Backyard Maple Syrup

Maple sugaring in your backyard attracts neighbors. No fancy equipment required.

Fancy equipment not required.
Backyard maple sugaring is a simple family adventure.
Learning by trial and error in 2010

Blue bags and silver buckets will be hung from maple trees from here to Vermont in a week or so. Where I grew up sugaring is a serious business to some folks and a serious hobby for many families. I didn’t pay too much attention to the process, just the product, as a little kid. About 9 years ago a grove of maple trees reminded me of a spring family fun activity and I began experimenting.

This is a hobby which requires no fancy gear, although there is plenty for sale. Take my word for it, your basement and garage probably have all the equipment you’ll need to make your first pint of maple syrup. I like to MacGyver solutions, and as you can see from the photo my first effort was hardly efficient, but the syrup was spectacular. With a grove of trees available, I grew my little operation into a 20 quart production operation complete with old gear I acquired from a sugar shack outside of Antigo. All of that gear is now in the hands of a friend in Columbus who has taken the hobby to new heights.

Groves aren’t required for back yard sugaring. One big fat maple tree is enough. The first spring after I moved into Crestwood I tapped a few trees behind my house and a new spring event was born. Neighbors drawn by the buckets, the fire, and the sweet smell of boiling sap soon were grilling hot dogs, toting buckets of sap, and tending a hot fire in the backyard. Six years later two of my neighbors have their own spring sugaring operations making a variety of smokey and non-smokey brands which we trade and use in cooking, pancakes, and over ice cream.

The weather needs to cooperate before the trees get busy. The first string of cold nights and warm days in March will start the flow. The forecast is cold for the next week, I’m not seeing the warm days we need, so expect this to be a shorter season from mid March to early April.

There are plenty of DIY videos on YouTube, but keep in mind, elaborate evaporation systems are not required. Long time sugar operations in WI have moved to tubes and plastic taps. It’s easy to get inexpensive taps and buckets by checking on-line.

I hope to tap a few trees next weekend. Depending on the flow, we could be evaporating by the next weekend. Let me know if you’d like some non-professional help to start your own Sticky Fingers Maple Syrup Company.

Owen Conservancy Neighborhoods are Sweet

Fifteen years ago I knew Crestwood would be home one day. The neighborhoods around Owen Conservancy offer a diverse choice in homes. Prices range from $250,000 to over a million for homes within a quick walk into the Conservancy or Lake Mendota. I bought my home in the maple sugar season of 2014. My tiny backyard syrup operation a drew a crowd of curious neighbors, many who now have their own “family operation”. It’s easy to do and well worth the effort; guaranteed to get kids out of the house. Expect to use about 10 gallons of sap to produce 1 quart of syrup. (A quart will last a year because nobody wastes a drop.)

The entire process can be done at nearly zero cost. Sap taps are available new or used, or fashion your own out of wood. I bought my stainless steel buckets from people in northern WI who converted their family commercial operation to a tube system. If carrying buckets is not your thing, tube systems are available.

In Dane County, sap may be running in late February when the day temps go above freezing and the night temps fall into the 20’s for several days. I use wood or LP to evaporate. This month I am building a Rocket Stove to get a more intense direct flame with minimal heat loss (can’t get that over an open fire and windy days are tough on the LP flame).

Chili, hot dogs, friends go great with an afternoon making maple syrup. Be careful though, you’ll get hooked. Let me know if you need any guidance to get started.