How to tap a maple tree (the basics)

There is NOTHING in this world like homemade maple syrup on your pancakes. There is a reason REAL maple syrup cost so much! It takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. But how do you go from tree to table? Well I will explain it to you as simple as possible. I mean I could go into all the scientific stuff, but our goal here is to get sap and turn it into syrup not teach a plant biology class.

Click photo for more info on Sugar Maples

So let’s get started. First you need trees. But what kind of trees? Well any in the maple family really, but we stick to the common ones Sugar, Silver and Red. Sugar Maple has the highest sugar content in its sap and have a longer sap flow which makes them the preferred tree to tap. So now that you have found some maple trees, what do you do?

Well first you need to look at your tree and measure it. Your tree should be about 2 1/2 foot around at 4 foot from the ground in order to put a tap in. Anything smaller then that, let it continue to grow. The bigger round a tree is, the more taps you can put in it. We usually only put two taps per tree. Remember, you are taking something from the tree, don’t be greedy.

Once you are ready to tap your trees you need a drill, taps, and buckets to get started. We use 1/4″ pex tube to make our taps, so we use a 1/4″ drill to make our holes. Drill a hole in the tree about 3 1/2 to 4 feet from the ground at a depth of about 1 1/2″ to 2″. Once we tap (hammer in the tube) we put a nail above it to use for hanging our “bucket.” We us both soda bottles and milk jugs as buckets. We simply twist wire around the neck or handle of the item and then make a loop that will slide on and off the nail for emptying. Some days there is a lot of emptying going on! LOL

But now your wondering, when do I tap my trees? Trees are tapped in February and March and sap flows for about 4-6 weeks. The flow of sap is HIGHLY dependant upon the weather. The sap usually doesn’t flow until after a hard freeze. Last years winter was so mild here, we didn’t even bother tapping our trees! Once the day time temp starts hitting 40 degrees it is time to put in your taps. The best sap flow is freezing at night with bright sunny 40 degree temps during the day. If the day time temp is not above freezing or the night temp doesn’t go below freezing you will not see sap flow.

Once your taps are flowing, you can store your sap in 5 gallon buckets or a plastic trash can till your ready to boil. If there is snow still on the ground, we pack snow around the buckets. Collected sap can be held in buckets if the temperature do not go
above 40 or 45 F. Warmer than that, the sap will support bacterial growth and

Once you have collected your sap it is time to boil it down. The nice thing about freezing nights is you will notice a layer of ice on top of your buckets, remove it, this eliminates water that would later have to be boiled off anyway. Use a shallow pan to boil the sap in. Boil it in an area with good
circulation, as a large amount of moisture is turned to steam. In other words if you don’t want the wall of your kitchen to get messed up, do the boiling OUTSIDE. Near the end of boiling the syrup will have an oily appearance. The temperature
should be about 220°F.

Once you have syrup you will need something to put it in. We use canning jars. The shelf-life for maple syrup in a properly filled and sealed container is over
one year. The shelf-life for maple syrup once it is open is about six
months in the refrigerator.

Those my friends are the basics. Oh don’t worry, I know you have lots of questions still, like how do I make my own equipment and how do I properly fill and seal containers of syrup. Deep breath, we will get to it, I promise. But for now, go find your trees, get your drill and prepare for the fun. Once your ready, follow along on our sap to syrup adventure on the Making Maple Syrup tab on our blog where we will get to covering all those questions you still have!

8 thoughts on “How to tap a maple tree (the basics)

  1. So True, nothing like pure Maple Syrup. Great Blog Post Thank You for sharing… I shared it on The Lazy Chcken Coop… ~ Diane

    1. I'm going to have to remember this for later on in life when I've got more time to hunt out maple trees (not sure if they even grow in the UK!) I have also heard that raw maple syrup is so much better for you. Why don't you eat it raw?
      Thank you for sharing this with Healthy Vegan Fridays. Check back on Friday to see if you were one of the Top 3! We hope to see you again this week. You can submit a post from Friday to end of Tuesday:

    2. Katherine I didn't realize it wasn't "raw." What I mean is that all we do is collect, boil it down (aka remove extra moisture to get to the "syrup.") and eat it. We add nothing to it.

  2. Mindie, a maple tree that is large enough to tap (10" in diameter) will flow up to 5000 (yes 5 thousand) gallons of sap a day through its system. By tapping a tree more than 2 times if large enough, you are not being greedy. I have 4 taps in a few of the trees that I do every year.

    1. I always feel greedy LOL I hate to take but I can't help it because maple syrup is soooo good. Thanks for letting me know about the 5000 gallons a day. That is amazing!

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