Sap from many different species of trees can be made into one of the best natural sweeteners ever: syrup. Harvesting sap is a simple and low maintenance task that anyone with a few trees on their property can take advantage of. Follow these 3 steps for an abundance of all-natural maple syrup!
3 Steps to Harvesting Maple Sap
- Select Your Trees
The first step towards your goal of pouring homemade maple syrup on a huge stack of buttery pancakes is to select the right trees. Only select trees that are located on your property (public lands don’t want the risk of their trees being infected and neighbors usually frown on doing anything on their property unless you ask first!).
The most common tree species to tap for syrup is of course the maple tree. This is because maple sap has more sugar than other species. This means that you will have to harvest more sap to make syrup from other species. Other common trees used to make syrup are: pine, birch, and hickories.
Choose mature trees that are free from disease or infestation. Choose a tree that is 10” or more in diameter. In general, the larger the tree, the more sap it will produce and the more taps you can put in it. A 16” tree can handle two taps and a 22” tree can handle 3 taps.
- Gather Materials
You will only need a few tools to start gathering sap, a drill, a spout, and a clean container. Drill a hole about 3 feet up the tree that is ¾ inches in diameter 2-3 inches deep (depending on how big the tree is). More sap flows over large roots, under large knots, and on the south side of the tree.
- Insert Tap
A spout is a small and hollow tube or stick that is inserted into a tree to harvest sap (sometimes called spiles). This can be made out of plastic or a limb of another plant. Branches of sumac, bamboo, elderberry, or willow work well when you do not have access to a crimped piece of plastic tubing. Insert your spout into the hole that you have previously drilled firmly but also gently so that you do not split the wood inside the tree.
Lastly, hang a clean bucket or jug on the end of the spout. You can use a (cleaned) used milk jug, plastic bucket, or any other container that does not have rust on it. Make sure that the container is covered or blocked from debris entering it. You will have to come back frequently (harvest rates depends on region, tree, and year) to check and harvest your sap. Store your harvested sap in a dry, dark, and cool place until you have enough to make syrup.
You will need around 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and even more if the sap is not from a maple tree. It seems like a lot, but the satisfaction of knowing you and a tree worked together to put this sweet nectar on your table is far more than worth it. One tap will produce around 20 gallons of sap. You can keep your sap in cleaned out garbage bins until you have enough.
Photo: LadyDragonflyCC – >;<
Jake Frazier is an outdoor enthusiast and the owner of Residential Ecology, a sustainable ecological resource management company. He uses existing natural systems to improve the quality of life for both humans and the Earth. Jake is interested in permaculture, living systems and exploring. Connect with him on LinkedIn.