Buying Locally-Produced Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is sold by local farmers at the Farmers Market, including

Other maple sugaring in the area:

The Michigan Maple Syrup Association keeps a list of producers. More local and regional maple syrup sources, family activities, and restaurants are listed at the Big 400 Maple Festival event page. Agrilicious maintains a list of locations in Ann Arbor area to purchase locally produced maple syrup

Buying Maple Syrup Locally

This is NOT about locally-produced maple syrup, but rather places to buy maple syrup if you can't afford the best (which is the locally produced amazement). People recommend Trader Joe's and Costco as places that have relatively inexpensive real maple syrup, although most of it is imported from Canada.  

Do It Yourself (The Real Stuff)

You can tap any variety of mature maple tree, as well as birch, hazelnut, sycamore, and black walnut (and more). The sweetest sap will be from Sugar Maples, but the more common silver maple gives a great maple flavor, and is a little less sweet. 

Choose trees that are large enough - use one tap for trees around 12 inches in diameter, One additional tap for each additional foot if the tree is in general good health

You can buy spiles at Downtown Home and Garden, Dexter Mill, and of course online. Plastic spiles are most common now. Drill a hole about 3 feet from the ground, just smaller than your spile. The south side of the tree is best, as it warms most quickly. It should be very tight when you push the spile into the tree. There should be dripping or spurting sap when you make the hole, You can hang a bucket or jar on the spile (they have a little hook) but for stealth tapping and less chance of contamination or being knocked over, I use plastic tube that fits the round part of the spile, and run that to a plastic jug I set in the snow at the base of the tree, sealed with duct tape. 

You can get more than a gallon a day from each tap, when the sap is running. It is most prolific when the nights are below freezing, and the days are above. 

Boiling the sap is the most demanding part. It takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Boiling outside is strongly recommended. For small production you can use your kitchen stove, but the sticky steam can do a lot of damage to cabinets, wallpaper, and more.  Use your fan, and only do small patches. I do enough boiling to get about a half pint at a time.

You can freeze the sap in your chest freezer. Use plastic jugs or half gallon jars, just don't fill to the top. The pure sap can be used for later boiling, in place of water fro breads, as the water for your oatmeal (no added sweetener needed) or as a refreshing drink any time of year. I try and have at least 6 gallons to use for oatmeal year round. 

Many homeowners are very willing to let their private trees be tapped, Reward them with syrup, but let them know why there is so little to share. 

City trees, either on extensions or in parks, can not be legally tapped. Street trees are already under a great deal of stress and tap holes can be entry points for insects and diseases, which the stressed tree might not be able to fend off. In addition, due to their proximity to the street, street trees can absorb oils, salt and chemicals from the road which may end up in the maple sap. 

Lots of other tips are available on line. Here is one blog post about tapping in Ann Arbor.

Do It Yourself (The Fake Stuff)

If you just can't afford the real stuff at ALL, you can always make fake maple syrup at home that will taste far better than what you buy in the store. Basically you make a simple syrup and add maple flavoring. Just like you can buy a small bottle of vanilla extract at the grocery store, you can buy other flavors as well (almond, peppermint, etc.), including maple. You make a simple syrup by combining 2 cups of granulated cane sugar with 1 cup of water, and bring it to a boil. Add the 1 teaspoon of the maple flavoring once it is boiling. Stir vigorously until uniformly colored, remove from heat. You can bottle as if for canning while still hot, and store in the pantry,  or you can let it cool before bottling and store in the refrigerator. 

Restaurants that serve real Maple Syrup

Be sure and ask for the real thing. It is one way to support the farmers!


One-half pound maple sugar, 1 pound cut sugar, 3 pints water. Break maple sugar small, place on fire, with cut sugar and water; boil 5 minutes; skim, then cool.

  • from the Ann Arbor Chronicle:

Maple Cocktail Recipe: 3/4 oz. pure maple syrup, 3/4 oz. dry gin, 1 oz. lemon juice, 1 oz. bourbon (Serves one)

Relevant Local Law

You can read the city code yourself on line. Click on chapter 40. Here is what you will find:


3:12. Permits for tree planting care or removal. The city administrator shall have the sole authority over the planting, maintenance and removal of trees in the street right-of-way and other city property. No person without written permission of the city administrator shall plant, remove, break, spray or take any action which will injure or destroy any tree or shrub, the base of which is located in the street right-of-way or other city land. (Ord. No. 43-04, § 17, 1-3-05; Ord. No. 19-05, § 2, 5-16-05)

Note: The forestry department has chosen the most conservative interpretation of what will harm our city maples, but of course they also see the real damage and stress to the trees. 

In the news

A brutally cold wind buffets the group huddled around a sugar maple at the Washtenaw County Farm Park. They’re looking at a small metal device that’s been gently hammered into a hole drilled in the tree. Faye Stoner, a park naturalist for the county, sounds doubtful. “It’s probably too cold,” she says.