Did you know that you can make syrup from trees growing in your own backyard? It’s true! You don’t need a lot of acreage and a sugarbush to tap trees and make delicious syrup. Our family tapped only 14 black walnut trees last winter, and made 5 quarts of syrup – enough to last our family of four for close to one year! Tapping is easy, fun, and is a great activity to do with children. Plus homemade syrup is an outstanding natural sweetener to add to baked goods and desserts. Here’s how to get started making syrup in your backyard.
Making Syrup from your Backyard Trees
Step One: Identify tappable trees
Even if you only have one tappable tree in your backyard, it’s still worth tapping, even if just to drink the sweet, mineral rich sap. You’ll need to look for mature trees with a diameter of at least 12-14″. Some of the tappable species you might find in your backyard are:
- Maples (Sugar, Red, Norway, Silver, Black, Big Leaf)
- Box Elder
- Birches (Yellow, Black, Paper, River, Grey)
- Walnut (Black, English)
- And this list is not exhaustive!
Step Two: Gather supplies
At the bare minimum, you will need the following supplies for making syrup:
- Clean, 5/16″ spiles (we use these ones)
- Or a Sugaring Starter Kit like this one
- A drill with the appropriate sized bit
- A hammer to tap in spiles
- Food grade buckets for collecting sap
- Cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer for removing particles in your sap
- A large pot for boiling down sap and a plan for where you’ll boil (on a campfire, over a propane stove, etc.)
- Glass mason jars and canning lids and rings, or other appropriate storage containers for the delicious syrup you’ll make!
Step Three: Wait for the appropriate tapping conditions
Generally speaking, ideal tapping temperatures are below freezing at night (around 20 degrees F is ideal) and above freezing temperatures during the day (40 – 50 degrees F). In our area of NE Missouri these temperatures are usually achieved in late February, but this year we’re experimenting with a midwinter tapping in January since we’ve had a few weeks of warm days. We actually almost missed a tapping season by relying too heavily on the calendar and not the weather. You can always tap a close by tree if you think conditions are right, and watch to see how much sap flows.
Step Four: Collect Sap
We do daily sap walks to collect sap, which is a great way to get out in nature and get some fresh air and exercise. We have our trees flagged with bright orange tape so it’s easy to quickly spot the tapped trees and collect the sap. Having a few eager helpers is especially useful!
We generally do not boil down sap until we have at least a few gallons, so we’ll either keep the sap in a cooler (or refrigerator) until we collect enough to boil, or we’ll just drink the sap fresh. (You can read more about the many benefits of drinking tree sap in this post.)
Step Five: Boil it Down!
We boil our sap on an open campfire in our yard. Larger sugaring operations will use specialized evaporators, but we’ve found that our simple method works great for boiling down small amounts of sap. You might also try a propane stove, but I’d recommend NOT boiling sap down in your home, as it can leave a very sticky condensation on your walls (ask me how I know this!).
We use a simple canning pot, but the boiling down process would proceed more quickly if we found a more shallow, rectangular pot to increase surface area for better evaporation. I’m keeping my eye on local thrift stores for the perfect pot for making syrup!
After boiling down our black walnut syrup, we typically sterilize glass mason jars, make sure the syrup is at least 180 degrees F, pour the syrup into the jars, and top with a canning lid and ring. We do not use a hot water bath to further process the syrup, although some will say that it is best to do so. If you feel more comfortable sealing your jars of syrup with a hot water bath, then process the jars for 10 minutes.
Syrup is best stored in a cool place away from bright light. I have successfully stored homemade syrup for over a year.
Making syrup from your own backyard trees is a fun, rewarding, and delicious process. By tapping even just a few trees in your backyard (or maybe your neighbors backyard) you can make your own all-natural sweetener.
For more information about tapping your backyard trees, check out these resources: