Len Price hammers a spout extension into a freshly-tapped maple tree at Nutkin Knoll Farm in Newburgh. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Maple tapping season has arrived in Maine. For many Mainers, maple syrup isn’t just a business — it’s a way of life. Other Mainers tap maple trees to make syrup for their family and friends.

Sap runs in maple trees at that just-right Goldilocks time between winter and spring, when temperatures aren’t extremely cold but also not too hot. Climate change has made the maple tapping season somewhat inconsistent, but maple sap is flowing at its peak when frigid nights yield to sunny, above-freezing days.

The recent weather means that home maple tappers are jumping on the opportunity to tap their trees. The season won’t last long, though. If you haven’t tapped your trees yet, it’s time to get out and do so.

If it is your first time tapping maple trees, you should know that tapping maple trees is fun and easy with a few specialized tools: maple syrup spouts, otherwise known as spiles, buckets to collect and carry syrup, a drill, a hammer and a pair of pliers to remove the taps when the process is finished.

Though the tubing operations are impressive and worth seeing, you don’t necessarily need a setup like that in order to get a little bit of sap for your family to experiment with.

Keep in mind though that it takes, on average, 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. However, the sap to syrup ratio will vary depending on the type of tree you are tapping. Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugar.

Next, you’ll need to boil your sap into maple syrup. Large sugar houses will use state-of-the-art equipment, but you can do it at home using a large pot (think 50 quarts, if possible) on a burner with a candy thermometer and filters.

It is best to do at least the initial boil of the sap outside, as the process takes some time and produces a lot of humidity, which can damage walls.

The syrup is ready when it reaches 219 degrees Fahrenheit. Then it must be filtered to remove the sugar sand before it is put into jars. Use the filter and filter stand to filter your syrup.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension offers a variety of resources on how to tap maple trees and make the sap into maple syrup that are great for first-time home producers. If you get into it and start making a lot of maple syrup, the resources will also show you how to start selling your maple syrup, too.

If you want to learn more about tapping maple trees, you can also attend Maine Maple Weekend, which is scheduled this year for March 27 and 28, 2021.

After you have prepared your maple syrup, you can pour it over pancakes, or try maple syrup in one of these recipes that will expand the sweet and savory possibilities of maple syrup.

Maple syrup is an important part of the culture and cuisine of Maine. Hopefully, this maple tapping season will be good for new producers and old producers alike.