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How to Tap a Maple Tree

A sugar maple is the most popular tree to tap due to the high concentration of sugars.

Written by Johnna Holmgren
How to Tap a Maple Tree
 Photo: Matt Lein Photography


How to Tap a Maple Tree

A sugar maple is the most popular tree to tap due to the high concentration of sugars. These trees could be defined as the most generous trees of all, in terms of sap production and sugar release. The tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter before it can be tapped. If it’s over 18 inches, you can put two taps into its trunk. If it’s more than 28 inches, you can put three taps into its trunk, dispersing them evenly around the trunk about waist high. Drill into the tree at least 1.5 to 2 inches deep with the drill and release back to you, pulling out the shavings and bark. Insert the spile and use a hammer to gently secure it into the tree tightly. Connect the bag to the spile. Wait and watch the sap fill.

MATERIALS:
 
  • Drill (brace) with 7⁄16" or 3⁄8" drill bit
  • Spiles or tapping spouts (Spiles can be made or purchased and come in materials such as wood, aluminum, or plexiglass)
  • Hammer
  • Bag or bucket to collect sap

How to Boil the Sap

Harvest the sap as it fills the bag or bucket. It’s best to boil it down as soon as you can after collecting it off the tree, but it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days to avoid any bacteria growth.

Strain the fresh sap through cheesecloth, a mesh strainer, cof- fee filter, or glass filter into a large 5- to 8-quart pot. If you plan on cooking a large portion of sap at one time, then the preferred method is over an outdoor fire. But the sap can be evaporated indoors if it is a smaller batch (under a few quarts of sap). It would be a good idea to crack a window or turn on your exhaust fan. This is due to the high amounts of moisture that is released from the sap as it boils down to the sugar. Watch for the sap to turn to a caramel-like color. Using a spoon, skim off foam and bubbles as they build up and discard them! Boil until it reaches the golden color and then move it to a smaller pot for the final boiling. Use the candy thermometer to track the sap temperature. The temperature needs to reach 7°F over the boiling point of water. This varies with elevation.

Pour into sterilized canning jars, leaving headspace, and cover with sterilized lids. Boil in boiling water bath for 10 minutes to seal the lids. Remove the jars and store at room temperature.

When buds begin to form on a tree or the temperature stays above freezing, it’s time to stop collecting sap!

Next step: Host a pancake party.
 
MATERIALS:
 
  • Collection containers— plastic buckets, milk jugs, or glass jars work well
  • Cheesecloth, mesh strainer, coffee filter, or glass filter
  • Large pot (use a 5- to 8-quart size if you plan on boiling down small batches indoors. For boiling down over a fire outdoors, use a large, low, and broad pan)
  • Spoon
  • Small pot
  • Candy thermometer Jars with canning lids