Since our young married couple days, before we were beyond busy with our two ornery boys, my husband and I have had a passion for the old ways. We crave a simpler existence, a connection with the land and our ancestral traditions, the ways that are all but forgotton due to our modern age. Unlike my pre-kids days, when I was obsessed with living like a hippy, I now have come to appreciate the time in which we live. We are so incredibly blessed and I have a healthy balance of the old and new in my life, but that is a subject for another article. You are here to read how our family taps sugar maple trees, which is an extraordinary homeschool, or after school project you can do as a family.
A little disclaimer: Be prepared to put in quite a bit of time and effort into this, and be prepared to work. Our process is very cheap and simple; anyone with a few maple trees can do this if they are willing. Keep in mind it takes 40 gallons of raw tree sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. In this article I will only be discussing how to tap the tree, and in a later article how to make the syrup; which is just boiling it down for a long period of time. Do you have the patience of the pioneers? You’ll soon find out!
What you’ll need:
1/2″ and 3/8″ wood drill bits
Several recycled milk jugs with caps (1 or 2 per tree)
9/16″ O.D 3/8″ I.D clear rubber hose (hardware store)
3/8″ plastic barbed elbow
Tie wire (or anything that can be used to secure jug to tree)
Pocket knife – Wire Snips – Hammer
And of course some sugar maple trees, here is what you need to know:
A tree that is around 12″ in diameter is best with a single tap. Trees that 24″ and bigger can have two taps. We tap eight trees with single taps, which produce more than enough sap.
Sugar maples will have woodpecker holes, because they love the sap too!
Many times you will see a tree that has a dark wet appearance on one side, this is from the sap running out of the fresh holes the woodpeckers have made. It is easiest to identify and mark the tree in spring or summer before when their leaves are green.
Now you will need to determine the south side of the tree with the biggest root, the side that sees the most sun. This is a learning opportunity for the kiddos to learn about direction and using a compass. My husband, using the compass app on his phone, determines the south side of the tree, then you are ready to drill a hole. Note: if you are tapping a previously tapped tree your new tap needs to be six inches away from the old hole.
Hold the drill at an upward angle and drill a hole with the 3/8 bit approximately 1 inch deep. The hole should be about knee high, or 2 feet.
When the sap is running during the day it will start to trickle out of the hole.
Determine the length of your hose by streching it out from the hole to almost to the ground. Cut the length and then attach the barded elbow to one end. Insert the tap into the hole.
Now you will want to tap the tap using your hammer, until it is snug. We forgot a hammer, so we used the butt end of the drill. We DO NOT recommend this!
Now carefully drill the milk jug cap with your 1/2″ drill bit. The size difference assures that it will fit nice and snug, which otherwise you would have ants or rainwater get into your sap! Note: we prefer plastic milk jug caps because they bend and stretch easily.
Place the opposite end of the rubber tube onto to cap.
Then, screw the cap onto the milk jug, lean it against the tree and grab the tie wire and snips. You can see the little beads of sap already running down into the jug.
Take the tie wire, wrap it around the tree and through the jug handle. This will keep the jug secure and critters from running off with your jug. Yes, we’ve actually had this happen!
And now you are set up and ready to collect some sap, which by the way look exactly like water. When the days are ideal: above 40 degrees in the day and freezing at night you should collect at least a gallon a day off a single decent producing tree.
On warmer days you need to collect the sap daily, on colder days you will usually collect less sap. Raw sap keeps for two days in warmer temperatures. As we collect ours we keep it outside because we still have cooler temperatures, but you can also keep it in the fridge if you like to play it safe.
We usually collect about 10 gallons before we start to boil it down, which will make about 2 pints of delicious maple syryp. We will be publishing another article soon that demonstrates how to boil down sap over a wood fire or stove top.
Other tidbits to know: Sugar Maple tapping season in our area (the Ozarks) is in February. The sap runs best when the days are at or above 40, and the nights are still chilly.
I hope this article inspires you to try sugar maple tapping! A lot of work, but the fruits of your labor are sweetly delicious and nutritious. If you have any questions please ask them in the comments or shoot me an email and we will do our best to answer them. God Bless!