Tapping Maple Trees and Making Maple Syrup

Tapping maple trees and making maple syrup at home can be done using these detailed steps. Follow along as veteran tree-tapper Alan Garbers shows you how to mine your maples for a taste of heaven.

| February/March 2000

Tapping maple trees and making maple syrup by boiling down the sap, then savoring the flavor of fresh syrup on a steaming stack of pancakes just doesn’t get any better.

I was nearly brought to tears a couple days ago when a few friends told me that they had never had real maple syrup before. The thought of these fine people, innocently eating their breakfast accompanied only by high fructose, gelatinous, processed maple food flavoring was enough to knock my hat off. Old news, this, to those of you who share my maple hero worship, who use the stuff to add pizzazz to everything from pancakes to chili. If there's a finer substance on the planet, I haven't stumbled across it. The only thing that might take the starch out of the experience for you is plunking down ten bucks for a pint of the stuff. That's where Alan James Garbers comes to the rescue. Chances are, whether you live in Alabama or Gnome, there are trees a stone's throw from your home just waiting to be tapped this spring. But I'll let Alan take it from here.

—Matt Scanlon

Once a common springtime activity, harvesting the natural sweetness found right in our own backyards is a ritual that has all but died out. Tapping maple trees and making maple syrup doesn't require any special equipment, nor does it require a forest of trees. Just a few common household items and one maple tree is all that is needed to get started.

Any maple tree ten inches in diameter or larger can be tapped. Some folks go by the 40-year rule, meaning they won't tap a tree until it's at least that old. That's probably a good rule of thumb for hard maples, which can take a generation at reach tapping size. But soft maples grows much faster; I have one that is five years old and is almost big enough to tap now! The main concern is that the tree be large enough to recover from the taking of sap and able to heal the wound left by the tap. My advice is to measure the diameter and then tap accordingly.

Any variety of maple will do, but the native sugar maple has a higher sugar concentration than does the red maple, silver maple (soft maple) or box elder, and therefore less sap is needed to produce the same amount of syrup.

Large maples and those that get plenty of sunshine without much competition will generally produce the most sap and often are called "sap cows." On a good day a sap cow can produce two gallons or more of sap. On the flip side, a smaller tree deep in the woods that gets low amounts of sunshine will produce maybe a quart to a gallon of sap a day, if that.

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