The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Category: Tree Tapping

Spring Ahead

Spring has arrived about 6 weeks early in Minnesota this year. That’s not to say winter won’t stop by again, but today is the 3rd day in a row of 60+ temps and will be the last day snow can be seen on our property. Even the grass is starting to green up!

Spring is always welcome here. However, Spring on a Hobby Farm means lots of work! And I’m not fully ready to come out of hibernation yet.

The seedlings are planted and growing well: tomatoes, broccoli (which Becca says she wants every week of the summer), lettuce, and a variety of flowers.

tomato seedlings

The chickens are laying abundantly, after about a 5-month hiatus during the coldest months.

Chickens enjoying the warm weather

All the maple trees are tapped and flowing a full 3 weeks ahead of season. I just hauled in 5 more gallons of sap after taking this picture. 30 gallons collected so far, waiting to be evaporated.

Collecting maple sap in buckets

Tapping maple trees started early this year

Since the sap is flowing, it is also the best time of year to graft trees. I made my first attempt, grafting a branch from a HoneyGold apple tree onto the MacIntosh nearby. The yellow HoneyGold was one of a few trees we planted without ever knowing how the fruit would taste. It turned out be delicious! Like a cross between a pear and an apple, but the texture of a HoneyCrisp. Needless to say, we want more HoneyGold and a simple way to expand the supply is to graft onto another tree.

Graft of apple tree

If successful, the MacIntosh will be bearing both red and yellow apples!

 


How to tap a tree

Drill about 2 inches deep

In my previous post, I discussed the basics of getting started with your own maple sugaring operation. In this post, I wanted to show the step-by-step process of tapping trees and collecting sap.

The tradition of tapping trees for syrup and sugar dates back to before the first settlers arrived. It was Native Americans who discovered that trees could be tapped for sugar. They originated the techniques of using wooden spiles to drain sap from trees and dropping heated rocks into troughs to boil off the water. Native Americans taught their techniques to the Pilgrims and early settlers as they arrived. Reportedly, maple syrup was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

Wooden spiles were used  by Native Americans to draw sap from maple trees (Courtesy of osv.org)

Wooden spiles were used by Native Americans to draw sap from maple trees (Courtesy of osv.org)

After 400 years, the process hasn’t changed much. We now use steel vats and power drills but the basic method of poking holes in trees, inserting a spout, collecting the sap and boiling it down is the same.

Drilling and Tapping

The first step after you have identified a tree is to drill the hole. It doesn’t matter much how high off the ground you tap, except that you will have the most sap flowing from the trunk of the tree upward. I always try to place the tap about waist high. Some people say to tap on the South side because its sunny. Others say to tap on the North side because “the pressure builds up there”, whatever that means. I have never noticed a difference in any of the sides. I always try to guess where the tree needs the most sap and place the tap there. For example, if the trunk splits I drill under the healthier of the trunks. But honestly I can’t say that’s a guarantee either.

When you drill the hole, angle the drill slightly upward (but not too steep or the sack won’t hang correctly), and drill about 2 inches deep.

Angle of drill should be slightly below horizontal

Drill bit and spout used for tapping trees

A piece of tape wrapped around the drill bit lets you know how deep to drill.

Hole drilled

Next set the spout in place and hammer in. It needs to hold over 30 pounds, so be sure to tap it in far enough.

Hammer in the spout to tap the tree

Spout tapped into tree

Hanging the buckets (or sacks)

Next step is to add your sap sacks. I like using sacks instead of buckets because they hold a ton of sap (4 gallons) and don’t take up any storage space. The assembly is simple: the bag is wrapped around an inner rim piece, then the rim is slid into the holder.

Sap sak is hung on the spout to collect sap

Assembling sap sak

Finally the sack is hung on the spout.

Hang the sap sak on the spout

Make sure the sap is flowing where its supposed to.

Sap dripping from tapped tree

Collecting the sap

After the trees are tapped and the bags are hung, it’s time to wait. It can take take several days for the bags to fill with sap.

Bag is filling with maple sap

If the temperature drops, the sap may stop flowing altogether. If the days are warm and sunny, you might encounter a “run”, where a significant amount of sap is collected over a short period. This year it took about 2 weeks to collect the first 40 gallons of sap, but the next 50 gallons were collected in 2 days! The trick is not to be gone on vacation during a sap run.

Collecting sap from the bags

Once a day I check all my taps and pour off any bags that are over half full. I store up the five-gallon buckets in our garage until I have enough to spend a day evaporating (usually 20 gallons).

Emptying sacks into buckets to store

Sap runs always seem to catch me off guard and I find myself running to the hardware store to buy extra buckets. But eventually the season comes to an abrupt end and all that running around and hauling buckets is done, until next year.

This year we were in the middle of a run, and we had run out of buckets. We had 60 gallons stored and no time to evaporate. Then I happened to taste the sap from one of the trees and could tell it was changing flavor. I went to all the other trees and tasted the same difference. It was “buddy” sap, a slightly earthy (some say bitter) flavor. I went back to the house and told Becca our storage dilemma was solved—the season was over. As abruptly as it started, the maple sugaring season had ended.

That covers tree tapping and sap collection. In my final post I will show how to use an evaporator to boil down all those gallons of sap into sweet, pure maple syrup.

 


Maple Syrup now on sale!

UPDATE: We sold out of our maple syrup on the first day–thank you to everyone who ordered a jar, we appreciate your support!

Evaporator boiling maple sap

We just finished a fresh batch of Maple Syrup tapped from our own trees here at The Grovestead. Last year we had intended to sell some jars to help recoup the costs of making it. But time got away from us, and we ended up enjoying it ourselves and giving some away as gifts.

Jars of Maple Syrup

This year we have set aside a portion of our “crop” to sell. If you are interested in tasting 100% pure Maple Syrup from our own trees, please visit our Store page and order a jar!


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