We have been tapping our maple trees for the last 6 years. It can be a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
You can tap almost any maple tree – in your urban yard, in the middle of a forest, or in your pasture. It doesn’t matter. We started out tapping the 3 sugar maples down a steep ravine in our backyard.
Later, we started tapping a few maples in our neighbor’s front yard. Now we tap the silver maples on the sand plains of central Minnesota.
There are only a few things you need to know about maple tree selection.
- The tree must be at least 10″ in diameter at chest height. If I can’t give the tree a respectable hug, I don’t tap it.
- You can tap all Maple trees and their relatives except for the Norway maple (most commonly seen as the purple leaved Crimson King – it doesn’t run sap in the spring.) This includes silver maple, freeman maple (autumn blaze and others,) box elder, sugar maple, amur maple, and swamp maple. There is a slight difference in taste but the major difference is sugar concentration. Sugar maples have the highest sugar concentration, so you will spend last time evaporating. Box elder has the least.
- If you tap above or below old tapping holes, no sap will run. The xylem is scarred and closed off – forever.
- The sap season follows temperature and barometric pressure – not the calendar.
- Your tree needs to be in an area that gets below freezing at night (and all winter) in order to tap maple trees
Those are the major rules. Pretty easy stuff. You can use almost anything you have on hand to get started or you can buy maple tapping equipment. One year, we ran out of spiles and tubes, so we tapped a tree with a pen, a shoelace, and a bucket. It worked great!
The sap will run faster and earlier, if you can tap on the south side of the tree, and if the tree is in open air. Our forest trees always take a day or two longer and run slower than the trees in the pastures.
Here are some simple tips to improve your first tapping experience
- Buy 5/8″ taps with tubing. We found these to be the easiest and most efficient. Since it is cold during tapping season, we use 5 gallon buckets and allow the trees to fill the buckets during the day. Some days they only fill them 1/3 of the way, some days they have to be emptied twice.
- Do not let your syrup get over 45-50F. Collect it and store it in a refrigerator if you can’t boil right away. We use milk cartons, old bottles, anything to store the sap inside.
The rule is – if the nighttime temperature was above 16F, then you can toss all the ice when you go to grab the sap (we let the ice sit inside most of the time to keep the rest of the sap cool). If it was below 16F, then more of the concentrated sap would have also frozen (one solid brick of ice versus ice just floating in the sap.) You do lose a little sugar this way, but it is more efficient – just give the ice back to the trees or to your animals (or drink it – it’s good stuff.)
We store our syrup in mason jars. We have zillions since we use them for honey, jams, tomatoes, herbs, and all sorts of things. They are quick to sterilize, easy to use, and convenient. If you have access to little bitty jars, I recommend you use those to give samples to friends and family. Everyone will want a taste but if you have only a few trees, it’s harder to share a whole lot. Good luck and have fun!