Drill a hole through the bark, about 2 inches into the sapwood, angling the hole upward. Any reasonably sized drill bit can work, but many folks go with a 7/16 inch hole, which matches the commercially available tree taps known as spiles. Once you’ve drilled your hole, you can hammer in a spile and hang a bucket or jug on it to collect the sap.
If you can’t find a supplier for spiles, use whatever you have. Half-inch vinyl tubing works well, as will bamboo, PVC pipe and metal pipe pieces. All you really need is something to channel the sap to drip into your container. Plastic drinking water jugs are fine for sap collecting, as are the classic little metal buckets. In recent years, I’ve started using plastic vinegar jugs. These vinegar jugs are thicker walled and stronger than water jugs. This keeps your jugs from bursting due to freeze expansion. Does tapping hurt the tree? In short, the answer is no, as long as you don’t plunge your tap deeper than 2.5 inches, where it is possible to hit the heart of the tree.
Maple syrup is certainly the main tree sap sweetener in the world, and it’s known and exported worldwide. The sugar maple isn’t the only tree species that can provide us with tasty syrup. Sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis), birch trees (the genus Betula), and hickories (the genus Carya) can also be tapped for drinking water or boiled for syrup. Black birch is particularly delicious, with a rich flavor similar to wintergreen.
Walnut trees (the genus Juglans) are another option. These can be tapped for drinking water at the end of winter, or the sap can be collected and boiled down into syrup. Here’s the odd issue, though. Walnut trees have a small amount of iodine in the nuts and in their sap. When reduced and concentrated, the finished walnut syrup is sweet, but it also bears a slight bitterness that is briny, kelp-like and almost fishy (from the iodine). For that reason, walnut syrup is not particularly popular and is regarded as inferior to maple. But if you’re looking for something different and you use fish sauce in your cooking on a regular basis, you might like it. Otherwise, you may want to skip the walnuts for syrup production (and you’ll definitely want to skip them if you’re allergic to walnuts and other tree nuts).
While these tips are most commonly used with maples, they can also help you when tapping any species of tree.
- You’ll typically get the best sap flow on the south side of the tree (in the Northern Hemisphere), since that side has the most sun exposure and is naturally warmer.
- Put in one tap for each foot of diameter on the tree trunk.
- Younger trees are often more productive than older trees.
- If you’re using it for drinking water, drink it within a few days. The sap doesn’t keep long without souring.
- Treat sap like milk—keep it cold, keep it clean, and do something with it sooner rather than later.
- If the sap has turned cloudy and smells sour (usually after sitting for more than one week), it has become a breeding ground for bacteria and should be discarded.
- Collect your sap each day to avoid overflowing containers and wasted sap.
- The sap doesn’t run the same every day.
- Make as many taps as you can, to make this venture worthwhile.
With the largest pot you own and a reliable heat source, you can head outside and start boiling whenever you’ve collected “enough” sap from your trees. Boiling indoors is never a good solution, as every surface will soon be covered with condensed water. Boiling can be achieved over a wood fire or propane burner. Bring the sap to a boil and keep it boiling until it visibly thickens. It should look like new motor oil (in color and viscosity) when you are close to finishing. Dip a spoon into the syrup and pull out one spoonful of this amazing tree sugar. Allow it to cool for a moment and then see how it pours. If the syrup forms a curtain-like sheet off the spoon edge, you are done. If it is still runny, boil off more water. Be aware that there is a fine line between too watery and too dry. If you overcook the sap, it will crystalize into a solid upon cooling. This is fine, if you’re trying to make maple candy, but most people prefer syrup.
After hours and hours of boiling, you may get a tired of watching your cauldron bubble, but don’t give in to the temptation to wander off and work on some other project. If you leave your boiling pot unattended and the liquid level gets too low, it’s very possible to scorch your tree syrup. I know, I’ve done just that. The over-cooking of sugary substances has given the world some tasty treats (like toffee, for example). But if this over-cooking goes a shade too far, you’ll end up with burnt syrup that has a harsh and bitter flavor. Don’t waste hours of tapping, collecting and boiling. Watch your sap like a hawk as you near the end of the boiling process. If the scent changes and/or the color darkens quickly, pull the boiling pot off of the heat immediately. You’ll thank me for it.
Know your maple syrup numbers
MORE of the story and 4 more associated image’s / click image TOP of PAGE