Tapping Trees

For the last two months my husband and I have been revolving our schedules around, maple syrup.  Harvesting maple syrup is a fun thing to do and it fits into a farmers life because things on the farm are a little bit slower in the winter season. 🙂

Eric has been tapping sugar maple trees around Polyface for the last 4 years and before he came to Polyface he had been tapping trees for 3-4 years in the suburbs of Chicago.  So between the two of us, he is the expert and I love to just follow around, helping and learning at the same time.

So for those of you who are curious how we tapped, collected, and boiled down maple syrup on a small scale, here are some picture of the first step, tapping trees.

First we start out with thoroughly cleaned 5 gallon buckets, lids, taps, tubing (we ordered this and the taps from a maple syrup supply company), hammers, a drill with a drill bit the same diameter as our taps, and baling twine.

Dec Jan cam 136Then you have to go find your maple trees!  We tap the trees when the weather drops below freezing at night and the day time temperatures rise above freezing.  When we come to a sugar maple tree there are a few things we check for first.  First we have to make sure the tree is big enough to tap.  The tree needs to have a diameter of at least 12 inches.  It takes about 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach this diameter.  Next we start looking on the east side of the tree for a big branch or a large root.  We want to drill our hole in line with one of these and we prefer the east side because this side warms up quicker.  Maple trees like sunny, still, and above 32 degree days for the sugar water to flow.

Dec Jan cam 153

 We drill the hole 3 or more feet above the ground and about 1/2 in to 3/4 in deep.  When you do this on a warm day, you almost immediately see a drop of sugar water.  We use a hammer to put the tap into the tree so it is snug.  Trees that are big enough get 2 taps.   We had a handful of trees this year big enough to handle 3 taps.

Dec Jan cam 155

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A tree with two taps has a connecting piece in the middle and then goes down to one bucket.

Once the tap is in the tree we cut the tubing to reach down to the bucket with some slack.  Most of our buckets have a hole on the side, right below the lip of the bucket.  We feed the tubing into the bucket, put a lid on it, and if it needs it we tie the bucket up to a tree branch with baling twine so it won’t blow over.

Dec Jan cam 138

Here is what our set up looked like after we did one tree.   Then we repeated 41 times!



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About Leanna Hale

Leanna Barth, born and raised in NC, first came to Polyface in July 2010 to attend one of the Intensive Discovery Seminars. She loved it so much that she applied for an internship position and was accepted for the 2011 season, after which she took the inventory/gardener position. Before coming to Polyface, she sold produce from her family’s market garden, along with homemade baked goods. This venture was mostly inspired by having read “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin. Having always loved the outdoors, animals, and gardening Leanna is excited about this coming year, all that she will learn, and how the Lord will use this job later on in her life.

2 Responses to Tapping Trees

  1. Thanks for that great article. i was always led to believe that the trees needed to be in continuous sub-freezing conditions for a period to produce syrup, but that is apparently not the case. It seems that we’d be able to harvest syrup from Sugar Maples here in south eastern Australia where, in the Snowy Mountains and Monaro region at least, we get frosts from May through to September. June and July give pretty much continuous frost of between -2 to -10 degrees celcius but with clear days that will generally be 5 to 15 degrees above freezing.
    Does this sound like the sort of winter climate you would expect to have Maples producing syrup?

  2. Kristin says:

    Looks like y’all know what you’re doing! Looks like fun! I’m anxious to hear about how the syrup turned out…