A few weeks ago, we had weather that made me think spring was going to come early this year. The warmer weather lasted about a week before it ended. It got very cold again and dumped another 16 inches of snow on us. During the warm week, however, many folks around here tapped their maple trees. I didn’t realize this was going to happen and when I found out, I became very jealous. I thought I was missing out on something.
With all my might, I held back any action. I knew it was too early, even if they did manage to get some sap from their maples. As it turns out, while they were marginally successful, their buckets and hoses were at a standstill during the big freeze. This made me feel a little better – meaning, I didn’t think I was missing out on something as much.
Maple syrup season will pass you right by if you don’t pay attention. If you’re too late, you’ll end up drilling a hole in a tree only to find dry dust. It’s sort of like the swimming lake turning at the end of August. That means summer is over. A maple tree that gives no more sap means this season has ended. It’s sort of depressing when you think about it.
Our weather forecast is telling me that we’re in for a wonderful week. It’s mostly sun. We’ll start out at a high of 28 degrees today and end the 5 days with a high of 47. If you were to ask any enthusiast who lives in northern New England, they’d tell you this is maple tapping weather if they ever heard it.
I decided to go with 6 buckets this year as opposed to the 18 I went with last year. The reason for this is that it’s much less work. Also, I get about 80% of my sap from the area I tapped this afternoon. I used what I call my “prize” trees. These are the ones, on the right day, that will give me 5 gallons over a 24 hour period. It’s amazing what 40 degrees and some sunshine will do.
The other reason I decided to go with only 6 buckets is because I’m getting tired of having to suffer through the heat of a cranking wood stove. It’s a bad scene. The warmer it gets outside, the hotter I have to make the fire in the wood stove to boil off the liquid inside. I suppose I can think of it as part of the charm. It does get hot in my little room though. So hot that I sweat and sweat for hours. I made a gallon and a half of Maine’s finest maple syrup last year though, so all that suffering was worth it.
I decided to walk you through my simple process for tapping a maple tree. I came up with this last year and it worked flawlessly. I’m not sure I could have done this any other way and get the same results. I would like to try having multiple hoses go into one bucket, but if we get a warm night, I think it might overflow. For now, this is good.
The first rule is to be prepared. To accomplish this, I bring with me the buckets, hoses, hooks, drill, drill bits and a hammer. This time, I also brought my camera.
I first drill a hole in the tree for the tap. I can’t be 100% sure about this, but I think I used a 3/8 inch bit.
I drill the hole on the west side. You may hear people tell you to drill it on the south side. Don’t do that. The west side is the warmest in the late afternoon. That’s when you’ll get all your sap. Also, I drill the hole on a downward angle. This isn’t necessary because there’s pressure inside of a tree. You can drill it facing upward and the sap will still come out just fine.
Next, I lightly hammer the tap into the tree. Since I had all my taps and hoses made up from last year, all I had to do with wash them off. I hammered lightly because I know in just a few weeks, I’ll need to pull them out.
After that, I drill another, much smaller hole below the one I just drilled and twist a hook into the tree.
This was the first hook I put in today. I didn’t drill a hole first, so I used my pliers. For the remaining trees, I used the drill, so I was able to turn all of them by hand.
The reason I add the hook into the operation is because I can easily hang my bucket from it. Check this out.
Now, here’s the trick. I know it’s going to snow and rain some more. It isn’t reasonable to think that I’ll head outside to remove the buckets from the trees before it does this. Therefore, I decided to drill some holes in the lids of the buckets that the hose will tightly fit through. Last year, I didn’t have any outside liquid get into my buckets, even after it poured a few nights. It worked wonderfully.
As the next few weeks pass, the snow will get lower and the buckets will get higher. It’s entertaining. Some of these taps I had to kneel to drill. In just a little while, I’ll be reaching up to some others.
I’m excited for this year’s season. Maine Maple Sunday is coming up on March 27 and I think I may have some syrup by then. I’ll be able to walk around with my chest all puffed out thinking I’m one of the producers. We can talk shop, if you know what I mean.
Thanks for reading!