How to Tap Maple Trees for Sap

Preparing buckets and equipment for maple syrup season.March came in like a lion with frigid days and blowing snow. Warmer weather is headed our way. Cold nights and 40-degree days are ideal conditions for maple sap collection. Soon we’ll have buckets filled to the brim — that’s the hope, anyway. We’ve been collecting sap and making maple syrup for several years. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but I’d love to show you what works for us in hopes that you, too, can enjoy the sweet sensations of the season.

Basic Supplies: drill bit, spiles, and collection method (bags or buckets)

We’ve used everything from tin cans to plastic bags to buckets to collect our sap. The bags were a hassle on windy days. The tin buckets were fine but they were suspended from the spiles, putting a lot of pressure on it and the tree as they filled. This year we’re trying tree saver taps and spiles. They come with blue, three-foot drop line tubes that drain directly into our buckets.

Drilling holes in bucket lids.Food-grade, BPA-free 5-gallon buckets and lids are available from Amazon and many other suppliers. We purchased ours at the local Tractor Supply for $3.99. The lids were $1.89 each. The boys drilled a hole in the lids to fit the tubing, then we washed, rinsed and dried them. Before you collect the sap, be sure to sterilize the containers.

Wash sap collection containers in a solution of 20 parts hot water to 1 part bleach.

Wash sap collection buckets in  20:1 water to bleach solution.Drilling the holes can be tricky, but with a few tips and the right tools you’ll have your spiles inserted in no time. Many maple tree tapping kits come with a particular drill bit (5/16″ is most common), but if you decide to use what you have, remember this:

Drill a 1 ½-inch deep hole into the maple tree with a wood-boring 5/16 inch drill bit

Trees should be at least 12 inches in diameter. Drill your holes approximately 36-48 inches from the ground, but double check the length of your tubing before taking aim. Make sure the tubing will reach into the bucket, plastic jug, or whatever you’re using to collect the sap.

Drilling a hole for the stile.To ensure you drill to proper depth, wrap a piece of tape around the bit at the 1 ½-inch mark. Drill at a slight upward angle. The cream-colored shavings will come out with the bit. Don’t blow into the hole. You’ll only contaminate it.

Tapping a stile into the maple tree.

Insert the spile into the hole and gently tap with a hammer.

The spile will remain in the tree throughout the season. Stop collecting sap and remove the spiles when the trees grow buds (or when you’ve collected as much sap as you want or need). The tree will heal itself through the year and you can tap it again next season.

Tapping trees for maple syrup.We usually put two taps in large trees. Somewhere I read that tapping them on the sunny side is more productive, though I do not know if that holds water er, sap. I do know that each tap hole usually produces 10-12 gallons of sap through the season, but of course many factors influence that number, too. One thing that may astonish you if you have never boiled maple sap …

It takes about 12 gallons of sap to boil down to 1 quart of syrup

Yeah, that’s a lot of sap for a little bit of syrup. Now you know why it’s expensive … liquid gold!

Two taps in a maple tree, draining into a food grade 5-gallon bucket.The buckets should be emptied every day. If not, bacteria will grow and eat the sugar in the sap. It won’t hurt people because it has to be boiled into tarnation, but the bacteria will eat up all your sweet stuff and the syrup won’t be as delicious as usual. You can refrigerate the sap for a day or so until you have enough to boil. We boiled ours on the stove the first year because we collected sap from just one tree … baby steps.

More about boiling the sap into syrup in another post. For now, check out the information here and get tappin’!

 

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