Maple Sugaring, Part 2: Gathering the Sap
Now that our trees are tapped, we need to check the buckets every day. Otherwise, they'll be overflowing on warm afternoons when the sap is really flowing fast. It's easy to do.
First, slide the pin out to remove the lid:
Of course, you can lift the lid to take a peek first. This bucket is getting full, so we need to empty it into our storage containers:
This photo was from the weekend, when it was cold enough over night for some of the sap to freeze (you can see the ice on the surface above). When this happens, you just throw the ice away. Here's a big chunk I picked out of another bucket:
It may seem wasteful, but if it is frozen, that part doesn't have much sugar in it anyway. Think of it this way: Have you ever tried to freeze fruit juice for a toothpick popsicle, only to be disappointed in how soft it was? That's because sugar lowers the freezing point of water. Therefore you can be pretty sure that the frozen part is just water, and that the sugar has settled into the rest of the sap. Chucking the ice actually saves a little time in the boiling process later, so it's no big deal.
We bought some food-grade, five-gallon buckets to use for storing the sap until we boil it. So we just pour each of the tapping buckets into the big bucket:
Then you should get a helper to carry it back into cold storage:
For us, cold storage is directly into snow bank:
Kirk chipped out a well in our icy snow bank on the patio, which is in the shade of the house for most of the afternoon. While you don't want the sap to freeze solid, it does need to stay cold. We don't have a giant refrigerator for all this sap, so the snow bank is perfect for us. It keeps the sap cold without freezing it, and the snow also acts as a good insulator to protect the sap from temperature fluctuations over the course of a day (and night).
Be sure to repeat these steps every day:
We have four taps going, and each day we fill (on average) one five-gallon bucket. Since we have six buckets, we should just get by with processing the sap once a week. If we run out of room, we'll have to use some back-up containers (stock pots and milk bottles). The amount of sap fluctuates depending on the temperature, and our temps have been all over the map so far this month. But hopefully we'll be able to store it all — it's a whole lotta sap!