Every year we recycle the used ones, and save up ten jugs for the next year. We have to collect a little more often than if we had big metal buckets, but the jugs are don't cost us any extra.
Our stove for this year (and last year) is made of a steel drum that was on the property when we moved in. If we are lucky it will last one more year or two.
Before this homemade barrel stove, we used a tiny wood stove and then a fire on the gravel driveway surrounded by cinder blocks. Our current method is by far the best. I dreamed up this contraption last year on a long car ride in February 2008 while Ross and I chatted about how were we going to do sap that year. I had nothing to do with actually building it, since Ross is more mechanically inclined than I. Most of the stove is made of used materials from around the house and shed, but we did purchase the flue pipe, and a few brackets and hinges for the stove door.
It could take anywhere from 20-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. It depends on the type of tree, and the individual tree and at what point in the season the sap is from. All the trees we use are sugar or red maples at least 30 inches in circumference. We have one large tree in particular that really produces. It has two large trunks and we tap each one. You can taste the sap right from the tree often demonstrated by our first born, age 4.
We have a big blue plastic barrel that was once used for blue raspberry drink we got at our local junk shop.
We cleaned it out as best we could, but sometimes there is a hint of fruity smell to the sap. We fill it up all week and then on the weekends we do the hard work of boiling it down. Although it doesn't look that hard, it takes practice to make the most of your wood. We use two pans from retired roasters, one was here on the property when we moved in, and one from our beloved junk shop. One pan is for warming up the sap before transferring it into the other pan which is more concentrated.
After all day outside, we take the final batch of syrup inside to boil down while under better heat control. Then we filter it, bottle it up in mason jars and then put them on the shelf.
Thanks to all our friends who came over to help collect sap and firewood, to learn about backyard syruping, and to keep us company while we fed the fire.