I grew up in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania in a town that was so well known for it's maple syrup making, they had a Maple Festival every spring to celebrate. My favorite festival snack was maple cotton candy. It was damn good! For all my love of maple syrup growing up, I rarely ate it because it was so expensive. Nor did I make it myself, because boiling hundreds of gallons of sap on a very hot fire isn't something most kids are allowed to do. Instead we shot potato cannons at each other.
Fast forward to being a landed gent in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Our hobby farm has plenty of big old field maples scattered about, and late winter is a time for twiddling thumbs waiting for spring to truly arrive. What's a guy to do, other than go waterfall hunting and spring crust hiking? Make maple syrup! I finally began fulfilling my dream in 2015 with a cheap-o steam table pan setup. I made a few gallons and was hooked.
I wouldn't say I'm straight pro at maple syrup making yet, but after a few years and many long days spent working in the sugar shack, I'm probably close. My current setup (seen at right) consists of a 2' x 3' boiling pan on concrete blocks, inside of which the firebox is angled for maximum heat. An old RV water tank slowly dribbles sap into the pan. The sap is stored in 5 gallon buckets behind the sugar shack, encased in snow piles to keep it fresh until I can boil next. I have 38 taps on maybe 18 trees, many of which are huge and produce over a gallon of sap each tap per day! In a good day I can boil my way through 50-60 gallons of sap, netting anywhere between 1.5-2 gallons of syrup in one go depending on the sugar content of the sap. I've got a huge stash of wood inside the sugar shack, which was originally built as a horse barn. Now I can boil rain or shine!
I've got plenty of improvements I'd like to make, including a pre-heater pan, some sort of hood to keep sap from dripping off the metal ceiling back into the pan, drainage for the dirt floor to keep melting snow out, and a way to keep rabid raccoons from harassing me mid-boil. I'll get to those someday.
Yearly Production Numbers
2015: 4.5 gallons
2016: 6.5 gallons
2017: 4.6 gallons
2018: 4.8 gallons
2019: 10 gallons