The Process of Making Maple Syrup


Sap flow is sensitively linked to weather conditions. Good flow comes with below freezing temperatures at night followed by bright sunshine and daytime temperatures well above freezing. Runs can occur with a falling barometer, such before a wet March snowstorm. That is why sugarmakers often refer to March snow as sugar snow. Flow does not occur if temperatures remain below freezing and ceases once overnight temperatures consistently remain above freezing.

Sugar Maple Trees

(1) Bark is light gray in color with thin fissures (spaces between raised areas of bark).
(2) Branching is opposite, meaning that each branch is directly across from another.
(3) Buds, found at the tips of the branches, are tight, pointed, smooth, and dark red in color.
(4) Flowers are small and yellow-green in color, curving down in clusters.
(5) Seeds have a helicopter shape that causes them to spin when floating down to the ground.
(6) Leaves 3-5 inches in height and width and have 5 lobes with random points on each.

What does a cross section tell us?

Tapping a Tree

Tapping begins by selecting a healthy bark surface, which indicates healthy flow of nutrients beneath. A hole is then drilled about 2 inches deep, penetrating the sapwood (xylem) but not reaching the heartwood.

A spile is then inserted into the hole and tapped in gently but securely to ensure it remains in the tree for the duration of the season (about 3-4 weeks). Spiles serve to channel the sap into a bucket or tube and prevent the hole from drying out. Over the years, numerous designs were used. The earliest ones were made of wood with a long spout, while more modern designs are most often metal or plastic.

Either buckets or tubing can be used, with tabs on the spiles to support the weight of a bucket. At the end of the season the spile is removed. In a healthy tree, the growth of the cambium closes the tap hole in one or two growing seasons.

Sap Collection

Each day the sap runs, it is collected in barrels and transported to storage tanks located on the outside wall of the sugar house. Each tank can store about 200 gallons of sap.

The Evaporation Process

Maple syrup is concentrated down from watery sap using an evaporator. The evaporator consists of one or more pans that are placed over a firebox, or arch. The pans are divided into sections to separate the more concentrated sap from the more dilute. The sections are not closed - sap can move freely as the water evaporates. This arrangement increases the speed of evaporation significantly over an open, unsectioned pan. Raw sap enters the flue pan, which is positioned toward the back of the firebox. Flues in the bottom of the sap pan greatly increase the surface area for heating, with hot gasses from the fire passing between the flues. The flat bottomed pan is referred to as the syrup pan or finishing pan. Syrup reaches its final concentration in this pan, which is located at the front of the firebox above the grates in a wood fired arch. The syrup pan and flue pan are connected so that flow is continuous, with the sap level at about 2 inches deep during active boiling. A hot, steady fire brings about the most effective evaporation.

Program History

For five generations, members of the Yoder family have made maple syrup in the family sugar bush, located in the northeast corner of the farm. For more than two decades we joined with the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College to provide a day-long participatory experience in maple sugaring for elementary students in the Fort Wayne area. That program ended in 2012, but sharing the syrup-making process is still a favorite aspect of our farm. We continue to sugar on a smaller scale with the help of friends and family members, and continue to make pure maple syrup available to our retail customers in the Fort Wayne area.