But January is a little on the early side for a good sap run. However, the adrenaline rush is helpful in another way. Time to get everything ready to go. I decided to revise my approach this year and hit Craigslist to find some new pans. Well, new to me, anyway. I found a guy who was selling restaurant surplus and was offering stainless steel serving pans (dents included) for a fraction of the cost of new. Score! I also upgraded my tree tap buckets to 5 gallon size, some days you need the extra capacity.
NOTE: Make sure everything in contact with your sap/syrup is food grade. Ask around your community for buckets, sometimes you can find them from bakeries and restaurants, inexpensively. Or you can buy them new. Just don't use anything that had chemicals stored inside. Food Grade, ok?
Then I washed and cleaned everything with bleach and water. Luckily, it only took a week for the weather to cooperate. Taps went in!
But first, a word of caution.
What makes maple sap into maple syrup is the evaporation of a whole lot of water. That is the magic that happens when you apply heat. This year we built a fire box custom to fit my new pans, using stuff we had laying around. That is the beauty of homesteading, you always have stuff. Look behind the stove. Need an auger? Check. Fire hydrant? Check. Aerator? Got it. Random blocks and bricks, of course!
We tweaked the stove design a few times during the process, and it will always be a work in progress, but for a basic set up, it works. Just build a really hot raging fire underneath and let the good times roll.
- Be sure your cell phone is fully charged. Even if you don't have a signal where you are, you can pass time playing a game. Or bring a book. Or a friend.
- Be sure you have a comfortable place to sit.
- Snacks and coffee are good to bring, a good day of sugaring might be 8 or more hours, come prepared.
- If you are cooking outside, wear your warmest clothing. Overdress, using lots of layers. It's easier to take something off than to be cold. Even though you are standing at a fire, the fire is (or should be) mostly targeting your pans and won't be putting out very much residual heat. Think wool socks, double gloves, multiple shirts, etc. You won't regret it.