Selecting the right tree, installing the taps and collecting the sap are only the first steps in producing maple syrup. Rink Mann, writing for Mother Earth News, points out that for every quart of syrup you intend to produce, you will boil away 32 quarts of water in the form of steam, making sugaring an activity that typically occurs outdoors. A maple syrup evaporator consists of a metal pan set on top of a heat source, called "arches" in sugaring parlance. For backyard-hobby maple syrup production, cobbling together a suitable evaporator from free or cheap items will save you money and will still turn out tasty syrup.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Metal pan
- Cement blocks
- Drum or other sap storage
- Stovepipe (optional)
- Spigot and hose (optional)
Decide on the amount of syrup that you'd like to make and how much you plan to make at a time. This decision becomes instrumental when deciding on a size for a pan. As Mann points out, if you use a pan that's too large, by the time the 32 quarts of water have boiled away, leaving you with your quart of syrup, the syrup will be so thin on the bottom of the pan that it will scorch. If you intend to yield 1 gallon of syrup, he recommends not exceeding 14 inches by 17 inches for your pan dimensions.
Stack cement blocks to form a firebox in the correct dimensions so the pan will fit inside them. Keeping the sides of the pan inside the firebox will reduce heat loss and cause the syrup to evaporate more quickly. Leave both ends of the firebox open to allow for a draft, thus creating a hot fire. If you will be using your evaporator inside a sugaring shed or other structure, one end of the firebox can accommodate a length of stovepipe to carry the smoke from the structure.
Add firewood to the firebox. Pour sap into the pan and light the fire to begin the boiling-down process. As the syrup boils down, you will continue adding sap. Herrick Kimball, author and Deliberate Agrarian blogger, stores sap in a barrel with a valve connected to a hose suspended over the evaporator. Opening the valve to allow a trickle of sap to flow out replenishes the pan slowly and without much effort. Mann keeps 50-gallon drums of sap near his evaporator and ladles them into the pan as needed.
Tips and warnings
- Plan ahead for the amount of wood you'll need. Using a homemade evaporator, Mann estimates that you'll need a half-cord of wood for every 5 gallons of syrup that you plan to make.
- Construct your firebox so that the pan fits snugly into it. If there are cracks and gaps in the firebox, it will ruin the draft needed to keep the fire going hot and will increase the boiling time required to finish the syrup.
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