Tapping maple trees to collect the sap for maple syrup is a fun, environmentally sustainable and enjoyable process. All it takes is some preparation, a healthy maple and a little bit of patience. Besides a tree, of course, you’ll need the right equipment. So, get ready and let the sweet times flow…
Equipment Needed to Tap Maple Trees
• Storage Container
Consider purchasing your supplies in the summer or fall, because once winter months arrive, people will be in a hurry to purchase, leaving stores with limited quantities and empty shelves.
The Tapping Process
The best time to tap trees is from the middle of February until the middle of March. During this period, daytime temperatures rise above 32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius, with nighttime readings falling below freezing. This fluctuation in temperature creates pressure within the maple tree, stimulating sap flow. The best sap is produced at the beginning of the season, which typically lasts four to six weeks.
Sugar, black, red and silver maples are the most commonly tapped and prized for their sugar content. No matter the variety, maples trees selected for tapping should always be at least 12 inches in diameter and receive plenty of direct sunlight. Tap holes should be drilled on the south side of the tree, above large roots or below thick branches. Use a cordless drill with a 5/16 or 7/16 bit to drill a hole between 2 and 2.5 inches deep. Be sure to drill at an upward angle to allow the sap to flow down the tree and through the tap hole. Check the tree shavings as they’re falling. Light brown pieces indicate healthy sapwood. Shavings that are dark brown indicate the hole you’re drilling is not ideal for tapping. Choose another spot on the tree and try again.
Once your tap hole has been properly drilled, it’s time to insert the spile. This is just a fancy term for a tap that allows sap to drip into your bucket. To ensure your spile fits snugly in the tree, gently pound it with a hammer. Next, you’ll need a bucket. Select something sturdy and plastic to collect all the wonderful sap that flows from the tree. You can use a metal bucket too, but they’re always cold to the touch. Hang your bucket from a hook on the spile and you’re ready to go. Don’t forget to place a lid on your bucket. This will to prevent rain, snow and unwanted debris from entering your bucket and mixing with the sap. When your bucket is filled, transfer the sap into a storage container. Old plastic milk jugs or juice containers that have been washed are excellent choices for storing sap. Make sure to use a piece of cheesecloth to filter out small solids like bark chips as you’re pouring. If you live in Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire or any other states with snow on the ground and temperatures of 38 degrees F or colder, you can store your sap outside. Otherwise, put it in your refrigerator and use it within a week.
Making Maple Syrup
Turning your sap yield into delicious maple syrup is fairly easy. But you’ll need a hot fire, and the process creates a lot of steam. So the activity should be done only outside, making fire safety your first priority. If young children are present, make sure they stand at a safe distance from the boiling procedure. As always, be sure you are in compliance with local regulations when building a fire.
To get started, gather your wood and place a grate over the pit where the boiling will take place. Pour the sap you collected into a large cooking pot and light your fire. Place the pot on the heat source and boil until it reduces down to one quarter or one half the depth of the pot, then add more sap and keep it boiling. Keep a close eye on the sap and transfer it to a smaller bowl. Let it steep until the clear liquid turns a golden colr. At this time you’ll want to extinguish any flames and head indoors to complete the boiling process. Keep the liquid sap on low heat until it turns the consistency of syrup. Remove the pot from the stove and let the batch of syrup cool. When the pan is no longer hot to the touch, pour the syrup through a coffee filter into a sanitized bottle, cap it and place in the refrigerator.
Refrigerator syrup should be used with two months. But you probably don’t want to wait that long. A stack of pancakes smothered in syrup is definitely a sweet reward to your first maple tree tapping experience.