Mmmm. Maple syrup. Sweet, pure, natural goodness poured onto some pancakes for breakfast. If this sounds good to you, then you have two options. Go buy some at the store (warning: it’s expensive!), or make some yourself (warning II: it takes lots of time!). Did you opt for making some yourself? Well then right now is the best (and only) time of the year to make it! You better go and tap some sugar maple trees to start your process.
The source of all maple syrup is the maple tree. In colder climates these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter. Through a process called mapelization (just kidding, totally made that word up), the tree converts the starch into a delicious tasting sugar. During the spring, when temperatures get above freezing during the day, sap thaws out and runs up the tree. Along the journey up the tree, it brings up the sugar produced by the tree over the winter. If you want to get maple syrup, you have to tap into that tree when the sap is running up the tree. This only happens in the Springtime when the temperature alternates between freeze/thaw. Depending on where you are in the country, this ranges anywhere from February to April. Here in Ohio, that time is now! The sap runs usually only last 4-6 weeks out of the whole year, so there is no procrastinating in the world of maple syrup production!
Find the Source of the Maple Syrup: Maple Trees
First, you have to find maple trees. But make sure that the trees you select are actually maple trees and that they are big enough to tap! I wrote a post on how to identify maples trees in the summertime. If you waited until just now to identify the trees, it might be a little bit more difficult to find them than it was back in the summer. But it is still possible. After you find the trees, you can get tapping.
What You’ll Need
Here is what you’ll need to tap your maple trees:
- A collection bucket (or some type of container like a milk jug)
- 7/16″” drill bit
The only specialized item is the spile. This is the metal piece that you stick into the tree that allows the maple sap to drip out of the tree into your bucket. I bought the spiles and a couple of other supplies from Sugar Bush Supplies. It is a little place in Michigan with about any supplies that you’ll need for making maple syrup. Unfortunately, you have to order from them the old fashioned way. Calling them on the phone. But hey, if we’re making maple syrup the old fashioned way, I’m ok with that.
Start Tapping Those Trees
After finding your trees, you need to drill a hole into the tree just deep enough to stick the spile into the tree. Most spiles are 7/16″ in diameter so this is the size of drill bit that you’ll need.It is best to drill the hole on the south side of the tree. This is the side that gets the most sunlight throughout the day and therefore thaws out the fastest to allow the sap to run up the tree. You can drill the hole at about chest level.
Once you’ve drilled the hole, the spile goes right into the hole. It will be a tight fit (we want the spile to actually stay in the tree), so you’ll need to lightly tap it into the hole with a hammer.
Hang the Containers to Collect the Sap
Drip, drip, drip. That’s what will happen after tapping the spile into the tree. But where do these drips go? Unfortunately, the ground doesn’t do much good for saving that sap. We’ll have to hang a container to collect those drips. In the old days, the standard collection container was a 16qt aluminum bucket with a lid on top. However, these can get expensive if you are tapping very many trees. A cheap alternative? Milk jugs. At our household, we go through about 4 gallons a week so it’s pretty easy to save up some jugs.
Before going and using that milk jug, make sure to wash it out! Spoiled milk in our sap wouldn’t exactly enhance the flavor of the syrup. After washing it out, cut a small hole just at the top of the milk jug. This hole is how the milk jug will hang on the spile.
Collect the Sap
Until someone invents milk jugs with legs or one of those “Here we go” dogs like in the BudLight commercial, we’ll have to go collect the sap every day. On the best days, you’ll get over a gallon of sap per day per tree. I’ve went out to the trees and sap was dripping down the tree because the jugs were overflowing. Since I only tap 5-6 trees, a 5 gallon bucket serves me well to carry the sap back in. At the end of sap season, you’ll have the traps you’ve always dreamed of! (you know, those muscles between your shoulder and neck?) Just kidding. Who, besides bodybuilders, actually dreams of having monster traps?