So Brad, the owner, and another homeschool dad who helps him, took us through the woods. Here you see my two sons, or the back of them anyway, as Eric drills a hole for the spile, as it's called. Like his camo hat? I made that.
After that, a spile is driven into the hole, and the bucket is hung on it. In this picture, you can't really see it, but the sap is really dripping into the bucket from the spile. Warm days and cold nights really make the sap run. A lid is put on top of the bucket to keep rain/snow/bugs/debris out.
Each day the buckets are checked to gather sap. Sometimes you get lucky and there's ice on the top of the sap. That's pure water and you can throw that out without wasting any of the sugar. That also cuts down on your boiling time because you're getting rid of excess water. After the sap has been collected, it's all dumped into something like this to await the boiling process...
If you look, you can see the line where the sap is. That's about a 200 gallon container. There's about 100 gallons of sap in there. It takes approximately 40 to 50 gallons of water-clear sap to make one gallon of dark brown syrup.
From there, the sap is taken to a homemade boiler that Brad made. The largest part of the boiler is the firebox. There are baffles attached to the ceiling of the firebox which really gets the sap boiling. Above the box is the boiling pan. It's about 8 inches deep and covers the entire top of the firebox. Above that is the sap 'bucket' (for lack of a better word). Sap is poured into the sap bucket after being drawn off the holding tank. A copper pipe with a valve attached controls a constant, small flow of sap into the boiler pan. This is done to eliminate a quick cooling in the boiling pan by adding a large amount of cold sap all at once. A little at a time and it all stays hot and bubbly. Then the sap boils, and boils, and boils. It takes a lot of wood to do this.
Each family was sent home with a half-pint of the dark amber stuff. I had some on waffles this morning. If you've never had true maple syrup, you're in for a surprise when you try it. It's a little runnier than store bought syrup because there's no corn syrup added. It also tastes a little, ummm, woody maybe. But it's sweet. And there are no harmful additives or anything else. You should check the label on the bottle anytime you go to buy maple syrup. Unless it says 100% Maple Syrup, you may be getting something that's mostly corn syrup with a little maple thrown in for flavor. Also, real maple syrup can be pricey. Hey, it's only harvestable for a few weeks a year, and it takes a lot of time to produce. But wow is it worth it.