All of you Australians are making me jealous again, so I decided that if life gives you a Minnesota winter, you make maple syrup, and tapped the big sugar maple out front.
I put one tap in last Friday afternoon - right after what will hopefully be our last big snow - and have gotten about eight gallons of sap so far. I'm aiming for 10 gallons, which if all goes well, will boil down to about a quart of syrup. (I'm not expecting all to go well.)
One thing I didn't quite expect about this is how very aware of the weather it has made me. Regular gardening gives me a reason to be aware of the weather on a larger scale - have we had enough rain this week or too much rain, will there be a late frost or an early on - but maple sugaring is so much more sensitive. Sap flow will double or quadruple based on slight shifts in temperature and sunlight, and since I'm collecting in one-gallon jugs, that's the difference between a new jug every other day and a new jug every six hours. Meanwhile, the sap has to be kept at refrigerator temperatures or below, and since I'm storing it on the porch, that means I have to be very aware of overnight lows - is it goin to get cool enough to re-freeze everything, or will I have to add more ice in the moring? It is going to get cold enough to freeze the sap, so that I can cold separate in the morning and save some boiling time? Suddenly every five-degree-F shift in the temperature, every hour of sunlight, is important.
I'm tapping with a method I got from the book Maple On Tap by Rich Finzer, which I checked out from the library after I couldn't find the book I already had. I'm using a plastic 5/16" spile I got online from Leader Evaporator (after I discovered that no local stores carry sugaring supplies anywhere.) The plastic spiles are designed to hook up to food-grade vinyl tubing, which I have running down to a gallon milk jug with a hole in the lid - when the jug is full, I just swap out the jugs, and then put an un-peirced lid on the full one.
It seemed like the most low-maintenance system I've read about, and so far it's working pretty well; the only issue is with swapping the jugs out often enough on really fast days. Most of the people using this system ssem to suggest 5-gallon jugs, but with only one tap, that seemed excessive - besides, I already had a lot of milk jugs. I put the last on on today, though - I'm going to have to find another solution tonight.
If things keep going at this rate, I'm probably going to have my ten gallons by the weekend, and I'll try to make syrup (how hard it is to make the syrup determines whether I keep collecting sap...) We have a small aluminum firebowl with a grill in the back; I'm planning to use aluminum warming pans over a wood fire for most of the evaporating. Any advice from anyone who's done maple syrup on a small-scale, makeshift system is welcomed! The tapping and collecting sap part has gone surprisingly well - even drilling the tap hole with our ancient brace and bit was easy - so I'm expecting the boiling process to be awful and frustrating to make up for it.
(the white thing is a syrup filter I haven't used yet, but I got it in the same order as taps, because the shipping would have been ridiculous for just the taps.)