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The Tradition of Maple Syrup Making:

Updated: Apr 16

In the corner of Northeast Iowa, there's a sweet tradition that's not just about pancakes! Even though we're not in the big leagues like Vermont or similar eastern states, we've got our own little syrup scene going on here as well. So how is it that I turned tree sap into liquid gold right in our backyard you ask? Let me tell you!

When winter starts fading away and spring starks to peeks through, is when the magic happens. The trees know it's time to start waking up, and maples start giving out their sweet sap. In fact, all trees do this bringing stored nutrients from the roots to the tops of the trees through their xylem and phloem. To imagine what those are you can think of a bunch of tiny straws that are all lined up just on the inside of the bark that allows water, sugar, and nutrients to flow up and down the tree.

The perfect days are when it's freezing at night but gets warmer during the day and the sap really starts flowing. This year I tried collecting black walnut sap as well and I think it tasted way better than the maple syrup. We focus on maples because they have the highest sugar content to make syrup.  In fact, the ratio of a sugar maple tree is usually about 40 parts water to 2 parts sugar. That means each 5-gallon bucket of maple sap will produce about a pint of syrup when all said and done. You can collect from many different species of trees but there just won’t be as much sugar content in them as the sugar maple.

It has been probably 10 years or more since I have made maple syrup. The first time I did it was with my dad on my family acreage I grew up on. I learned then how fun and cool of a tradition it is, but I just didn’t have the time, or found the time (It takes a lot of time!!) to do it myself after that. This year I wanted to change that so I set out to collect just enough maple syrup to last the year for myself.  I don’t really have the fanciest equipment to make this process happen but it doesn’t really matter. All you need is a bunch of 5-gallon buckets, tubing, a drill, and a few plastic taps to make it happen. You drill a hole about 2 inches deep in the tree and about 4 feet up. You insert the tap and let the tubing run down to the bucket to collect the sap. On warm days you do have to watch it closely because those buckets can fill up fast!

This year I collected about 75 gallons of sap and rigged up a make shift place to boil almost all of the water away from the sap. This process took several days of tending a fire and adding more and more and more sap all day long! Finally, I was able to boil it all down to get just the right amount of water in the syrup so it wouldn’t spoil, and let me tell you it is delicious. Better than the real maple syrup stuff you buy in the store! (It’s actually not, but it takes so much time and effort that my mind tricked me into thinking that!)

If you want to try this on your own next spring I suggest you do research on it and just know that it will take along time to do, but it is well worth it in the end to keep this fun tradition alive! If you don’t want to do it yourself but want to learn more about it there are several people that do it around here, and I’m sure they would be willing to show you the process as long as you buy a little bit of that liquid gold from them!

If you want more information on maple syrup making you can contact Isaac at

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