It’s a perfect fall day in New England. Time for us to put in fuel for next spring’s DIY maple syrup making operation! If we were good little Vermonters, we would have done this while the snow melted. Clearly, we’re still assimilating.
Finding and storing sugar wood is easy for us to do. We’ve got chainsaws, a log-splitter, and the remnants of 50 or so giant white pine trees that we cut down several years ago. We’ve heard from many customers that their sugar wood comes from trees on their property. But what if you don’t have all those trees? And what if this is the first time you have made wood-fired maple syrup and don’t know anything?
Keeping in mind that we’re only on year seven of this journey ourselves, here’s what we know.
How much wood do I need to make wood-fired maple syrup?
First, on quantity. For our annual 25-50 tap operation, we use between one-half and one cord of wood. We estimate that we use one-half cord per every five gallons of syrup we make.
What’s a “cord” of wood? A cord is a unit of measure that equals 128 cubic feet. The standard cord of wood is a stacked pile of logs that measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. But a wood pile that is 4 feet by 2 feet by 16 feet is also a cord of wood.
You can determine how many cords of wood you need by working backward from how many gallons of maple syrup you intend to produce. Then, determine how many cubic feet of stacked wood that is, and make sure you split and stack that much.
What kind of wood should I use to make wood-fired maple syrup?
Any wood can be used to make maple syrup. Most maple makers agree that softwood rather than hardwood should make up the bulk of one’s supply. Many experts swear by a mix of the two.
Softwood burns fast and hot and then disappears from your wood box. Hardwood burns cooler, slower and sticks around in the form of coals.
What should the width and length of the wood be?
What about width and length? It’s best to split your wood down until it is nice and thin. Think the width of the thickest part of a baseball bat.
Optimum length depends upon the size of your wood box. For the Sapling Evaporator, which has a woodbox that is 33 inches long, we recommend 24 inch pieces of wood. Longer cuts of wood will help you even out the heat under your pan. Also, less cuts mean less work!
When should I cut, split and stack my sugar wood?
How about timing? Summer really is the time to split, stack, and cover your sugar wood supply. That way, come spring, the wood is nice and dry. I wasn’t kidding about using “snow out” as your cue, though. We have heard from customers that put in their sugar wood as early as April! Not to fear, though. Plenty of us wait until the fall. “Better late than never” is an appropriate adage for this circumstance!
What if I can’t source the wood on my own property?
But what if you don’t have the wood?
Try getting on the phone and calling around to any sawmills in your area. Ask them if they have scrap or “slab” wood. (Slab wood is what’s left over when a round tree is squared off to make boards.) And ask if they deliver! Within 5 minutes of hopping on my phone, recently, I was able to find two sawmills within 60 miles of my home that would sell me slab wood at $25 per truckload or less.
Where should I store my sugar wood?
To ensure that your sugar wood dries out and stays that way, store it in a place where air circulates and where it is protected from rain, ice and snow. This could mean in an open storage shed, under the eve of a building, or under a tarp or other covering.
Also remember to think ahead to where you will be boiling down your sap next spring and store the wood as close as you can to that place. Thinking through your wood location now will save you the work of hauling wood later!
If this will be your first time making wood-fired maple syrup, make a guess as to where you’ll be boiling. Choose a place that is flat, at a safe distance from your home, and where the snow melts first.
And whatever you do, have fun! Now, back to the wood pile for me.