DIY Maple Syrup From Boxelder Trees

Home made Maple Syrup

Homemade Boxelder Syrup

One of the things still on my bucket list was to tap maple trees and make syrup.

When I first moved to Utah, “Canyon Maples” blanketed the lower elevation of the Wellsville Mountains on the West side of Cache Valley. An old timer told me about tapping those trees and making maple syrup and put the idea into my head.

So when a friend told me about a maple syrup tapping course that was being offered by the Utah State University Extension at a local state park, I was all in.

Types of Maple Trees to Tap in the Inter-Mountain West

All types of Maple Trees can be tapped for syrup and not just the Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) found in the North East U.S. and South East Canada.

The class was part of a study to see if making Maple Syrup is feasible in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota as a hobby or commercially.

In our area, four types of Maple trees are common:

  • Boxelder or Ash-leaved or Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo)
  • Canyon Maple or Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum)
  • Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum)
  • Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
Boxelder Tree with Sap Bucket

Boxelder Tree with Sap Bucket Click Image or here to see similar bucket and spiles at Amazon

In class, we tapped a fairly large Boxelder and the USU extension professor set up a demo of 10 Boxelder trees connected to a drip tube system that ran downhill into a 55 gallon food grade drum.

The demo tree was checked almost every day and the sap was kept in a nearby cooler.

Sap has to be kept cool or frozen so it doesn’t spoil (mold). Our sap froze almost every night and we kept snow shoveled around and on top of the cooler and the drum.

My friend and I also tapped three additional trees. At first, were simply freezing the raw sap, but soon ran out of freezer space. We then started to partially reduce the sap and froze in pint jars.

Our daily sap collection from three trees ranged from nothing to about 1.5 gallons.

Boxelder Sap Dripping into a Bucket

We collected sap from Feb 16 until April 4 and tapped a total of 7 different trees. Some trees never produced, some stopped producing and some leaked too much.

Why and When Does the Sap Flow?

Sap flow begins when temperatures rise above freezing during the day, but return to below freezing at night.

Evidently, freezing temperatures cause sap to flow up into the branches and warmer temperatures cause the sap to come back down the tree and brings sugar with it. This occurs until nighttime temperatures stay above freezing or buds start to grow.

maple syrup frozen in jars

Sap was partially reduced and frozen until final boiling.

We got the most sap when days were sunny and in the 40s (F) and night time temperatures were still in the 20s. We collected very little sap when daytime temps were below freezing or when there was not much change from nighttime to daytime temperatures.

We found that South-facing taps seemed to produce more sap. We later read that south-facing taps often produce more sap at the beginning of the season and north-facing taps produce more sap toward the end of the season.

Our North facing taps were sometimes frozen with lots of ice in the collection bucket. If there were a skim of ice in the bucket, we threw it away since it should not contain much sugar and get a head start on reducing the water. But if the entire bucket of sap was frozen, we kept the entire ice block.

When the buds start to swell, the sap will change as hormones and other proteins are produced and flow with the sap. These chemicals can cause the sap to have  “off-flavors”.  So taste the sap regularly and always check for clarity. If the sap starts to taste strange or is not clear, you may not want more sap from that tree.

Boiling Maple Sap to make Maple Syrup

We filtered all sap through a simple coffee filter to remove particles of leaves and bark and a few gnats. We occasionally found flies or moths in the sap, which were fished out with a stick. Dust from moths is easily filtered out and the sap will be boiled enough to kill any bacteria.
The partially reduced syrup was thawed out and filtered again to remove foam and other impurities that precipitate out.

There are official requirements for Maple Syrup to be sold. It must be 66% sugar.

According to Utah State University Extension (read here), The syrup is done when it reaches a temperature of 7 °F above the boiling point of water. (Note this changes daily based on the barometric pressure and elevation). This can also be determined with a hygrometer or by measuring refraction until a reading of 66 Brix.

As the syrup is approaching final thickness, it should be filtered again to remove “sugar sand,” which is a natural precipitate from minerals in the sap.

We learned how to use all of these methods in our class, but just used boiling temperature for our personal batch. At our elevation, final boiling temperature was estimated at 210°F.

I read that Boxelder sap would have to be reduced anywhere between 115:1 to 40:1. We collected 15 gallons of sap and made 1 quart of syrup, which is 60:1. This was similar to the ratio from the class.

New Sap Boiling

Notice sap is still very clear.


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Final Sap Boiling

Pot on the left is being reduced, then poured into pan on the right for final reduction. Notice color darkening on the right.

General Rules for Tapping Maple Trees

    1. Trees should be healthy
    2. At least 10 inch diameter (7 inches min. for shrubby,multi-stemmed species like Canyon and Rocky Mountain Maples)
    3. Tap tree about “breast height” (3-6 feet above ground)
    4. Use recommended drill bit size for your tap and bit should be sharp
    5. Drill holes about 1.5 inches deep (but match your particular spile)
    6. Don’t wallow drill bit around in hole, one clean straight plunge, then back out
    7. Tap spile (hollow “spigot”) in firmly so it doesn’t leak and is strong enough to hold a full bucket of sap
    8. Trees 10-17 inches (diameter) can support 1 tap
    9. Trees 18-25 inches can support 2 taps
    10. Trees larger than 25 inches can support 3 taps
    11. Next Spring, move new tap at least 1 inch horizontally and 8–12 inches vertically

Maple Syrup From Boxelder Trees

So, How does it taste? Delicious, but ours is very different from Maple Syrup from Sugar Maples. It is light and sweet, but tastes more buttery or maybe like butterscotch than Maples.

sourdough waffle with DIY maple syrup

Sourdough Waffle with DIY Maple Syrup

To celebrate our success, we made waffles.

I make waffles, pancakes and muffins from the “discard” from my sourdough starter.

So Breakfast was at least partially DIY and local, Sourdough starter, local egg and our DIY Boxelder Maple Syrup.

We will definitely do it again next year. I want to get more buckets and spiles and if I can find the right conditions, put together a small tube collection system.

I have a friend that has a single giant Boxelder tree in his yard. Good for shade and a ton of Boxelder beetles.  I’ll bet he can make nearly a gallon of syrup from that single tree.

Other Trees that can be Tapped for Syrup

  • Some Birch Trees (genus Betula)
  • Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

I need to do more research here, but this is also interesting to me.

I would like to find some species of Birch I can tap here.

Evidently all Birches are not suitable, but apparently Betula pubescens (white birch), Betula pendula (silver birch), Betula lenta (sweet birch), Betula papyrifera (paper birch), and Betula occidentalis (water or red birch) can be tapped

I also read that most birch syrup sold in the U.S. is made from Paper Birch or Alaska Birch (Betula neoalaskana).  

Since I have been researching so much about tapping trees and making syrup, My Instagram feed showed a video where they cut the branches of Birch trees instead of tapping the trunk.  If you know more about this, please leave a comment.


Comments

  1. Caroline says

    Sounds fun!! Good info. I don’t know about the birch tapping but let’s do that next year.

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