Making maple syrup is an excellent spring activity to get outside, enjoy your trees, and make something truly valuable! This picture guide goes through the steps I take to make maple syrup. Everything you need to know is covered in 3 articles, corresponding with the 3 main steps in maple sugaring!
A lot of literature I’ve read on maple sugaring makes it sound really difficult, to be honest. But after I finally dove in and started making maple syrup, I discovered, much to my surprise, that it is actually quite straightforward! In this article, I will walk you through the procedure and equipment I use, so that hopefully you can find it simple as well. I hope you find this useful!
This is part 1 of a 3 part series on how to make your own maple syrup. These are the links to the other articles in this series:
- Making Maple Syrup – Part 1 – How to Tap Maple Trees for Sap
- Making Maple Syrup – Part 2 – How to Boil Maple Sap
- Making Maple Syrup – Part 3 – How to Perfect the Finishing Boil
What I Use:
How to Tap Maple Trees for Sap
The first step in tapping trees for maple syrup is to identify that you have access to the correct type of trees to tap.
Identify Your Maple Trees
Any tree in the maple family can be tapped for syrup, but some syrup tastes better than others. The best type of tree to tap is the sugar maple, but over the years my family has also tapped silver maples, red maples, and even box-elder (black maple!) trees. But sugar maples will give you, hands-down, the best tasting syrup, so shoot for those if it all possible.
If you don’t already know which are your sugar maple trees when spring comes, it can be tough because the leaves are gone! Try to find some leaves from last fall to help you identify them, otherwise, you can identify sugar maple trees by their rough distinctive bark.
Your trees should be a minimum of 10″ in diameter (at eye level) before tapping them. Larger trees can handle more than one tap. In general you can add a tap for every 5″ in diameter above 10″. For example, a tree more than 15″ in diameter can handle 2 taps, and 20″ can handle 3 taps, etc….
When to Tap Trees
You tap maple trees in the spring when the temperatures are getting warmer. You want the temperature to alternate above freezing in the day, and below freezing at night. In fact, the sap runs best when you have temperatures below freezing at night, and in the 40’s during the day.
Because of these temperature requirements, the maple tapping season usually occurs in March for most locations, but can run anytime from February to April depending on the year. Once the temperature stays above freezing at night or buds appear on the trees, the tapping season is over.
Setting the Taps
In order to set your taps, I recommend using the 5/16″ taps. In the past, 7/16″ taps were common. The nice thing about using small diameter spiles is that the tree can fully heal up in 1 year, rather than several years as it can take with larger diameter holes drilled into them, and the amount of sap you get is the same.
Below is a comparison of a fresh hole (left), and one that is one year old (on the right), where you can see the 1 yr old hole has been nicely healed over by the tree.
To set the taps, use a cordless drill with a 5/16″ bit on it.
Drill a hole in the tree at a slight incline upward so that the sap will run down through the spile.
The distance from the ground is dictated by the length of tubing you are using. The length of the tubing I use is about 18 inches, so I drill holes at about 20″ – 24″ off the ground.
Drill the hole about 1.5″ to 2.5″ deep and no deeper. Though, in general, the deeper you tap, the more sap you will get, you also need to consider the health of the tree.
Use the drill bit to clean out the hole of any sawdust. Then align your tapping spile.
Use a rubber mallet to tap the spile into the hole.
Here is the spile in the hole.
Put the other end of the tubing into your collection container. I’ve used cleaned out empty milk jugs. I like to try to seal the top if possible, so I drill a hole in the milk jug cap to run the tubing through. While not strictly necessary, it does help to keep out rain, bark, and bugs.
Run the tubing down to the milk jugs.
Set the jugs on ground that is as flat as possible.
Check the taps every day and empty the jugs of sap or swap them out with empties. Collect the sap and keep it in a cool shady place. Wait until you have at least 5-10 gallons before you start boiling.
I usually boil the sap in batches of 5 gallons.