This is a collection of posts that I’ve written about tapping maple trees to make my own maple syrup while living in Maine. Every time I do this type of activity and take photos, I post them right here. Scroll down to learn a bit about the process. If you live in New England and have sugar maple trees on hand, there’s no reason you can’t make your very own syrup.
Tapping the Maple Trees For Sap
April 3, 2014
I think today is the day that Maple Syrup Season begins in Maine. It’s weeks late, but better than never I suppose.
When I woke up this morning, I had every intention of tapping some trees. We’ve had a few-day-run of warm weather (mid-40s) so I figured it was go time. I got caught up in some stuff and completely forgot about the trees. Then, good ol’ Steve sent me an electronic message telling me that he’s got four gallons already today. Right then, I told myself that no one, no one is going to humiliate me like that. Especially when I’ve got the maple syrup gear sitting here ready to go. I’ve got five spiles and four buckets. I thought I had another bucket, but we’re using that for something else. The only thing I don’t have is a good way to boil down the sap. Right now, I’m doing the math in my head: how much will I pay in electricity to boil 36 gallons of sap into one versus the cost of a gallon of Maine’s finest Maple syrup? We’ll see.
I tapped four trees. Once I hit the inch and a half mark and took the bit out of the tree, the sap started running. And it ran strong. You’ll see in the pics below. Also, I tasted some of it and I have to tell you, maple sap is sweet. I can’t wait to boil this stuff down and make some sick-ass pancakes.
Okay, here are the pictures of my current Maple sap collection operation. I’ll take more as I go along.
This is the first hole I drilled. As I mentioned above, I drilled about an inch and a half deep. Also, you can tell it’s the correct type of Maple tree because of the bark. It’s rough and dark. And it’s got lichen on it.
This is the same hole, but with a spile in it and a bucket attached. As you can see, the sap is flowing nicely. It’s about 45 degrees outside right now.
And this is my current setup. If this goes well, I’ll get more gear for next year. If I eventually acquire a wood burning stove, I’m going to be swimming in syrup.
By the way, we still have about 2 1/2 feet of snow outside. Even though it’s been warm, this stuff still hasn’t melted. I can’t believe I was falling through the snow back in the Maple forest and it was up to my thighs. What a pain. I’m not looking forward to lugging the buckets inside. Perhaps Steve can come over and do that for me.
Syrup & Snow
April 9, 2015
I just went outside to check my buckets and found five more gallons of sap. It’s been flowing pretty well these past few days.
When I first tapped the trees in early March, I was lucky to get a gallon every few days, but since I moved part of my operation up to the Rock Maples towards the front of the property, things have been much better. The two days before yesterday, I hauled in over 18 gallons of sap. I’ve been boiling away on our wood stove like crazy. And from that, I just finished my most recent batch of syrup. I earned myself a half gallon.
I’ve had a few phone conversations over the last week. There are generally two questions I get. The first one is whether or not we still have any snow. Earlier this week, my answer was that we had about a foot and a half. I really don’t like to exaggerate, so I always give a conservative estimate. Today, I’d say we have about a foot. I guess this is the same as last year at this time. About four inches of snow fell last night, but the temps are supposed to reach 60 next week, so I think this is the beginning of the end. Here’s a picture to add to my collection of, “What did it look like last year at this time?”
The second question I get is about my syrup I’m making. When I tell people what I’m up to, I say things like, “Yeah, I got another quart today.” They respond, “Now, is that sap or syrup?” It’s syrup. The sap collection is in gallons and the syrup is in cups and quarts. My first batch (which I am still extremely proud of) yielded me an eighth of a cup. I bragged about it to anyone who would listen. I don’t think they quite understood that my first batch was the tip of the iceberg because the responses I got were somewhat subdued. But now that I’m talking about having over a gallon of Maine’s freshest and best tasting syrup, people are beginning to listen. I hear whispers of name calling – “Jay the syrup master.” and “Please run for Governor. You are my Maple syrup king.” Yeah, folks are starting to take notice.
I just took this picture of our syrup. Mind you, we’ve been eating it since I started making it. We put it on top of our oatmeal and cereal. Laura just made me a cup of tea with syrup in it. Real syrup contains zinc. Did you know that?
The reason I decided to break away from my normal routine of writing about coding (on my other blog – hint, hint) was because of my latest bucket check. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I took a quick walk in the woods to see how my front five buckets were performing. I have a total of fourteen trees tapped and the front ones are the best performers, by far. Those five alone gave my seven and a half gallons a few days ago. That’s a lot.
Anyway, during my trip in the woods to my buckets, I realized that I was walking in what very well may be the last fresh snow of this winter season. I thought I should grab the camera to take some photos. I also thought that perhaps those of you out there who don’t get the chance to see sap buckets hanging from trees very often would like to see what they look like. Modern ones, anyway.
When I go out the front door of the house, all I need to do is head across the yard and walk straight into the woods. I made a narrow path through the snow so I don’t have to keep stomping around randomly, almost falling over.
I’ve got all five buckets in this one area fairly clustered together. That’s just where the good trees happened to be. It also happens to be easier to check the buckets when they’re close like this.
These two buckets are part of the pack. As you can see, they hold five gallons and are attached to the tree via a small hook. I also have some sweet plastic spiles and tubes that snugly fit into the lids of the buckets. From what I’ve found, it’s necessary to have lids. If you don’t, you’ll have to toss some of your winnings because of all the snow that fell into your buckets. Also, if you ever decide to tap a Maple tree, do it on the west side. That’s the only side that flows sap during the early days of the season.
Lastly, we’ve got a picture of some untouched Maple sap. It looks just like water, but you can tell it’s sap because there’s always bubbles on top. That, my friends, turns into the best buttery tasting syrup in the world!
Tapping Maple Trees in Maine
March 17, 2017
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!
Our First Grade A Light Amber Pure Maple Syrup
April 1, 2017
Just about two minutes ago, I finished boiling our first batch of perfect grade A light amber pure maple syrup. It took a little while to collect the sap, but the trees are flowing a bit better now that it’s not ten degrees outside during the nights anymore.
Just yesterday, I was able to capture five good gallons of sap. For the week leading up to that, I only got five gallons through the entire duration. The week before that was so slow that I had to dump whatever I was able to get because the sugars in the sap started turning. When the sap gets foggy, it’s got to go. You can’t use it. This first round came from some prime sap. It’s lighter than I’ve ever made before and it tastes freaking awesome. Just like butter.
I’m telling you, there’s nothing like taking the time to boil down your own maple syrup so you can drizzle it over your breakfast, dessert or whatever else you can think of. There’s something natural about the whole thing. The good news is, I see 95 year olds around here doing the same thing I’m doing, so at least I can plan on having this as a hobby through all my years. It’s low impact, which is nice.
This first batch filled about 24 ounces of this mason jar. Beyond that, I was able to almost fill a quart container. So, if I had to guess, I’d say we now have about 50 ounces of syrup, which isn’t bad for the beginnings of this very late season. I’m hoping to get at least three weeks more out of it. If things go well, I should get over a gallon. Lord knows there’s enough winter around here. It’s been snowing all day and upwards of 10 more inches are expected for Tuesday.
By the way, I know I mentioned that I only hung six buckets in my previous post. Well, I decided to hang another four from some trees in the back. I picked real winners because everything is dripping very well.
Here’s another photo that shows the color better.
Until next time. Thanks for reading!