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Susquehanna Life

Of the Season: Maple Sugaring in Your Backyard

Mar 12, 2015 11:20AM ● By Erica Shames

Many believe that drinking maple sap is a way to energize the body after a long winter. It can be used to make coffee/tea, brew beer, and in just about any recipe calling for water (to add a subtle sweet, maple flavor).

Collecting maple sap is a green, environmentally-sustainable process that can be enjoyed by anyone with a healthy, mature maple tree. Below is a summary of how to maple-sugar in your backyard!

1.     Obtain Equipment to Tap Trees

    Buckets: Used to collect the sap as it drips from the spile (tap).

    Lids: Attached to the top of the bucket to prevent rain, snow and foreign material from entering the bucket.

    Drill Bit: Depending upon the type of spile used, either a 5/16 or 7/16 drill bit is used to drill the tap hole into your maple tree.

    Spiles: The spile is inserted into the drilled hole to transfer sap into the bucket.

    Hooks: Hooks are attached to the spile and used to hang the bucket.

    Cheesecloth: Used to filter any solids (such as pieces of bark) when transferring sap from the collection bucket to a storage container.

2.     Other Equipment Needed

    Maple Trees: At a minimum, you need access to one mature (at least 12 inches in diameter), healthy maple tree (Sugar, Black, Red and Silver work best).

    Drill: A cordless drill is preferable.

    Hammer: Used to gently tap the spile into the tap hole.

    Pliers: Used to remove the tap from the tree once the sap season is over.

    Storage Containers: Food grade storage containers are used to store your collected sap. Clean plastic milk jugs, juice containers and food grade 5 gallon buckets may be used. 

3.     When to Tap Maple Trees: Generally, sap starts to flow between mid-February and mid-March, when daytime temperatures rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. The sap generally flows for 4 to 6 weeks, with the best sap produced early on in the sap-flowing season.                 

4.     Select Maple Trees to Tap: The recommended order in selecting your maple trees to yield a higher sugar content is: Sugar, Black, Red, Silver. Select trees that are mature, healthy and with the greatest exposure to sunlight. 

5.     Clean Equipment: Clean spiles, bucket, and lids prior to use each season. With a mixture of 1 part unscented household bleach to 20 parts clean water, use a brush or cloth to scrub your supplies. Triple rinse all with hot water.

6.     Gather Equipment: Take your drill (with bit attached), hammer, spiles, hooks, buckets, and lids. Don’t forget your camera to capture the moment! 

7.     Tap the Tree: The height of the tap hole should be at a height that is convenient for you and allows easy collection—about 3 feet is recommended. Ideally, the tap hole should be above a large root or below a large branch on the south side of the tree. If more than one tap is to be placed in the same tree, distribute the tap holes around the circumference of the tree. Avoid any damaged area of the tree. 

8.     Drill the Tap Hole: The size of the drill bit to be used is dependent on the type of spile you are using. Most spiles require either a 7/16 or 5/16 bit. Drill a hole 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. Wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit 2 ½ inches from the tip to use as a guide. Drill at a slight upward angle to facilitate downward flow of sap from the hole. The shavings from the drilled tap hole should be light brown, indicating healthy sapwood. If the shavings are dark brown, drill another hole in a different location.

9.     Insert the Spile: Clear any wood shavings from the edge of the hole. Insert the spile into the loop on the hook (hook facing outward) and insert the spile into the tap hole. Gently tap the spile into the tree with a hammer. If the sap is flowing, you should immediately see sap dripping from the spile.

10.  Hang the Bucket and Attach Lid: Hang the bucket by inserting the hook into the hole on the rim of the bucket.  Attach the lid to the spile by inserting the metal wire into the double holes on the spile. Congratulations, you have successfully tapped your first maple tree. Post a picture at!

11.  Collect Sap & Make Syrup: Depending upon the weather conditions, sap will start to flow immediately after tapping the tree. It drips from the spile into the bucket. Maple sap is a clear fluid. The collection amount may vary. Some days you will collect only a small amount and other days your buckets will overflow if not emptied.

12.  Transfer sap from buckets to storage containers: When sap is flowing, collect the sap daily. Pour the sap from the bucket into a storage container, using cheesecloth to filter out any foreign material. If a portion of the sap is frozen, throw away the frozen sap.

13.  Storing your sap: The sap should be stored at a temperature of 38 degrees F or colder, used within 7 days of collection and boiled prior to use to eliminate any possible bacteria growth.  

14.  Process sap: You must boil your sap prior to any use to kill bacteria that may be present. To effectively kill bacteria, bring the sap to a rolling boil and then let it boil one additional minute.

15.  To make maple syrup, the excess water is boiled from the sap. It takes 40 parts maple sap to make 1 part maple syrup (10 gallons sap to make 1 quart syrup). Because of the large quantity of steam generated by boiling sap, it is not recommended to boil indoors. If you boil outdoors, make certain you are in compliance with any local regulations. 

Susquehanna Life Magazine has not tested this maple syrup making process and disclaims any responsibility for the outcome of its preparation. 

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