There is absolutely nothing like homemade maple syrup. In this post, we’ll cover how to tap trees for syrup.
Tapping trees for syrup is a fun and rewarding homestead project that you can do in late Winter, early Spring, when most other homesteading chores are done.
It was one that I tried, just for the heck of it, and enjoyed SO much I went all in.
We add to our collection efforts every year and the sweet, all-natural amazing syrup we get at the end is just an added bonus.
Store bought “maple syrup” rarely even contains anything that’s even been in a tree. A popular brand that we all grew up eating contains:
- corn syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- cellulose gum (okay maybe this was once in a tree?)
- caramel color
- natural and artificial flavor
- sodium benzoate
- sorbic acid
- sodium hexametaphosphate
Not even close to real food.
We harvest enough every year to replace our sugar needs and are able to produce/harvest our own sweetener, as well as replaced processed sugar with a healthier alternative.
Tree sap not only transports nutrients and water throughout the tree, it acts as a natural band-aid when a tree is injured. As such, it is a natural antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent.
It can also help treat colds and sore throats when drank or chewed.
Tree sap can also be used to waterproof seams in boots, boats, and containers.
How to Tap Maple Trees For Syrup
Things to Prepare
You don’t need a lot of equipment to tap a single tree. But a lot of sap must be harvested to get a little bit of syrup, so the more trees you can tap the better.
There are two ways methods can use for tapping trees:
- you can use plastic taps with tubes to jugs or containers
- you can use metal taps that drip directly into metal buckets
Using metal is more costly in the beginning, but you can save in the long run.
Plastic containers are cheap, but you will need to replace them often.
For both metal and plastic methods, you will need a drill bit, a hammer, and a tap.
If you want to use metal, you will need steel buckets, lids, and hooks.
If you want to use plastic containers, you will need plastic gallons and a hose.
How Tapping Trees Works
Before you decide to tap a specific tree, it is good to understand why tapping trees works.
In tapping trees, we are collecting the tree’s sap.
Now, the sap of the tree is responsible for transporting necessary mineral nutrients and sugars to the other parts of the tree.
The tree sap is mostly made up of water, which gives it the ability to maintain turgor pressure.
There are two forms of sap–one coming from the roots up, and the other coming from the leaves down.
The first one is a watery sap, as this happens when the tree pulls water from the soil through the roots, as it needs to get mineral nutrients.
The latter, however, is sugary, as it has processed its food through photosynthesis.
When to Tap Trees
With this in mind, the best time to tap trees is during the cold season.
Sugaring season starts once the temperature at night is below freezing, and the daytime temperature are above the 40s.
This also happens to be the best time to pierce a tree’s bark because the end of sugaring season signals the beginning of the growing season and the tree will heal itself nicely.
Sugaring season can also last 4-6 weeks depending on your weather, so be prepared for the long haul.
The first step is to find a good spot to pierce through. A good way is to spot huge roots. Where huge roots are, there lies a great flow of sap.
If there are no huge roots visible, find where most of your strong branches are.
That side of the trunk is where most of the sap passes. After finding a good spot, use your drill bit to drill a hole to your trunk.
You can poke a hole that’s 2 inches deep for a trunk with a diameter of at least 10 inches.
Certain trees have a diameter of 18 inches and 25 inches, and these trees can stand 2 and 3 taps respectively.
Drill a hole around 2 to 4 inches above the ground if you’re using plastic taps and hoses, making sure that you have tilted your drill at around a 5-degree angle upwards.
Once you have drilled a hole, quickly place your tap, and tap it in using the hammer.
Don’t drive it in too deep so you can easily untuck it once you decide to stop tapping.
If you are using stainless steel, hang the steel bucket using your hooks and cover it with the lid to avoid unwanted objects to get into your bucket.
For the plastic containers, insert the spile to your hose and place your plastic gallon on the ground. You can tie a rope around your gallon to make sure it doesn’t tilt or spill.
At the beginning of the season, check the sap every day. Depending on your trees, the weather and your equipment you may need to harvest the sap daily or every few days. You be the judge.
You can choose to transfer the sap to another container or switch to another bucket or jug.
But, if you are using plastic gallons, it is better that you use another jug. This way, it’s easier and makes the job faster.
Place your sap in the fridge and keep it there until you’re ready to turn it into sweet syrup.
Sap consists mostly of water, so you have to heat it to let the water evaporate.
Large operations or old-timey places have what they call a “sugar shack” where they heat the syrup in large vats over wood fire. The fire much be tended and the sap carefully watched to prevent burning, but the smell is just to die for!
I cook mine down in my instantpot. It’s a little more forgiving, but still needs to be watched closely.
Wisdom from Old-Timers
- Tap the South side of a tree
- Tap under a large branch
- Tap over a large root
- Drill the hole will one in and out motion
- Drill the hole 1 1/2-2″ deep
- Stop hammering in the tap with the sound of the hammer changes
Now that you had a glimpse of how you can tap trees to collect their sap and turn it into syrup, you are good to go! Have fun tapping trees and happy homesteading!