Late winter and early spring is the time to tap your trees, you are looking for temperatures in the 40's during the day and the 20's at night, it is that freeze/thaw period which helps to stimulate the flow of sap and create the pressure needed to collect it. In our area that is usually late February or early march but, this year we have seen warmer than average temps and perfect weather to start now in early February!
So how do you tap a tree?
We use a 5/16" drill bit to drill a hole about 3 feet from the ground into the tree, you want a slight upward angle to a depth of 2 1/2 inches, once you have drilled your hole, insert a spile (tap) into your hole and use a hammer... we prefer a rubber mallet and lightly tap your spile to fit snug into the tree trunk, do not insert it too deeply because going too deep may result in splitting the wood around your tap and you will lose sap! did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup? So you want to collect every drop you can with out losing any of it!
After you have the tap secure in the tree you have several options to collect sap. You can simply hang a bucket on the tap itself and collect the sap, if you choose this method you will want to cover the bucket with a lid to keep rain, snow and dirt out!
The method we prefer is to use old gallon water/milk jugs, drill a hole into the lid of the jug to securely fit the end of a food grade tubing which is attached to the end of the spile, this keeps everything closed and does not allow rain, snow, dirt or insects to get into the sap!
The gallon container sits at the base of the tree and we secure it with rocks or sticks to prevent it from being knocked over! Check your trees daily and harvest the sap regularly to prevent over filling of the containers and loss of sap! you can store the sap in a refrigerator for up to 7 days before using it!
That's all there is to collecting the sap and when the conditions are right you should get a good flow of sap which will put you on your way to making syrup
You can tap any maple tree! red, silver, black or sugar maple but the sugar maples have a better output of sap production making them the preferred variety. I have heard you can also tap black walnut and birch trees but, we have not tried anything besides maple!
The diameter of the tree determines how many taps you can put into the tree;
Do not tap a tree less that 10" in diameter!
10" to 14" 1 tap, 15" to 19" 2 taps, 20"to 24" 3 taps.
You want to collect sap until the tree starts to bud out, after that the sap produced will make your syrup bitter and make sure to remove the taps at the end of the season, the tree will close and heal itself and claim your tap if you fail to remove it!
I will do another blog post later to show how to boil the sap down and make syrup!
Give it a try, this is a great family activity and there is nothing quite like having pancakes with syrup that you produced yourself!