Tapping my first sugar maple tree.

I finally had a chance to tap one of our sugar maple trees today; ideally this would have been done a week or two ago because, according to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, tree tapping should be done in mid-February in lower Michigan and the first week of March in the Upper Peninsula.  According to Tap My Trees:

Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. The rising temperature creates pressure in the tree generating the sap flow. This is basically a transfer of the sap from the tree above the ground and the root system below the ground. The sap generally flows for 4 to 6 weeks, with the best sap produced early on in the sap-flowing season.

Usually we are seeing daytime temperatures above freezing by now, but this year has been record-breakingly cold, so I’m hoping March 1st isn’t too late to tap, given how cold the weather has been here.  It’s been so cold that despite leaving one bubbler on in our pond, it has nevertheless frozen all the way over:

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My husband will have to cut through the ice in a few places so that the fish won’t suffocate.

To tap my first tree, here is what I did.

1. Get a 7/16-inch drill bit.

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2. Measure 2.5 inches from the drill tip and mark it with a little piece of tape; you want the hole you drill in the tree to be 2-3 inches deep.image

3. Get a spile and hook (I bought mine at Family Farm and Home):

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4.Slide the hook’s ring over the spile so that the hook faces out:

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5. Drill a hole on the south side of your maple tree, about three feet off the ground and either over a large root or under a large branch.  Angle your drill so that the hole you drill slants slightly upwards:

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6. Insert the stile into the hole, tapping it firmly into place with a hammer. Hang the bucket on the hook:

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7. Slide the lid’s bar through the holes in the spile:

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8. Empty sap bucket as needed; the sap should stay good for about a week as long as you keep it cold, after which you’ll need to boil it down into syrup:

The sap should be stored at a temperature of 38 degrees F or colder, used within 7 days of collection and boiled prior to use to eliminate any possible bacteria growth. If there is still snow on the ground, you may keep the storage containers outside, located in the shade, and packed with snow. You can also store the sap in your refrigerator, or for longer term storage, in your freezer. Remember that sap is like milk, it will spoil quickly if not kept cold.

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A maple tree of this size should yield around ten gallons of sap, which can be boiled down into one quart of maple syrup.  If the sap is flowing, I’ll collect it all week and then make maple syrup next weekend.

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12 thoughts on “Tapping my first sugar maple tree.

  1. Hmmmm…Recipes for cookies, a recipe for hot chocolatee, and, you’re making maple syrup. Are you sure, with all these sweet treats, you’re not a bear?

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  2. Good luck. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup so you may have to tap a small stand to make it worth the effort. If you only have a small amount, you could probably boil it down on your stove rather than buying an evaporator.

    Be sure to save some snow so you can pour the boiled maple syrup on it to make “sugar on snow,” which tastes like taffy. My kids love it.

    If you ever vacation in Vermont, the sugarmakers have an annual open house where you can sample syrup and watch the entire process. Here’s the link: http://vermontmaple.org/ai1ec_event/1642/?instance_id=

    There’s nothing like freshly made, warm maple syrup.

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    • Yeah, just this one tree will only yield about a quart of maple syrup as I understand it (10 gallons will boil down to about a quart). But I read not to do it in the house because of all the sticky water vapor. I’ll boil it down over a fire in our fire pit or maybe on our gas grill.

      I’ve only located one good sized sugar maple on our property thus far and a few small ones. There are several silver maples and black maples and about a million oak trees. I’m planting more sugar maples this year, but I’ll be an old lady by the time they’re ready to tap. 🙂

      Mmm, sugar snow, just like the Ingalls family used to make it – that was one of my favorite stories from Little House in the Big Woods.

      Is the sap running yet up your way?

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      • It’s just starting to warm up around here — reaching the 20s during the daytime — so we probably won’t be sugaring until mid to late March. The sap won’t run unless it’s consistently above freezing during the day.

        Sugaring always signals spring to me. When I drive to work and I see steam rising from the little wooden sugar shacks along the way I know the warm weather is likely to stick around.

        Unfortunately, it also means that mud season is almost here. You will probably experience it on your dirt road when the permafrost melts and inches of thick mud ooze to the surface making you feel as if you’re driving on butter. Luckily it only lasts about two weeks and our local highway crews smooth out our road daily to keep it passable.

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  3. We live just north of grand Rapids. 2nd year sugaring! Put in 12 taps last year (bad year kinda like this year spring was on us in an instant ) but we still collected a lot of sap, enough to make approx one gallon of syrup. We cut a steal barrel in half and made a huge fire pit and boiled it all day. Brought it in at 7pm to finish on the stove, BIG mistake, took until 2am on the stove (hadn’t boiled long enough outside). We didn’t filter before jarring and the syrup had ALOT of sediment. But it was still yumny, alough no one in the family trusted it enough to eat it, lol.

    This year is currently still to cold to tap, although should warm up b this weekend!
    Look on youtube.Com for diy syrup evaporators. The pans are just buffet table warming pans avail at Gordon food services.
    we are setting up to do a diy evaporator unit and moved up to 50 taps. Each tap on average gives 1 gallon of sap a day, or about a gallon of syrup completed.

    Oh, and you can tap any maple but sugars have the highest amount of sugar with blacks the second most.

    Good luck, shoot me an email sometime 🙂

    Suzanne
    zandstra farms

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    • Welcome, Suzanne! I’m from the Grand Rapids area originally myself. 🙂

      Do you think the fact that I tapped my tree already will be a problem? I am hoping that when the sap starts running – maybe this weekend? – that it will just flow right on out the tap I’ve already put in!

      Fifty taps, wow! I’ll have a look at the DIY evaporator instructions. I had just been planning to boil it over a fire outside and then finish it off on the stove once it was “mostly” boiled down.

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  4. Ladies and gentlemen, we have sap! Whoo-hoo!

    Not a lot, mind you, about a cup or so thus far. But it’s a slow, steady drip-drip-drip. Maybe by next Saturday I’ll have enough to boil down.

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  5. Pingback: The permaculture principle of “stacking functions” (plus a tree farm recommendation) | The Sunshine Thiry Blog

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