How to Boil Sap more Efficiently
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Making your own maple syrup is a labor of love. It takes quite a while to boil that clear maple sap down to the sweet golden elixir for which we yearn. Interesting in boiling sap faster? Read on for some tips we’ve learned along the way!
Over a few years of experimentation with backyard sugaring methods, we’ve learned a few important tips that have helped us to hone in on a process that works more efficiently. Boiling sap more efficiently helps us make more syrup than we would have otherwise produced, faster, which is the whole goal!
Part of our learning curve was deciding what equipment to use, and we have to admit that going from a homemade piecemeal solution to a product produced especially for efficient backyard boiling was a huge part of increasing our yield. But the general concepts we learned as we moved to this equipment can be applied to any backyard set up.
Efficiency Tip #1: Keep your heat source steady and consistently hot
If you want your sap to boil down faster, you’ll need your sap to stay at a boil as much as possible. The first time I used our backyard evaporator, I was worried that the fire wouldn’t die down when I was done. I quickly learned that the fire actually dies down faster than you would expect. Keeping it nice and hot for the whole time you want to boil is definitely the way to go. Otherwise, your sap doesn’t work up a good boil and it evaporates MUCH slower.
Burning your fire in a drum or otherwise enclosed system can help to keep your fire hot. A fire burning out in open air is impacted by the wind and not all of the heat ends up on your pan. This is one of the primary reasons we like our Sapling Evaporator from Vermont Evaporator Company.
The Sapling is a manufactured version of the traditional “55 gallon drum” design, but the careful design and assembly is tighter and more efficient because the pan fits perfectly into the opening. The barrel has a door to keep it sealed, with vents to maintain the flow of oxygen. Think of it like the difference between producing heat with a fireplace and with a wood stove.
Our Sapling also has an “efficiency package” and the components of this package illustrate a few other practices that maintain steady, high heat. It comes with fire bricks to line the barrel and retain heat; a custom fit steel fire grate that holds the logs up inside so that air can flow under them as well as around them (more air = more fire); and an efficiency baffle that sits above the fire and just below the sap pan. The efficiency baffle forces the heat to run over the bottom of the pan twice before it leaves the evaporator.
All of these improvements help to keep sap at a more steady boil which leads to more consistent evaporation and, therefore, a shortened path to syrup. But keep in mind that you – the human – must make the most of these by building a good fire and keeping it tended!
Efficiency Tip #2 Choose the Right Boiling Vessel
Use a pan with a large surface area (and consider a continuous flow pan). The key to faster evaporation is creating as much surface area as you can without risking too shallow a depth for the sap. A hotel pan or roasting pan is a great solution for a small backyard sugaring operation. Just make sure you start with at least 2 inches of sap, because you’re going to need to boil down for quite a while. Once the sap starts to get so low that you risk burning, take it out of that pan and bring it inside to finish on the stove top.
A continuous flow pan (such as the one that comes with the Sapling) is divided into sections and usually as a spout at one end. The idea with this kind of pan is that you always load new sap from one end. The newer sap pushes the already boiled (or in process) sap through the baffles in the pan and the thicker stuff makes it way to the end with the spout. This is a great option if you want to add more sap to the pan as you boil. Sometimes this type of pan will come with your evaporator, or you can purchase a smaller version to use with any backyard set up.
Efficiency Tip #3: Consider an at-home Reverse Osmosis System
Full Disclosure: we have not tried this yet but have heard about it from other hobby sugarers and have it on our list to try next year!
A reserve osmosis set up basically removes a significant portion of the water from your sap before you even put it in the evaporator. Sap starts at about 3% sugar; using a reverse osmosis system can sometimes get your sap up to 6-8% sugar. Others have described removing 10 gallons of clear water from a 30 gallon tank, meaning you have 1/3 less water to evaporate in your evaporator.
Souly Rested – a blog with a big focus on maple – has a set of directions for this system that we’ll be using next year.
Even with all of these efficiency measures, boiling maple syrup for sap does take a long time. So our last tip is this: enjoy it! Set up a picnic table, invite some friends to stop by, and let sugaring be your reason for spending the whole day or weekend outside just as the days get longer.
Standing by that warm evaporator smelling the scent of maple is worth it every time.
Check out all of the articles in our
How to Make Maple Syrup Series from Spring 2020!!
- Article #1: How to Tap a Maple Tree for Syrup
- Article #2: How to Collect & Store Sap for Maple Syrup
- Article #3: How to Boil Sap for Maple Syrup