Nothing makes me happier than tapping maple trees. It is always a sign that warmer weather is on the horizon. It may not be for another month, but you know its coming. The days are getting longer, and the sun feels just a little warmer. Usually we tap trees in early February. However, in the last few years there has been sap flowing in late January, so this year we are taking advantage of this run and tapping early. Maple sap runs through the tree when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below at night. So today we set out to tap knowing it will be in the 40s the next two weekends. It seems like whenever we tap trees there is snow on the ground, the woods are always quiet and beautiful, today the sun glistened off the powdery snow. You just had to take a deep breath and enjoy that crisp sterile air. We carry all of our supplies in buckets. You only need a 7/16 drill, a hammer, some taps, and a bucket. We carry a few extra items but they all fit in a five gallon pail.
To tap the tree we drill a 2″ deep hole in the sunny side of the tree, trying to avoid areas that were tapped before. We make sure not to over tap the trees. A healthy tree 10 to 17 inches in diameter should have no more than one tap. A tree 18 to 24 inches, no more that two taps. A tree larger than 25 inches, no more than 3 taps. We use plastic tubing and plastic taps. Last year I was smart enough to label my taps so I knew where they went this year, brilliant! Now you may be asking yourself, what is the thermos for? We fill the thermos with boiling water, and when we have to install any kind of fitting in the plastic line, it needs to be warmed up by dipping in the hot water so that it slips right in.
There is nothing like being alone in the woods and methodically going tree to tree setting up your taps. Sometimes we string several trees together on one line. That’s when you need fittings and the hot water, though often I wish it was full of coffee, which I suppose it could be, it would heat just the same.
When we tap a tree, we drill in two inches and place the tap in the hole. You gently drive the tap with a hammer until you hear a dull thud. If you go any further, you can split the bark and have a leaky tap. I love to hear that dull thud over and over again, as it means we are making progress, and it is a little bit of a reward for all the slipping down the bank, and snow in your gloves.
Once the trees are tapped, the lines are run into buckets. Tapping day is the best day of what we call sap season, it doesn’t even feel like work and you are so happy to be out in nature. We run about 60 taps, tapping various types of maples which are all good for syrup. Now it is time to wait for the first run. Checking the buckets for sap is like the chicken farmer looking for eggs. It’s such a joy to see a full bucket. Sometimes I even need to canoe to get the sap. Every 5 gallon pail becomes a pint of syrup. Sap comes out of the tree with about a 2% sugar content. It must be boiled to 66.7% sugar and that’s when the work comes in. But today is just a day to enjoy in the woods or sugar bush as it is sometimes called. A day to think about spring. A day to look at rabbit tracks as you go. So much work on the homestead can be rewarding both physically and mentally, and tapping trees definitely qualifies. This year we are trying some new glass containers and hope they will make our syrup look as good as it tastes. There is nothing like wood fired maple syrup. You can’t buy it in a store, that flavor is impossible to duplicate on a large scale. We are making liquid gold.