Here’s a fun little project for you. Now is the time for tapping maple trees! You’ve walked under the maple trees when they were weeping and that is on those warm sunny days after a good cold spell. The greater the differential between day and night temperatures, the better the sap flow. I look for a spell of high pressure weather with clear cold nights when the blanket of clouds is pulled back and lets out all the heat and we get a good frost. Then the sun comes out and man that sap starts a runnin’. Hmm how to catch it and what to do with it?
The Native Americans used to gather the sap in hollowed trough like logs and then added rd hot rocks to boil the water out of the sap until the sweet syrup was left. They taught this to the Europeans who took it to another level with their metal containers and such. I have made maple syrup for 20 some years after I apprenticed on a small farm that ran about 1500 tap in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It was hard work hauling all that sap, chopping wood, wading through the wet ’sugar snow’. Sugar snow was what the locals called the wet snow that came down in huge flakes that signaled the end of a front an the inevitable clearing that would give us those frosty nights and delightful first sunny , warm days that hinted of an end to winter. Perhaps the greatest delight for me was the Grandma of the house would make us huge lunches and the best part of lunch was when she made rutabagas and potatoes and laced them heavily with butter and just the right amount of maple syrup. She’d laugh as I’d get up and get my 3rd bowl full.
Before I invested in an evaporator pan, buckets and metal taps I came up with a make shift system of collecting sap and it is this I wanted to share with you. You’ll need a milk jug, two inch piece of elderberry stalk or sumac (something that has a big pith in the center you can easily poke out. I guess you could drill a hole through a dowel if you were that talented.) I usually collect the wood for my taps earlier in the year so they can dry out. They then swell in the hole and make a good seal. For now green will work but go back and tap it in tight with a hammer as the season progresses. You’ll need a 1/2 inch drill bit and drill and that should do it. Oh year a maple tree would help, but a birch, and I’ve heard a walnut will work as well.
A sugar maple is the primo tree followed by the red, norway, silver and if its all you got the boxelder maple will give you a refreshing lot of water better for sugar avoiding diabetics. Drill a hole about 3 feet up the trunk say 2 inches deep. Put a small downward angle to the hole to encourage gravity to work on your behalf. I like to tap the south side as it warms up the earliest. Your tap should have a nice taper shaved on the end and fit snug when tapped into the hole. Now I take a very clean milk jug and cut the top very nearly off but leave a small hinge in from of the handle so there is somewhat of a lid. just below the new rim of the bucket I cut a hole just under size of the tap so when slipped onto the tap it is a tight fit as the bucket may slip off when full which is a total bummer. On a good day it is not unusual for this to fill twice!
What on Earth to do with all that sap. If you are planning just to utilize the sap raw for a refreshing drink there isnt much need to have but one tap. It makes for a very refresshing beverage just slightly sweet. It makes great tea water or add a little fruit essence. We have some fuzzy kiwis that just wont sweeten up so I’m going to try mixing some of them in with the sap. If you are ready to take it to the next level like us, and boil some off for syrup I would recommend 3-6 taps and this amount kept on the wood stove to replace your humidfier should produce enough syrup for a breakfast or two. If you are a numbers person, it takes somewhere between 30-40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. Yes , very carbon intensive and something to consider if you are going to boil it down. I dont feel so bad about our system as it is at least a 3 fold gain. We are using the heat from our wood stove, we are getting humidity, a little syrup, let’s not negate the connection with the neighbors as I am borrowing their trees, and plus, the other neighbor’s kids pulled themselves away from video games to see what I was doing.
That should get you started in the wonderful world of maple sap. Enjoy!