Sometime last fall, I ran across a reference to making a tree syrup (ala Maple Syrup) from the sap of Boxelder trees. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making maple syrup. I love the idea of a readily available free sweetener, just out there in nature waiting for me to come along. However, I figured it was a bucket list item that was going to go unkicked, as Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), the tree from which maple syrup is made, does not grow much west of eastern Kansas. So when I heard about boxelder syrup, I was stoked.
Boxelder (Acer negundo) IS a type of maple, and is common throughout the United States. Often considered a trash tree, as the wood is soft and the trees are fairly short-lived and prone to splitting, it grows in wet areas, and will reseed readily if conditions are right. Our property here has three large trees (that no doubt were planted), and a variety of smaller ones grown from seed that found the right conditions to germinate.
After doing an extensive internet search, ordering the book “Backyard Sugarin’“, and ordering taps and tubing online (commonly available in every eastern hardware store this time of year, but not so much here in the west), we were ready to give it a try. I shunned the traditional set up with metal taps (called a spile) and metal or wooden (or plastic) buckets, and went with the more modern approach.
My taps are 5/16 plastic (a smaller diameter, which is supposed to be healthier for the tree). I am using food grade tubing to run from the tap to a one gallon glass jar on the ground. No worries about hanging the bucket from the tap and having it get heavy and pull out of the tree. No extra expense of buying buckets. No disposable sap bags. (Just what the world needs, more plastic bags. Ugh. No.) I already had the glass jars from my wine making experiments, and they were empty this time of year. Their small opening should help keep debris from falling into the sap. Perfect!
General advise is to only tap trees that are 10 inches in diameter or larger, and to tap them at about chest height on the sunny side of the tree (southeast, south, southwest). Drill hole so that it angles slightly up, and if using the 5/16 taps, only drill in about 1 1/2 inches. You can move the drill in and out to remove any sawdust, and if the sap is flowing, it will quickly push out any remaining residue. Really large trees (more than 20 inches in diameter) can take more than one tap. Timing is everything. The weather should be above freezing during the day, but below freezing at night, which generally means late February through April or so, depending on where you live.
I taped a total of 6 trunks today (one tree is four large trunks), and within about 4 hours, I had about 4 gallons of sap. WOW! The sap will need to be boiled down…a lot. One gallon of sap yields about 4 oz (or 1/2 cup) of syrup. Maybe less, as boxelder sap is not as sweet as sugar maple sap. The boiling off process is generally done outside, as putting that much moisture into your house will take the wall paper off the walls. You can also just drink the sap, which I tried today. It tastes like spring water with a distinct but subtle hint of grassyness.
I’m scrambling to figure out how to store sap until I am ready to boil it, and working on designing a cheap evaporator set up using a metal hotel pan (think steam table pan – wide and shallow – lots of surface area for evaporation). I’ll post again with that design and how the resulting syrup comes out. But I wanted to get this posted, because if you are interested in trying this, NOW is the time.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2011, where we do actually have some wallpaper we would like to remove, but think we’ll boil our sap down outside anyway.