I learned how to tap maple trees two years ago thanks to my friends Steve and Lisa McBride of the Mobile Goat Homestead. It’s one of my favourite end-of-winter activities, and the fact that this un-tapped resource (pun intended) is just chilling out in the maple trees all around us is super cool. With these three easy steps you can enjoy the sweet sweet reward too:
Step 1: Tap a Tree
Okay so there’s only a certain time of year when this works, when the tree is sending its sap up from its roots to its branches at the end of Winter/beginning of Spring. In Newfoundland, that’s usually around the beginning of March.
Don’t worry, you can’t tap too early. If you do, you just won’t get any sap flow yet. But you can tap too late, so best to do it sooner rather than later.
So you’re gonna need these things:
- A maple tree (at least 10″ diameter)
- A maple spile/tap (we sell them at The Seed Company where I work)
- A drill
- A hammer
- A bucket with a hole around the rim
Pick a spot on the tree a few feet off the ground and drill a hole about 2″ into the tree at a slight upward angle, using a drill bit slightly smaller than the pointy end of the spile (if you don’t have one that size, you can use a smaller one and round out the hole by making circles with the drill). Then shove that pointy end into the hole, and hammer it in place. I prefer the metal spiles because they don’t break as easily, and they seem more rustic.
Step 2: Collect the Sap
Every couple of days your bucket is going to fill up with sap. Go out and dump it right into a large pot, then hang the bucket back up. The sap looks just like water, and is actually kind of tasty on its own.
Don’t worry about any rainwater or snow that landed inside the bucket, or if the sap is frozen. This will get solved in step 3.
The sap will stop flowing around the end of April, when the leaf buds open. The very last bucket-full might be cloudy and smell weird due to fermentation. Don’t use that sap.
Step 3: Boil the Sap
This is the trickiest part. You need to be very careful not to overboil it or you’ll end up with inedible maple tar and a big mess (it’s happened to me once or twice).
So turn the heat on high and get that sap boiling. The point is to evaporate out the water and reduce the sap to a thick syrup.
Things are gonna get steamy, so be sure to open a window or turn on your stove’s fan. Some people prefer to do this outside if you’re able to.
What I do to keep watch is I set the stove timer to 10 minutes, then as the water level gets lower I set it to 5 minutes, then keep doing 2 minute intervals when it gets close to that crucial moment.
You know the syrup is fully boiled when it starts bubbling differently and you can tell it’s thicker. It’s hard to explain, you kind of have to get a feel for it after messing up a few times. It’s better to accidentally stop it too early than too late, because you can put it back on to boil more if it’s too runny.
Once it’s done boiling, just put it in a jar, let it cool, and enjoy!
- The colour and taste of the syrup will change throughout the season depending on the temperature outdoors. Warmer = darker and more mapley.
- You may notice sediment form at the bottom of the syrup. That is called maple sugar and it’s tasty, too!
- Apparently maple syrup can help antibiotics work better? I heard someone mention they read about that and it seems pretty rad.