How To Tap Maple Trees
I adore maple syrup.
Now, I’m not talking about “pancake syrup” that you find at most restaurants and grocery stores. I am talking about pure maple syrup. The kind that is made from boiling down the sap from maple trees. No high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, or “natural” flavoring.
Maple syrup is a wonderful natural sweetener, and is full of trace minerals that are brought up from deep in the ground by the tree’s roots.
We have several maple trees on our 10 acres, and in the interest of being more self sufficient (and incidentally saving a LOAD of money on expensive pure maple syrup) we tap them for syrup.
We also tap our black walnut trees as well!
The equipment is very straightforward and inexpensive, which makes it super easy to get started with tapping your trees.
First, let’s talk about WHEN to tap maple trees.
The ideal time to tap maple trees is in late winter when the daytime temperatures are in the 40’s but night time temperatures are well below freezing.
Really, as soon as the daytime temperatures begin coming above freezing, but night time temps are still below freezing.
Here in Virginia, that usually begins around late February, and lasts until the end of March, but it is a bit different each year.
First, locate your trees.
The best kind of maple trees to tap are sugar maples, because they have the highest concentration of sugar in their sap. However you can tap any kind of maple tree. I recommend locating trees to tap in the summer or fall while the leaves are still on the trees. You can definitely still locate them in the winter by the bark, but it takes a bit more research and skill.
Only tap trees that are at least 12″ in diameter. To find the diameter of the tree, first measure around the tree (circumference) with a flexible tape measure about 4 1/2 feet above the ground. To get the diameter, divide the circumference by pi. (3.14).
To tap maple trees you will need:
- Sanitized Taps or Spiles. There are all different kinds of taps/spiles/tubing combinations. These are the kind I have. I prefer them because the blue color helps keep bacteria at bay, and the slightly smaller spile size is easier on the trees. Plus, they are very reasonably priced!
- Sanitized food safe jugs or buckets. (Sanitize all your equipment by a quick dip in boiling water)
- 5/16 drill bit
- Black permanent marker
- Mallet or Hammer
- Bendable measuring tape or string
After you have gathered all your supplies, measure off 1 1/2 inches on your drill bit, and mark it all the way around with the permanent marker. You want to drill exactly 1 1/2 inches into the tree, and this is the easiest way to accomplish that.
If you drill further than 1.5 inches, you can damage the tree, and you also won’t be in the prime place to collect sap from the tree.
Once your drill has been marked, you can begin to drill your trees.
The ideal place to tap is on the south side of the tree, either above a large root, or below a large branch. This is where the sap will be flowing the most.
Drill into the tree about 2-4 feet above the ground at a slightly upward angle. This way, when you insert the stile, it will be tilted downward, and gravity will assist in the flow of the sap.
For a tree 12″-18″ inches in diameter, only drill one tap hole. For trees 18″-32″ in diameter you can drill up to 3 taps, and for 32″ or more inches you can drill up to 6 taps.
When done properly, tapping does not damage the tree. That being said, never drill more than 6 taps in any size tree!
Once you have drilled your hole, insert the spile into the hole, and gently tap with the hammer or mallet.
If you are using a spile with a plastic spout (I’m not in these pictures), don’t tap the spout, or it might crack. The sap should begin to flow almost immediately. Place your bucket or jug on the ground under the spile, and direct the tubing into your container. (if using a tube style spile like I do)
See how it the sap is already dripping into the jug? So cool huh?
Now, all you have to do is empty the sap from the container 1-2 times a day.
Each tree can produce anywhere from a quart to a gallon of sap each day, so make sure your container is around a gallon size or larger. Otherwise you will run the risk of wasting precious sap!
Each day, after you collect the sap, you will need to filter it through a clean cotton cloth, t-shirt, or several layers of cheesecloth.
Make sure you are using a cloth that isn’t washed in heavily scented detergent, because it can definitely taint your hard earned syrup! (Consider using an easy and non-toxic homemade detergent like this!)
You can then either immediately begin the process to boil it down, or refrigerate it for up to 4 days until you are ready to boil it into maple syrup. Do not leave the sap out at room temperature, or it will begin to sour and ferment.
My next post will address the boiling down process in detail, so be on the lookout!
To sum up the process of tapping a maple tree:
- Find the appropriate type and size maple tree
- Drill a hole with a 5/16 bit and insert the spile
- Direct the flow of sap into your food safe container
- Collect the sap each day, strain, and refrigerate until you are ready to make it into maple syrup
How easy is that??
*Did you know that there are several other kinds of hardwood trees that you can tap? Joybilee Farm talks about tapping birch trees, and lists all the different kinds of trees you can tap!
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