The list: 7 things to know about maple sugaring in Massachusetts

Alice Coyle
Baystateparent Magazine
Sweet maple syrup is the delicious end product of the maple sugaring process.

It's maple sugar season in Massachusetts when trees are tapped and the flowing sap is turned into the sweet maple syrup we pour on our pancakes and waffles. Here are some things to know about this age-old New England industry.

1. There are more than 300 maple producers in the state, who make 60,000 gallons of maple syrup each year, making Massachusetts the 9th largest maple producing state in the U.S.  Maple sugaring is one of the few tourist destinations during “mud season” (March and April) with more than 60,000 visitors touring Massachusetts farms and sugarhouses.

More:5 fun, family-friendly maple sugar adventures in Massachusetts this month

DCR volunteer Bill Moulton tells visitors about how maple syrup is made from sap.

2. Maple syrup is the concentration of pure maple sap, which is made by boiling and filtering the sap. When it is tapped from a tree, maple sap is 98% water and 2% sugar. After it is boiled and filtered, the finished product maple syrup is 33% water and 67% sugar.

Visitors can see the process of making maple sugar sap into syrup at the Natick Community Organic Farm.

3. Maple sugaring season in Massachusetts can range in length from 4-8 weeks depending on the weather, but generally begins at the end of February and runs throughout most of March. For sap to be collected, low temperatures must drop below freezing at night (usually in the 20s) and daytime high temperatures must be above 32 degrees (usually into the 40s).

Three-year-old Nathan Panosian looks at dripping sap with mom, Janelle, and dad, Tim, of Waltham during Maple Sugar Days at Brookwood Farm, Canton.

4. Maple trees must reach 10 inches in diameter and 40 years old before they are tapped. A healthy sugar maple can provide sap annually for more than 100 years. During sugar season, each tap hole yields about ten gallons of sap, which can be made into one quart of maple syrup.

Volunteer Antonio Nissi of Sherborn taps a sugar maple tree with an auger.

5. The production of maple syrup is one a few agricultural processes in North America that is not a European colonial import. Native Americans had been making sugar from the sweet sap of the maple tree for many years before the pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. Journals of early explorers show native people had a process for making maple sugar as early as 1609.

Natick Community Organic Farm Director Casey Townsend places buckets on sugar maples trees on Feb. 12.

6. Visitors can tour a number of the sugar houses in Massachusetts because owners open their properties to the public. Many educational farms and locations also hold sugaring events each year, including Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, BreakHeart Reservation in Saugus, Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield, Natick Community Organic Farm in Natick, South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln and Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge.

Maple sugaring season is under way.
A sap collection bucket on a sugar maple at Maple Sugar Days at Brookwood Farm, Canton.

7. Many residents of Massachusetts have sugar maple trees in their yards, and, even with only a few trees, residents can make their own maple sugar and maple syrup. The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association lays out the 12-step process on its website,

Maple sap can be collected in metal buckets from sugar maple trees during the end of February and March, like this homeowner is doing at a Lexington Road home in Concord.

Sources: The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, the state Department of Agricultural Resources and Old Sturbridge Village.