Like I mentioned in Part 1, for the sap to flow you want freezing nights followed by warm days (to around 40°F). So, after some good days for sap and bad days for sap we collected about 15 gallons total.
We collected from February 9 to March 16. We feel we should have gotten more sap, but with the cold weather and Polar Vortex the conditions were not right.
So as we collected the sap we had to decided what to do with it. Some days we were only getting a cup or two and other days we had a gallon or more. With this fluctuation in production and not enough time to cook down what we were collecting, we had to decide what to do with the sap.
Larger operations are able to store their sap in tanks. I read that smaller collectors can store it in containers outside as long as it is out of the sun and kept cool. I was not comfortable keeping the sap outside and I did not have enough room in my refrigerator to keep several gallons of sap. This led us to try freezing the sap.
While trying to decide how to store the sap, we were also looking for ways to condense the sap so we would have less to boil down. Since maple sap is only roughly 2% sugar, that is a lot of water to boil off. Many people cautioned against boiling it inside because the amount of water peeled their wall paper and left everything sticky.
We were lucky to come across an article in Mother Earth News that talked about how one man concentrated his sap by freezing it. He basically froze his sap and then set it out to thaw. When it was about half way thawed, he poured off that liquid (since it was more sap that water) and threw the rest of the ice out (since it was more water than sap). He figured he lost a little sap this way, but the time and energy saved from cooking it down was worth it (at least for a small production of maple syrup).
So that is what we did. We froze our sap and when we were ready to cook some down, we would let it thaw until it was about 1/2 of the way thawed, keep the liquid and throw the rest away.
After seeing how long it takes to thaw the frozen gallons of sap, we started doing the process a bit different. We would put the gallons in the freezer for about 8 hours so the water would start to freeze but the sap had not. It was much easier to condense this way since we could just filter the ice out because it was not yet a solid lump.
By condensing the maple tree sap, we were able to reduce 15 gallons to about 7 gallons. This saved us a lot of time (and steam) when we cooked it down into syrup, but I’ll cover that next week.