Tapping Backyard Trees for Maple Syrup


One fine spring day a few years back when my husband was cutting down some errant trees, he noticed sap pouring from the stumps. He wondered whether we might be able to capture sap and make our own syrup. Within hours we had rigged up a makeshift sap-collection system by drilling holes in a couple of maple trees, inserting clear plastic tubing that went into five-gallon food-grade buckets we bought from a local building supply store. We held the buckets in place with bungee cords lashed around the trees.

We were amazed when it worked. There were a couple of problems, though. Too much sap leaked out around the tubing. And insects and tree debris found their way into the buckets even though their lids were (loosely) attached.

We harvested little enough sap that we were able to cook it down on our kitchen stove after straining off the debris. It was delicious — light, pale, and sweet. Our experiment convinced us to do it again, but with a little more finesse. That summer, we marked our maple trees. (It’s much easier to identify maples when leaves are on the trees.) Next, we purchased taps (spiles), blue plastic sap collection bags, and metal bag holders to ensure debris-free sap—all from an online supplier.

The Sap Collection Season is Short

The syrup-making season is short, usually less than a month. Conditions must be just right—night temperatures in the 20s and sunny days with temps in the 40s. Consistently. That’s when the sap rises. In our area, those conditions generally occur sometime between early February and late March, but with such unpredictable weather these days, we have to be on our toes or we might miss the season altogether. Once the trees begin to bud, it’s too late. The sap will produce bitter-tasting syrup.

Stay Out of the Kitchen

The following spring, blue sap bags seemed to be everywhere on our property.

        sap collection bags on trees

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