and have access to over 200 acres of woods on top of that. The availability of free fire wood is much cheaper than propane.
We have a year to make these improvements. We will have something to look forward to after the deer season next year. Until then, we will be able to enjoy and share the syrup we made this year.