By Scott Ervin, Lehman’s Hardware
There is an abundance of sources for information on how to tap trees and make maple syrup. How-to guides are readily available on line and in books. I picked up a great book at Lehman’s that was very helpful. I recommend that anyone interested in making maple syrup for the first time study this readily available information carefully before embarking on your quest for delicious homemade syrup.
However, while the book and websites gave me enough info to get the job done, there were still a few things I had to learn the hard way. It is my hope that the following tips will help you to avoid the pit-falls that I stepped into during my rookie season.
#1–Mark the trees you wish to tap in the summer, when the trees still have leaves. Trying to determine which trees are maples from the bark or from memory will almost certainly lead to tapping non-maples, which will produce a small fraction of the sap the maples will provide.
#2–You want to tap the south face of the tree, however, be willing to vary from due south. Tapping beneath a large branch or above a large root will typically provide the best flow.
#3–If you have a tap that is producing less sap than other taps, re-tap it right away. Don’t leave the slow producing tap, hoping that it will improve its flow; it won’t. Tap a new hole, no closer than 6” from other holes, then you are likely to improve your results.
#4–I recommend using large buckets that sit on the ground and have a sealed lid for collecting the sap. I found that during peak flow times, smaller buckets filled faster than I had time to collect the sap, resulting in wasted sap. Also, when I didn’t use a sealed lid, curious or hungry critters knocked over the buckets and ants got in the buckets.
#5–When using a bucket that sets on the ground you should connect a rubber hose from the spile to the bucket. Make sure to drill a hole in the top of the bucket that is not too large, allowing the hose to fit snugly; otherwise ants will get in through the hole.
#6–I was amazed how long it takes to boil off the water. It was hard for me to find the time to boil it down before the sap had a chance to spoil. Luckily I piled snow on the north face of my house where it is out of the sun this time of year. I stored the sap in the snow bank until I had time to boil it down. I suppose you could use coolers with ice or a refrigerator if you have them available.
#7–As noted above, it takes a lot of time to boil off the water, probably more than you are anticipating. This in turn means it takes a lot of fuel. Whether you are using wood, propane, natural gas or other, make sure you have plenty on hand. I ran out of propane twice which delayed the process and the trees were producing faster than I could keep up.