If anyone is interested in expanding their operation to include maple syrup, but doesn't want to do it on the scale required to payback the investment a small commercial setup takes (at least a few thousand bucks), I think I have finally hit on a pretty good system--after 7 years of experimenting. This should work well for a range of about 10 to 65 trees, producing 5 to 35 gallons or so of syrup. The operator will need to have a weekend day and 1 or 2 late afternoons or early evenings every week they can spare during February and March. For me, 17 gallons of syrup means 500-600 extra from farmers market sales that my wife is already at anyway selling bread, plus all the leftovers I can use. Setup cost can be 50-250 bucks depending on what you can scrounge, so it can be profitable from the get-go. But softies who don't think that shlepping around 500 gallons of cold sap sounds like fun should just stay in front of the computer.
The keys to my way of doing it are to use common steam table pans (either the disposable foil kind or salvage stainless ones) to create both a scalable evaporator and a freeze-thaw concentration system. Freeze concentration was the way natives processed sap, and it means the boiling stage is faster and more fuel efficient by 60-80%. It does require you to watch the weather report like a hawk, but I'm guessing most of us bee-folk are pretty well attuned to that already, especially here in the north. I collect sap in 3 or 5 gallon plastic drinking water containers that sit on the ground at the base of the tree, with plastic tubing that sticks directly into the taphole running the sap down to the container (no spiles.)
If anyone is interested I can give you more details for three easy payments of $199.99Â…erÂ…or else just whatever feedback and pointers you come up with when you try it.