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Maple Tapping 101: How To Get Started

Posted by Julie Fryer on

Have you been waiting to try this hobby because it seems too complicated? We promise (and really, we’re not biased!!) that this is one of the easiest to learn and most fun for the family hobbies we’ve ever tried. Seriously give it a go this year, we know you’ll like it! And with all the great resources here at Maple Tapper, you’ll always have support if you get stuck which you won’t because it’s super easy and of course, the book that comes with each kit explains all this stuff in thorough detail with photos (you an order a starter kit right here)! Okay, so enough of the pep talk . . . here’s three simple preseason steps you can do right now:

Step #1 (time required: approximately 15 minutes): Assemble your tools (most of which you probably have in the garage and kitchen already). Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Well-charged cordless drill (or hand brace) with a 5/16” wood-boring drill bit marked at 1 ½” (with marker or masking tape) from the tip
  • A small hammer
  • Spiles (the technical term for taps!) and either tubing or an all-in-one system. The tubes are nice because they store flat but it’s totally your choice.
  • Collection containers such as buckets or gallon jugs with lids. Avoid containers that have held milk, pickle juice, or oily substances and do not wash with dish soap – these all can impart weird flavors to your sap.
  • Syrup making filters – washable and reusable
  • Kitchen utensils; pots for cooking; a way to boil your sap (we still use our “turkey cooker” which works great for small batches); and glass jars with lids.

Step #2 (time required 5 minutes or less): Find a tree or two. The best choice for the sweetest syrup is to tap a sugar (or hard) maple tree but you can also try silver maple, box elder, or even birch (much more info on that in our book.). The best way to identify a sugar maple is to go out in the fall and a) look at the leaf color – sugar maples typically have the most colorful red, orange, or yellow leaves or b) look for the seeds (those little “helicopter” seeds we played with as kids). Hard maples drop seeds in the late summer or early fall and soft maples drop seeds in spring and early summer. Over the entire season, you can expect approximately 10- to 12-gallons of sap per taphole which will boil down to about one quart of syrup. Trees can handle more than one tap but make sure you as a new sugarmaker can handle more than 10 gallons! You do not have to own a plot of land in the country to find maple trees. Town syrup is just as sweet as country syrup – this tree is literally at the base of our back steps and last season we collected over 12 gallons of sap (and if you look closely, you’ll see it’s also a silver maple which made delicious syrup.)

Step #3 (time required 30 seconds per day): Watch the weather. Now comes the waiting and watching portion of this hobby (we know, this is kind of like other parts of winter.) What you’re looking for is a forecast that includes a pattern of cold nights but warming days. Sap starts to run when nighttime temps fall below freezing but daytime temps get into the 40°Fs. This usually happens around late February and once you see this pattern, it’s time to get out there and tap your trees (yay, finally!!). Don’t try to get a head start by tapping before this weather pattern emerges – that could cause your spile to freeze inside the taphole which could damage the tree. Don’t worry, tapping is so quick you don’t need to do it ahead of time!

That’s it for preseason prep! Now click over to "How to Tap Trees" for the next step; and if you really want to know it all, check out “How to Filter Your Sap” and “How to Boil Your Sap into Syrup”; and if you’re hungry, browse through our recipe library under “How to Cook with Maple Syrup.” And if you’re still wondering what to do, email me at julie@mapletapper.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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