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Have you ever wondered how to tap a maple tree so that you could make your own syrup? Ever wished someone would lay it out for you?
While I haven’t been doing this since the cradle, I have had a little bit of experience! Here’s what beginners need to know!
CHOOSE YOUR MAPLE TREE
Any maple tree can be tapped for sap. There are 10 species native to Canada. Because of it’s higher sugar content (3-4%), the sugar maple is the favored choice. However, unless you live in the east, not many of us have sugar maples growing in our back yard!
In fact, most of us will have to make due with red or broad leaf maple trees. Though the sap contains less sugar (2%), it still makes a delicious, caramel flavored syrup!
The trees you choose should be healthy and flourishing.
WHEN DOES SAP FLOW?
Sap flows strongest when nights are below freezing and days are above zero. Tree tapping should take place in early spring or (as I just learned) late fall. We’ve only ever tapped maple trees in spring!
How long the sap flows is totally dependent on the weather. Once the freezing stops, so does the collectable flow.
WHY TREE SIZE (AND AGE) MATTERS
When collecting sap from a tree, you do rob it of some nutrients. If the tree is too small, it is possible to stunt or weaken it. Never tap a maple tree that is smaller than 10 inches/25 cm in diameter.
NECESSARY EQUIPMENT FOR TREE TAPPING
To make the hole through which sap will flow, you’ll need a drill. The size of the drill bit depends on the size of your tap (also known as a spile).
Spiles are necessary for channeling sap out of the tree and into the bucket below. We prefer to use these Stainless Steel Taps (affiliate link). They come with hooks for a bucket, fit tightly and are practically indestructible!
You’ll need containers to catch the sap that flows from your spile and also a lid or cloth to keep tree debris out. To avoid overflow, containers should hold a gallon of liquid each.
WHY YOU SHOULD TAP THE SOUTH SIDE
Always place the first tap on the south side of the maple tree’s trunk. East and west are second choices. The north side experiences significantly lower sap flow.
HOW MANY TAPS PER TREE
To ensure you don’t do damage to the tree, place taps according to the maple’s size.
Particular are as follows:
10 in/25 cm diameter=1 tap
20 in/50 cm diameter=2 taps
25 inches/64 cm diameter=4 taps
SPACING YOUR TAPS
Ensure the taps are spaced 6 inches apart. If re-tapping within the same season, enforce this rule between old holes and the new.
DRILLING THE HOLE
Ensure your drill bit is the proper size for your specific taps! If the drill bit is too small, your spile won’t fit. Make it too large and sap will squeeze out underneath the spile and trickled down the tree trunk to the ground.
When drilling, angle the bit upward into the tree ever so slightly. In so doing, you ensure that the sap will readily flow through the spile and into the bucket.
Holes should be no more than 2 inches deep.
If you begin drilling and notice the wood doesn’t look white and fresh, move on. The maple tree may be rotting from the inside out and won’t yield good sap.
INSERTING THE SPILE
After drilling the hole, allow it to drip for 30 second or so. This helps remove the bits of wood your drill has left behind. When ready, set the spile in the hole. With a hammer, gently tap it into the tree (another reason I’m glad we don’t have plastic spile!). It should be a tight fit!
If it doesn’t go all the way in, don’t worry about it! Sap will pool up behind it and trickle out just the same.
SETTING UP A CATCH CONTAINER
While you can get tubing for your spiles that will channel sap into a large bucket below, we use the hanging bucket method. Why? Because I enjoy collecting sap from the pails!
Spiles we use come with a hook (affiliate link) for the pail. Nifty, hey?!
Hang your buckets from the hook.
But before you do that, cover the mouth with a clean cloth to keep bugs and tree debris out. You’ll be amazed at how much falls from the limbs overhead!
Always secure the cloth with a string or (recommended) a rubber band.
For the bucket’s cover, use a non-absorbent cloth that will allow liquid to pass directly through. These ones were made from a white sheer curtain we weren’t using!!
If you live in a wet climate, you’ll want to place a cover over the tap and bucket to keep the rain out. Not that it will hurt anything, but you’ll have to cook your sap ever longer to evaporate the extra liquid. No one wants that!
COLLECTING THE SAP
Check your containers mid-day. Because sap flows well when the weather is warm, you’ll get the most during this time and containers are most likely to overflow.
Be sure to bring a collecting bucket with you!
Don’t leave sap to sit for more than 24 hrs, unless the weather is below freezing. Even when refrigerated, sap turns very quickly and may sour in 2-3 day’s time. If this happens, throw it away. It will not make a good syrup.
PREPARING LIQUID FOR BOILING DOWN
After each collection, filter the sap well. If you cannot cook it down immediately (or within 24 hours), I recommend freezing it. When frozen, your sap will last for several months and can be processed all in one day.
HOW MUCH SYRUP WILL I GET?
The sugar maple yields a 40/1 ratio. If tapping other maples/hardwood trees, you’re likely looking at 60/1 ratio. Sixty gallons of sap for 1 gallon of syrup!
Yes, there is a reason not everyone does it!
However, if you like a lighter syrup (as we do), you can stretch your sap a bit further by boiling it less, then waterbath canning it to ensure quality shelf life.
So, how do you go about boiling down maple sap? I hope to get to that in another post, real soon! But for today, get yourself some taps and get busy!