Have a Maple Tree? How to Tap a Maple Tree for Making Syrup!

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.

3 vintage sap buckets hanging off the trunk of a large maple tree.

If you stumbled here because you want to  learn how to make maple syrup, you should read this post first. It explains ALL you need to know about making maple syrup right at home with your own tree.

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:

 

 

Sugar maples, black maples, red maples, silver maples and birch trees all have sap that can become sweet pure syrup.

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 …

A stainless steel maple tree tap with hook being held up by hand with fingernails painted red.

You can order taps (spiles) from (Amazon).

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.

A maple tree spile showing the smaller end that goes into the tree.

 

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.

Vintage sap bucket being held up.

 

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.

Sap bucket lid used for keeping debris out of the sap while it's collecting.

 

You need a drill to drill a hole in your tree, as well as a 7/16ths (or slightly larger) drill bit.

Cordless Ryobi drill with 7/16ths drill bit in it for tapping a maple tree.

 

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 bit marked with a Sharpie to help you know how far to drill into the maple tree's trunk.

 

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

Drilling into a maple tree at an upward angle for tapping in the spile.

 

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.

A newly drilled hole in a maple tree immediately wet with sap.

 

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.

Beautiful shot of a single drop of sap falling out of a maple tree tap captured in mid air.

 

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.

A vintage sap buckets hangs off a tap on an old maple tree.

 

Don’t forget to put the lid on.

A vintage sap collection bucket with a lid on it hanging off of a tree in spring.

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.

The inside of a sap bucket as it collects sap.

 

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.

Vintage sap buckets hanging off or very large maple tree trunk.

QUICK TAPPING GUIDE

  1. Clean your buckets well with a light bleach solution before using them to prevent bacteria.
  2. Do not tap a tree that’s less than 10″ across.
  3. You can tap once nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are above freezing.
  4. Drill a hole in your tree with a 7/16ths drill bit at a slightly upward angle.
  5. Hang bucket and collect sap.
  6. 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

MAPLE SYRUP MAKING KIT from Amazon.

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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Have a Maple Tree? How to Tap a Maple Tree for Making Syrup!

96 Comments

  1. Nadja Burmatoff says:

    Wow just wow Karen!! you are so inspiring, I am moving soon to a little 5-acre parcel of heaven and I am definitely going to try this and will be purchasing that kit you recommended… You know even your post, on the Instant Pot I was about to purchase I have now cancelled based on your valuable insight. You are my favorite blog to read… you are an amazing person. I look forward to your posts! Thank you

  2. Jerry says:

    Maple trees best way to ID them are RED maple 3 points on the leaves as in red
    Sugar maple has 5 points on it leaves as in sugar .

  3. Mary W says:

    I have a river birch – is that the same thing? I’ll call the extension agent next Monday to verify that I can use it for syrup. The birch tree is only 5 inches across and about 10 years old. Too soon? How do you keep out ants? They climb in everything and especially the poor hummingbird feeder. Maybe I should stick to honey. Have you ever tried bees? Just bought a fresh crop of cane syrup – it is so good on hearty pancakes but a little too strong for fluffy, bleached wheat. In this area there are MANY turpentine stills due to all the old pines.

    • Karen says:

      Mmmm. Too small I’m afraid. The sap isn’t sweet. You can’t even taste sweetness in it until it’s at around 4 % sugar content so ants aren’t a problem. :) ~ karen!

  4. susan says:

    I tapped my first tree this afternoon! It WAS a “sappy” moment! It was so cool! Can’t wait to boil it down and see what it tastes like! Here’s a question…. Can you boil the sap for a minute, filter re boil and then put it in a canning jar? I’ve read that the sap is full of nutrients and antioxidates. Was wondering if it would keep. Any ideas? I know you can freeze the sap but didn’t know if you could can it.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Our family is in LOVE with making syrup at home each spring! We bought this kit last year from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B5579E4/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00B5579E4&linkCode=as2&tag=tharofdost-20

  6. Jeremiah says:

    their is only a slight problem about your ability to swear over 42 decillion because it would take you well over 85 MILLION years to count that high and I you had enough time to make this well layed out website my guess is that you have not dedicated your life to swearing at those maple trees in your back yard.

  7. Noelle says:

    Thanks for showing us how easy this is! I must do this, duh, I have 3 sugar maples! I hope to find all the supplies tomorrow. Hurry up with the second post!

  8. mary dobranetski says:

    My husband and I did this years ago but we had purchased “bags” made especially for this. We did fairly well, however, I highly recommend having a sugar shack to boil the sap down to syrup. We had a heck of a time keeping the temperature constant but what we were able to yield was pretty good. It sure beats that fake stuff they sell in the super market. I might do this again if I had a good place to cook the sap. Thanks for the story! Many people don’t even know that they have this liquid gold on their property.

  9. Well, that looks fun! All I have are palm trees and Aunt Jemimah. Boo.

  10. Bunny says:

    Love your blog, new subscriber. I always wanted to try this! Now I will….but not this year, just put a bid in on a house, waiting for our answer! Next year I hope, lots of trees sure to be maples!

  11. Slackerjo says:

    My dad was a chemist by trade so he loved sitting in the sugar shack, reading, monitoring the boiling of sap. Make sure you have a good thermometer as towards the end process from sap to syrup happens very fast. He would also filter the final product through coffee filters to get all the bits of bark out of the final product.

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