Maple Syrup: The Basics of Tapping and Harvest

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So many of you have asked for more information on tapping, processing and harvesting maple syrup from your own backyard that I decided I needed to make a post specifically to address your questions!

Let’s get started!

What type of tree can I tap?

There are actually five different types of maple trees that you can tap from, each with distinctive traits that will make your harvest unique!

Aside from that, believe it or not, there are other trees that aren’t in the maple family that you can tap! Alder, birch and walnut to name a few. Amazing, right!?

How big does my tree have to be?

Generally speaking, your tree should be a minimum of 10″ in diameter.

A tree that is 10-20″ in diameter can handle one tap. A tree that is 20-30″ in diameter can handle two taps and a tree that is 30″ or greater can handle three. You really should not install more than three taps in one tree.

How many years can I tap my tree and does it hurt the tree?

You can tap a tree indefinitely and not hurt it! The rule of thumb, however, is to not drill your hole more than 2 1/2 inches deep. You don’t want to hit the heart of the tree.

How do I install a tap?

First, never drill in a spot you have previously drilled the year before. Give that spot time to recoup and heal.

Next, use a drill set with a drill bit that is the size of your tap end. Holding the drill parallel to the ground, drill the hole as straight as possible to a depth that matches the length of the tap end.

Clear the hole of any debris and then gently hammer your tap into place with a rubber mallet. Put your tube on the spigot side of your tap and attach your bucket to the tree and the tube end. To see me do this, check out my video on Facebook! (and don’t forget to follow us!)

These look so nostalgic, but I definitely prefer my vinegar jugs as there is less chance for debris to get in the syrup.

What kind of bucket should I use and where can I get taps?

I use cleaned out gallon sized vinegar bottles.

I drill a hole in the cap that matches the size of the tube and I insert the tube into the cap. This prevents most of any falling debris from getting into the sap as it’s running.

Be sure to hang your bucket from the tree because, if you don’t, the weight of the sap emptying into the bucket will make it fall to the ground and all of your sap will be wasted. Ask me how I know!

Taps can be purchased on Amazon really inexpensively! Here’s a link to a tapping kit that should work for anyone!

Is there a particular side of the tree that is best to tap?

Although everyone seems to have a different opinion, I’ve had good to great success all around the tree! This year the south side is running really well, but in previous years my north/northeast sides have ran really well. So, my answer to which side is best is… the outside!

When should I tap and how long will the sap run?

If you are lucky enough to live in a location where the temperatures can swing from the 40s during the day to the 20s at night (freezing at night and above freezing during the day… 40s and 20s tend to be the most ideal temps), you can tap your tree.

As long as these temperatures hold, your sap will run. Some days will be better than others and your season will end when the temperatures no longer support the sap running. Everyone’s season will be different based on their location and what the weather is like that year.

My season here in the mountains of Eastern Oregon can start as early as January and progress as late as March. Even if you only get a week’s worth of sap, it’s still a lot of fun and at least a little syrup. To me, it’s well worth it!

How do I harvest the sap?

Get a bucket! I find that it’s usually best to harvest mid-morning because the sap has had some time to thaw in your collection jug and start running again. Take the lid off the jug and pour the sap into a bucket to bring inside for boiling.

How do I process the sap?

If you were in New England and tapping as an actual business, there is a particular way to do this.

Collect it and then boil it in a large, flat tub.

At my house, I use a stock pot. I set it on a low boil and let it simmer the excess water out of the sap.

This is the part I haven’t quite perfected. Using a hydrometer can help with this process, but I admit to not being a great source of information on this subject.

When it gets close to the bottom of the pot, you have to watch it very carefully or it will boil down to a sticky, unusable mess on the bottom of your pot! Boil it too little, and the syrup will turn out watery and you’ll lose a depth of flavor.

I really haven’t figured out the “sweet spot” yet (pardon the pun), so if you gain some insight, do tell! A hydrometer will likely help with this. See the link below for that!

Some people then filter the syrup before canning it. Some do not. It seems to be a matter of preference.

How do I store it once I’ve boiled it down?

The good news is you can water bath can your jars of maple syrup! Sealed and unopened jars last for approximately two years. An opened jar will last for a year in the refrigerator.

Resources

Homesteading for Beginners, Volume Two.
Someone gave us this DVD set (Volumes 1-3) and I admit I can’t remember who it was. This is what sparked the idea for me that maybe I could give this whole thing a try!

This is my first post on sugaring and there are some good insights here… if I do say so myself!

The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association website has a ton of information and current information!

A hydrometer is on my list of must-have things for making maple syrup! And this one happens to be sold by a friend of mine!

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