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Tap, Tap, Tapping
March 25, 2008 at 5:41 am

As I promised, here is the first of several installments on maple syrup making.  This is the best time of the year for me because I know that spring is just around the corner.  And, it’s fun to be outside as a family in the woods.  I have great memories of the kids taking turns scraping the last of the sticky syrup out of the pan.  They don’t waste a thing.

How do you get started making maple syrup?  First and most obviously, you have to find a sugar maple tree.  Other maples like silver and red maples can be tapped but they produce a slightly different tasting syrup.   All maples have opposite branching, meaning the branches and twigs come out directly across from each other.  Sugar maples also have a specific leaf shape (think Canadian flag) and have a distinctive bark and bud shape.

So how do you tell it’s the right time to tap?  There are lots of “folk” methods of telling like when the skunk cabbage comes up or when the lake ice turns black.  The best way to know is by looking at a thermometer.  When the temperatures are around and just above 32 degrees F, you can tap your maples.  If the temperature is lower, the wood is frozen and it will crack a bit making a loose tap hole.  If you wait until the temperature is higher, the sap run slows down and the sap becomes bitter and cloudy.

Once you’ve found sugar maples, measure the diameter of the tree.  Use only trees that are over 10 inches in diameter (12 preferred – a 12 inch tree has a circumference of about 37 inches).  To tap a maple tree you will need a drill bit (7/16ths to 1/2 inch), a spile, a hammer, and a bucket.

 drilling hole with bit and brace

Using a bit and brace, drill a hole above a large root, about 3 feet off the ground.  Make the hole about 1 1/2 inch deep and angle it downward slightly.  As the hole is drilled, the bit is reversed from time to time to clear the hole of fras (little shavings).  Watch for a change in the fras from dry to wet.  If the sap is running you will see the liquid begin to run down the tree trunk.

Next the spile is gently tapped into the hole using a hammer.  Once the spile is correctly in place you should see sap dripping from the spile.  We use a variety of spiles.  The newest spiles we have are plastic and they connect to tubing which can go into a bucket.  While that sap is dripping it’s time for a taste.  Yum, this is very cold, lightly sweetened water straight from the tree.  We’ve also heated this and made tea in the waterery, slightly sweet first sap. 

 dripping sap 2.JPG

The last thing we do is connect the spile to the tubing and put them through the lid of a bucket.  We also use the “old fashioned” spiles and buckets that hang from them.  I still like these buckets because I love the lovely pinging noise that’s made as the first sap drips into the empty buckets.

hose and bucket.JPG

So far this year, we’ve collected about 160 gallons of sap making 4 gallons of syrup.  Tomorrow I’ll share the process of boiling and filtering the syrup.

What’s your favorite way to have maple syrup?



Posted in (News) by Debbie
Comments (14)


  1. Debbie,
    What is the difference between Grade A and Grade B maple syrup? Does Maple syrup spike insilin levels? If not, please advise. I am laucnhing my site in May and am doing research at to the various healthy sugars for our kids especially those who have attention and focus challenges.
    Great articles by the way.

    Comment by Flerida Parker — April 15, 2008 @ 6:42 am

  2. Hi Fleride,

    Maple syrup grades are based on color and flavor. The lighter the color and the more ‘delicate’ the flavor the higher the grade of syrup. Our syrup is never grade A because of the process we use. However, I prefer the “bolder” flavor we get from our process. And, just like any food, different people prefer different tastes. By the way, here is a website to help you with the explanation of grading.

    I would guess that since maple syrup is a sugar like honey or raw sugar, it would act like any sugar and create a rise in insulin. Maple syrup is a very pure product though since it requires little processing and no preservatives or additives. That makes it a more desirable sugar in my opinion. Maple sugar also provides magenisum and other minerals. I also think that since trees are rarely sprayed or exposed to chemical pesticides, it would have less contamination. Contamination would most likely occur in processing so if you know the processor you can find out if the equipment is a cause for worry. My biggest concern comes from older buckets and spiles that might contain lead. We’ve replaced all our old buckets for that reason.

    I’ll look into the insulin thing more and report here what I find. Thanks for reading and for asking some good questions.


    Comment by Debbie — April 15, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  3. Hi,

    I found some information that looks reliable about maple syrup and insulin levels. Here is one place to read about the different sugars and their insulin impact.


    Comment by Debbie — April 15, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

  4. I love mixing maple syrup in my steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast, with some raisins and a scant handful of dried tart cherries. I think the maple flavor is better than honey to complement the earthiness of the oats.

    I’ve always wanted to try making my own syrup (I grew up reading Little House on the Prairie…it sounded so exciting!) and I applaud you for taking the time to stay true to the provisions of the earth…and I’ll bet your syrup is much more delicious than anything store-bought!

    :) ~Heather

    Comment by Heather — April 25, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

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