Which trees can you tap for sap, what do you need, and how do you do it? You’ll never believe it but I have the answers to alllllll those questions for you right here.
Let me be serious for a moment.
1. … That is the number of maple trees in my backyard.
360. … THAT is the conservative estimate of how many bags of maple leaves I’ve raked up and put out to the curb since I moved into this house 10 or so years ago.
886,762,254,981. … That’s the number of maple keys I’ve picked up, swept up or pulled out of my backyard.
3. … The number of toy poodles gone missing in the neighbourhood that I suspect were eaten by my tree.
42,567,897,432,156,789,$%6&@##$,234,5%6,981. … THAT is the exact number of times I’ve stood at the base of my maple tree swearing at it until a molar exploded out of my head.
My tree is a quiet but scary tree. If my tree were a mythical creature and if Ninjas were mythical (as if), my tree would be a Ninja tree.
As it turns out, it’s just a Black Maple.
So. After more than 10 years of cleaning up after it, I thought it was just about time that leaf vomiting, key spewing, dog eating tree did something for ME for once.
And it did. That tree gave me maple syrup. Who knew! I thought only Sugar Maples could do that.
As it turns out, pretty much any maple tree can give you sap worthy of making maple syrup, but there are 4 Maple Trees that are your best bets based on the amount of sugar in their sap. In order of preference:
Yes. A birch tree. All of these trees have enough sugar in their sap to make maple syrup. The difference is the sugar maple and the black maple both have higher sugar content in their sap, so they take slightly less sap to make syrup. They also produce useable sap longer each season than the others do.
If you don’t know which type of tree you have, but you know you have a maple, don’t even worry about it. JUST TAP IT.
I’m not going to get into it much more than that, because today is just about what you need to tap a tree. Once you have that figured out, you can read this post that’s a complete guide to how to turn your sap into genuine maple syrup.
But for now, if you have a maple tree or access to one, you only need a few things to tap your tree.
How to Tap a Maple Tree
You need …
You can also get taps at farm stores, some hardware stores and sometimes sugar bushes in your area will have some for sale.
The hook is for hanging your bucket off of. If you buy taps, DON’T forget to get the hooks too if they aren’t included.
Sap buckets are usually made of plastic now. I couldn’t bring myself to use plastic, so I found myself some older aluminum ones off of Kijiji. (2 for $10) I … I … just couldn’t use plastic. Not that I’m anti-plastic, it has many uses and is recyclable. It’s just … plastic doesn’t seem very pioneerey.
I suspect when I die and they cut me open, they will find a tumour in the shape of Laura Ingalls hanging off of my heart.
You can still buy aluminum sap buckets, they’re also available on Amazon.
Also pick up some bucket lids. (available at the same places you get your taps) The lid keeps bugs, twigs and rain out of your sap.
You need a drill to drill a hole in your tree, as well as a 7/16ths (or slightly larger) drill bit.
You want to drill into your tree between 2 and 3 inches, so mark your drill at 2″ if you have a smaller tree, 2 1/2 – 3″ for larger ones. You can use a piece of tape to mark it or mark it with a Sharpie.
Drill your hole on a slightly upward angle.
Do NOT drill a tree that is less than 10″ across. It’s too young and tapping it could kill it.
If your tree is 10 – 20″ – 1 tap
If your tree is 20 – 27″ – 2 taps
If your tree is 27+ (and healthy) – 3 taps
Choose a day that it’s above freezing to drill your hole. If it’s freezing you risk the bark on your tree cracking which will cause sap to drip out.
Sap will come out of the hole immediately if you’re drilling later in the season but it’s BEST to drill a day or two prior to when you think sap will run so you have a clean hole.
Clear away the shavings from drilling with a small twig so your hole is clean.
Gently hammer your tap in. You don’t want to hammer it in so hard it splits the bark. For one thing, you’ll lose sap out of the split and for another you’ll never be able to get the tap out.
If it’s above freezing, the second you put your tap in it will start dripping. And unless you the shrivelled heart of a rainbow hater, your eyes will drip too.
It’s a sappy miracle.
Immediately hang your bucket. I washed my old buckets with hot water and soap, sprayed them with a bleach and water mixture, let them stand … and then washed them again.
Don’t forget to put the lid on.
WHAT SHOULD THE SAP LOOK LIKE?
Sap is clear liquid. But near the end of the tapping season it may start to look slightly cloudy. As long as it tastes fine and isn’t deeply cloudy it’s still good to use.
WHEN CAN I TAP A TREE?
The perfect conditions for tapping a tree are when it’s below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.
WHEN IS IT TOO LATE TO TAP A TREE?
Once the tree starts to go into bud you can’t tap your trees anymore, the syrup this late sap makes will be bitter.
HOW LONG DOES SAP RUN FOR?
It depends on the season, but generally you have 3-4 weeks before conditions aren’t right for sap to run anymore. Plus after 3-4 weeks the hole you drilled into the tree will start to scab up and close over.
The rate at which the sap drips will depend on the weather conditions that day. Sunny and warm always = faster running sap.
On my first day all 3 buckets were 1/2 – 3/4s full within 12 hours.
Today, on the other hand, I only got a few inches in each bucket.
It takes approximately 40 parts of sap to make 1 part of syrup.
And now you wait. Once your sap buckets are full, empty them into 5 gallon plastic pails (food safe ones), cover them and keep them cool by putting them in the shadiest/coldest part of your yard for up to one week.
This means if you’re tapping trees you need to be boiling syrup once a week so your sap doesn’t go bad. Think of your sap as milk. Not water. Even though it is crystal clear like water. It is perishable and needs to be kept cold.
QUICK TAPPING GUIDE
- Clean your buckets well with a light bleach solution before using them to prevent bacteria.
- Do not tap a tree that’s less than 10″ across.
- You can tap once nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are above freezing.
- Drill a hole in your tree with a 7/16ths drill bit at a slightly upward angle.
- Hang bucket and collect sap.
- Store collected sap in cool area for up to one week.
If you’re ready to do this then DO IT NOW. You can make it easier on yourself by buying an entire
It has 3 buckets, 3 lids, the drill bit you need, 3 spiles and hooks, a straining cloth and an instruction booklet.
If you’re in Canada I’m afraid the kit is only available in plastic. 🙁 But you can get all the supplies including metal lids and spiles at TSC. Their buckets are plastic too though. Check Kijiji like I did, you might get lucky.
I waited for over 10 years to tap my tree and the second I inserted that tap and sweet sap started running out I could have punched myself in the throat for not having done it sooner.
7,453. The number of minutes I spent attempting to come up with a clever closing line for this post.
0. The amount of clever lines I ended up coming up with.
Now that you know how to tap a maple tree, LEARN HOW TO TURN THAT SAP INTO SYRUP!
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