Monday, February 27

Sugaring or Tapping Maple Trees

Making Syrup From Maple Trees
I am so excited about having the baby chicks, that the other morning I decided to walk across the street and tell our neighbors. Rachel and Tad have 5 beautiful children they are home schooling, so I thought seeing and holding the chicks would be fun and educational for them.

After inviting Rachel and the kids over to see the chicks and then staying to talk for a few minutes, Rachel said” oh, I have something for you, homemade maple syrup.”
Rachel handed me a pint of golden brown syrup and she and the kids took me outside to see the maple tree taps and to watch the sap dripping into buckets.
I got really excited because I realized we have many maple trees in our own yard!

I hurried home and after scouting out which trees I was sure were maple trees, I started doing an internet search.
I goggled how to tap the trees, where to purchase the spiles (tree taps) and the whole process of making maple syrup.  I learned that Ohio is ranked in the top 5 states in maple syrup production.

Large Maples in my own back yard

There are quite a few websites offering spiles for sale, but most are not local, so mail order, which would take a week to two for the spiles to arrive.

From what I had read on many websites, the tree tapping period for Ohio maple trees is in its final stages, so I needed spiles ASAP!
I decided to call our local Tractor Supply store, who then called other local Tractor Supply stores until they found taps in their Heath store.
My husband Bill just happened to be out in that area, so he stopped and picked them up for me.

Me at Slate Run Historical Farm

We went on Saturday to Slate Run Historical Farm to watch their late 1800's style tree tapping and maple syrup process.  It was a fun and educational day, and great to find out a little more history on the subject.

History of Maple Tree Tapping:

The production of maple syrup has been an activity of early spring since the pre-Columbian era in America.
American Indians would gash the maple trees, collect the sap and boil it down. There is no record of who actually invented the process of making maple syrup, but one Iroquois legend tells of Woksis, an Indian chief, pulling his tomahawk from a maple tree and going off on a hunt. The weather was warm and the gash dripped sap into a bark vessel under the tree.
My grandmother was American Indian, so the story and history were special to me.

Which Maple Trees To Tap:

Three species of maple trees are predominantly used to produce maple syrup and related products:
The sugar maple, the black maple, and the red maple, because of their high sugar content.
The sap of a maple tree comes out clear and very watery. It only contains a little sugar, about 2 to 4%.  It usually takes about 10 gallons of sap to produce 1 quart of syrup.

If you are not familiar with trees or how to identify a maple, I suggest you do an internet search, purchase a tree book from a local book store or check one out from the local library.

Trees should be at least 10 to 12 inches in diameter (across) but in recent years many syrup producers have gone to a more conservative tapping guideline using trees that are 12 to 18 inches in diameter.
Measure the width of the tree about 4 ½ feet from the ground.

Old tree tap and new at Slate Run Historical Farm
Does Tapping Hurt The Tree

Tapping a tree does create a wound, but it is a wound from which the tree can readily recover and does not endanger the health of the tree. Commercial syrup producers are able to tap trees for decades without adversely affecting the health of the tree. A vigorous tree will heal, or grow over, a tap hole in one year.

When To Tap:

Sap flow occurs during the dormant season, after the trees lose their leaves and when cool nighttime temperatures are below freezing followed by days when there is a rapid warming above freezing, ideally to about 40F.

Tapping for maple sap is generally done only in the spring when sap sugar content is highest.
Tap when suitable weather is predicted or watch the weather. Tapping can begin as soon as the end of January in some areas, if weather conditions are ideal.

In central Ohio, the best sap for maple syrup flows during February and early March.  The sap of a maple tree comes out clear and very watery.
Remember:  Sap contains a sugar content of about 2 to 4% and usually takes about 10 gallons of sap to produce 1 quart of syrup.

How We Tapped Our Maple Trees:

We have 10 sugar maple trees, maybe more if I search behind the barns. 

I started with a tape measure to make sure the trees were large enough to tap. A few of them are large enough to have two spiles each, but we will only install one.

Next we found a smooth spot on the tree, (as smooth as a maple trees can be) so the buckets would hang better.

We used a portable battery operated screwdriver with a 7/16 inch bit to drill the hole.

The hole needs to be drilled at a slight upward angle so the sap will flow down the spile into the bucket.

The hole also needs to be drilled about 1 ½ to 2 inches deep.

Make sure to clean the wood shaving out of the drilled hole as much as possible.

Next insert the spile into the hole, (it will barely go in). Use a hammer and tap the spile firmly into the hole so it's snug.

Hang a clean bucket, milk jug or container under the spile to catch the sap, and make sure to cover your container so leaves, debris or rain do not get in the sap.


This is our first year to do the tapping, so I started out pretty cheaply.

The spiles cost us $2.99 a piece at Tractor Supply.

We copied our neighbors and purchased inexpensive (cheap) buckets at the Dollar Store and also used clean milk jugs.

In all honesty, the milk jugs so far work the best.
The first couple ones we used, we cut a large hole in the top. Not a good idea. Once the wind hits the milk jugs (and buckets too) they swing all over and some of the sap is lost or doesn't even make it into the containers.
This is a trial and error operation, haha.

We decided to place a wire around each bucket to secure them to the trees and prevent movement.
I also covered the buckets with plastic.

The next couple of milk jugs we used, I cut a much smaller hole and secured the jugs very close to the spile. Although milk jugs do not look as nice nor as "romantic" I suppose as the common metal sap buckets,  they works perfectly!

Old canning jar collecting sap

It is an amazing site to go out first thing in the morning, like this morning and see the buckets and jugs nearly full! And the sugaring coming in February helps get me outside and gives me something to look forward to this time of year.  February and March seem so long as I wait for Spring and gardening, this will help move time along for me.
So far we have gotten 5 gallons of sap in a little over 24 hours.

I am keeping the sap cold and tomorrow I start the boiling process!

More info: 

Maple Syrup Making

Turning Sap Into Syrup

Malabar Farm Sugaring Festival

Homemade Waffle Recipe

Ohio Maple Syrup

National Maple Syrup Festival

“A sap-run is the sweet good-by of winter.
It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and frost.”
~John Burroughs, Signs and Seasons, 1886~


Donna said...

I am so happy for you!
This is so exciting.
My dad would tell stories of how he & his dad would gather the sap, and boil it down for the syrup..I would guess the year would be in the early 1920's..

Elizabeth said...

Thanks Donna.
I love hearing the old stories and history of maple tree tapping and syrup making.
What a real American tradition!
Would love to see some of those old photos from the 1920's showing the maple syrup process. I don't think much has changed for the small syrup producer.

Anonymous said...

I swear, the psychic is really up for me...I was just looking at maple syrup last night at the local Pick'n Save and wondering what it would taste like in my tea! I use honey all the time but wouldn't that work too? And a very small bottle of it was nearly $6. I have not looked at maple syrup in years and here you are with a whole article on it! I read this and of course knew the basics but never did this myself. You will have to boil it down, right? I can remember them processing the sorghum at the Green Heritage Farm but they never had maple syrup. Fresh syrup and buckwheat pancakes! Yum! Beverly

Anonymous said...

We're in Ohio too! I'm going to look for the metal things to tap the trees and see what happens. Thanks for all the tips, I'm excited to give it a try. Maryann

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Maryann I purchased my first spiles (metal tap things) from Tractor Supply. They are not the best quality but got me started that first year. I now order my spiles on line. Try They sometimes even have used supplies for cheap.

Anonymous said...

I usually don't but I could not resist commenting. Very well written! Carmarillo

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Carmarillo, thanks! And what a beautiful name!

Anonymous said...

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