Want to hear an embarrassing story?
A story about my first time tapping trees… Goes something like this:
I was under the impression that I had zero Maple Trees on the property, so I was set on tapping Birch Trees. I had a TON of those – sandy soil with a few marshy areas. PERFECT for Birch.
I got my supplies, set my way to the woods and set three test taps. I checked the taps every day at naptime, sometimes also after dinner.
I was so eager to get Birch sap.
Finally, the warm weather was rearing its head and I was getting disappointed. It was week 2 or 3, I try to forget. My dad had been helping me a bit, because he tapped Maple Trees. Feeling discouraged I vented to him my frustrations.
One day he called me up and asked, “Lyss, are you SURE you have your taps in Birch Trees?”
My response, “Like oh-em-gee dad. Obviously. They’re white trees with black lines. They’re BIRCH.”
“Are you positive they are not Popple Trees?”
“Dad. They are white trees, they are Birch.”
I got back home and did a quick search. They were Popple trees. I had tapped a damn tree and checked it umpteen times with only one destiny: failure.
I did not feel discouraged. Nope, I was on a mission. I asked my husband to come out and help me spot some Birch trees, I needed a second opinion. My eyes clearly are not to be depended on.
We found a few Birch trees with only but three days left of tapping. We did not collect enough sap to make syrup, but we drank the sap water. Lessons learned, better luck next year.
The first step in tapping any trees is identifying your trees. Trust me on this one.
After my Birch tree mishap, I waited until mid-summer when all of the trees were well filled with leaves. I ventured out to the woods to learn what I was actually looking for.
I mean seriously, who knew there were two types of white barked trees? Certainly I didn’t.
I did know what a Maple leaf looked like. I thought I knew what the bark looked like, but I didn’t trust myself here. I learn hands-on, so instead of researching on the computer what I should look for, I went to the woods.
Walking around I looked at all of the leaves. I have a basic knowledge of leaves. I can identify Oak and Maple leaves anyway. I saw a LOT of Oak trees, but hey! I saw a few Maple leaves as well.
Looking up I could see which tree was bearing these signature Maple-Shaped leaves.
I tied a neon ribbon around every Maple I could see.
Holy smoke. I had quite a few Maples! At least 10 worth tapping.
I was anxious for spring. Winter wouldn’t be so daunting because I banked on the fact that I could mayyybe get some Maple Syrup.
During this process, I also correctly identified my Birch Trees. Now that I know there is more than ONE WHITE TREE, I can spot the difference.
Birch are peeling white bark, Popple are just white. Popple aren’t even truly white though, they are slightly gray-green.
Moral of the story: identify your tree before you waste your time. Or learn like me, I certainly don’t regret it. I spent more time outdoors that spring that I otherwise would have. It motivated me to become slightly more in-tune with nature. Pay attention to details, one of my not-so-strong suits.
Please Note: Maple trees need to be about 12″ in diameter to tap. You may add additional taps as necessary (i.e. a 21″+ tree can have 2 taps, and above 27″ can support 3 taps).
How easy is tapping a tree?
Stick a few taps (spiles) into the trees, collect the sweet water (sap) that drips out, boil it for a few hours and ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. Maple (or Birch) freaking syrup.
Okay, but Alyssa, I can go to [insert grocery store] and buy [insert artificial maple syrup brand] for $3.Why should I do the extra work?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Maple Syrup season comes at the first sign of Spring. Going outside to tap trees can help shake the winter blues. Maple tapping season is when daytime temps are above freezing (like 40ish degrees Farenheit) and drops below freezing at night (season officially ends when the trees begin to bud).
Not only should you tap for the fresh air, Vitamin D, maybe even get some exercise, but plant based Maple Syrup is so much better for you than artificial syrup.
Benefits of Maple Sap/Syrup.
When chatting with someone recently about tapping, I was asked how much sugar I add to my sap to make syrup. Answer: None.
Seriously. No sugar added.
This person is pre-diabetic and working to avoid sugar. Maple Syrup is plant-based and 100% natural sugar. Despite the fact that it may be technically high in sugar, it has a low glycemic score. Almost 1/2 the score of cane sugar. Your body digests Maple Syrup easier than artificial sugar, it also does not raise insulin insulin levels quite like artificial sugar. It may even help prevent Type 2 Diabetes, according to some studies.
Some other benefits of Maple Syrup include:
(I am not a doctor, nor am I a scientist. This is simply based on past research I have done on the subject.)
Zinc. Benefits heart health, antioxidant, promotes cell regrowth and boosts the immune system.
Manganese. Aids the body in managing good cholesterol and mental stability.
Riboflavin. Boosts metabolism.
Potassium. Re-hydrates the body and stabilizes blood pressure.
Have I convinced you to tap trees? 🙂
How about this… you can get all of the benefits of Maple (or Birch) Syrup without the boil. Just drink the sap – it tastes like sweet water. Sap should be consumed within 3-5 days and refrigerated immediately.
Here’s what you need to tap Maple Trees:
- 5/16 Drill Bit
- Maple Bags or Food Grade Buckets with Lids (1 for each spile plus a few extras for changing out)
- 5/16 ID Food Grade Tubing (5′ or so per tree)
- Flour Sack
Note: This process looks differently for everyone. This is how The Sheep Shed taps Maple Trees. We have a small operation – 10ish trees. Some people tap 100+ trees and their process looks very different. Our goal is to supply our family syrup for the year.
- Sterilize your drill bit, spiles, & buckets. I like to mark 1.5″ and 2″ mark on the drill bit.
- When the temperature is right (above freezing during the day, below freezing at night), test a few trees. Drill 1.5-2″ into the tree about 4′ up from the ground. Keeping the drill bit on fwd, slowly pull out from the tree. This pulls sawdust out that could potentially clog the spile. Without drilling further, do this again and check that the hole is clean.
- Gently hammer the spile into the hole you created.
- If the spile is dripping, continue onto the next step. If the spile is not dripping, check the spile daily until you see drips. You may want to keep a bucket under the spile in-between checks to collect any sap you don’t want to miss out on.
- Once your trees are dripping, attache the food-grade tubing to the spile. Drill a hole into the side of the bucket as far to the top as you can that will fit your tubing. Drilling into the bucket vs. the lid will prevent rainwater and other debris from entering your sap collection.
- Place the other end of the tube into the hole of the bucket to drain the sap. Cut as needed and place lid atop the bucket. Note: you want your buckets to be in as much shade as possible – typically the Northern side of the tree. Accommodate the tube length for this.
- Once the bucket is safe and stable, you are ready for collection.
I will reiterate that I run a small operation. If you have crazy amounts of sap flowing, you may do this process slightly differently. I find that I get .5-2 gal of sap a day. I collect sap every day but find that I do not collect enough sap to boil down to syrup. Here is how to reduce sap in a small-batch operation:
- Collect sap daily. I find that collecting in the evening is best. You got the majority of the flow from the day, and if anything remains in the bucket it should keep until the next collection. Bring a few clean and sterilized buckets to your trees and swap out from a few of the trees (you can get the other trees later, I try to keep the trees on a 3 day rotation, so by day 3 I have swapped all of the buckets).
- Bring all of your sap into the house. Place a flour sack over a bowl and pour sap over the flour sack to collect in the bowl.
- Lift the flour sack from the sap, carefully keeping any bark or other remnants in the sack away from the sap.
- Pour the sap into a stock pot of appropriate size. Steps 2-3 may take a few repetitions to complete, depending on the size of your bowl.
- Once all of the filtered sap has made its way to the stock pot, bring to a boil on high heat. Boil for 10+ minutes. This is namely to kill bacteria, but if you want to boil down a bit, you can do that now.
- Remove pot from heat and cool to a room temperature, or slightly above.
- Pour the filtered and heated sap into a freezer bag, or other freezer-safe storage container and place into the freezer.
- Once you have collected enough sap to boil down, or when the season is over, place the frozen sap (you may need to slightly thaw first) into a large pot. I have 3 gal and 5 gal stainless pots that I begin my boil in. If your sap does not fit in one pot, pour what you can into your pot. As it boils down, continue to add sap until all of your sap is in the pot.
- Boil your sap on high heat until you are able to pour into a smaller pot. Keep doing this as necessary. Between each pot transition I filter the sap by placing a flour sack between each transition. Note: if you have foam forming on the top of your sap, filter this out asap as well.
- Once your sap is about 1/40 of what it was, you should smell a sweet maple-y aroma and the sap should be taking on a caramel color.
- For the finish of your sap’s transition to syrup, you want to either use a hydrometer specifically for sap, or a thermometer. Hydrometers will come with their own instructions – I suggest Tap My Trees brand. If you are using a kitchen thermometer, check the temperature often. Boil your sap until it reaches a boiling point of 219-220°F.
- Remove your syrup from the heat and place into whatever jars/containers that you plan on storing your syrup in. Seal jars accordingly.
Congratulations! You have completed your first batch of Maple Syrup!
Enjoying the Product.
All of that being said, it may sound like quite some work, but I assure you, it is more time than effort.
Walking outside after a long winter indoors is much needed and can relieve the winter blues.
Identify your trees, gather your supplies, and tap your trees. Whether you choose to boil down your sap or consume as a hydrating health drink, you will consume the many benefits of this vegan, all-natural (dare I say organic), tree sap.
The first say I boiled down was SO exciting. I got extremely proud of what I had successfully created. I made $16+ of sap for free with little effort. I made sourdough pancakes the next day for the kids and we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. My 4 year old told me, “Mom, I am proud of you for making sap.”
Ahh my heart.
He could see the work I was putting in as he has helped me tap and check my trees. He saw me boiling down the sap as I explained to him what I was doing, but I thought he was too busy playing to listen. That little sweetheart saw my hard work and how proud I was enough to tell me he was also proud.
What a great feeling.
If you tap trees – what do you do differently? I love to learn how other people operate. Comment below.
If you do not tap trees, what questions can I answer for you? Comment below.
If you ever have any questions, or ideas for future blogs, comment below or shoot me an email!
From the farm,