Sunday, March 03, 2013


We've started!  We are tapping trees in our yard this year - another one of those projects we've been meaning to try, and this year we are prepared just in time for the tapping season to start.  There is a short window of time, usually in March-April, when the nights are around -10C but days are around +10C, when the sap runs well.  We don't have sugar maples, but we do have other trees that are possible to tap.  Although less well-known, the birch, black walnut and Manitoba maple trees can also be tapped for a tasty light syrup.  We have 8 of these trees (which are mature enough) to tap in our yard (so that makes about 24 taps), and we're going for it.  We like to do things on a small budget, so though we did buy spiles (at $2.50 each), but since sap buckets cost $7 each we have rigged up our own buckets and lids using food grade plastic pails.  Once we've tapped for a week or so, we'll boil it all down over a long all-day outdoor fire - until the consistency seems like syrup. 

Here's a simple and quick summary for any of you urban homesteaders who want to try this yourself.  Of course, there are lots of great resources at the library and online that will give much more detail about the process (and we are still learning!), but we have heard and read stories of good success with these types of trees.  We are hopeful that all our efforts will be worthwhile.  More updates to come.

1. Once the daytime temps are around 10+ C but nights are still below 0 (around -10C)  you are ready to start.  Choose healthy mature trees, best if they have a good south facing exposure to the sun during the day.
2. Drill holes at a slight upward angle, using a 7/16 inch drill bit.  Make sure to get the woodchips out of the hole before tapping in your spile.  You can drill 2-3 hole per tree. 
3. Tap in spile using a hammer.  Hang your bucket or pail securely below, using a hook or nail, so that spout drips directly into container.  Add a tight lid to help keep out debris and squirrels!
4. Check your buckets every day, or even twice a day depending on how much the sap is flowing.  Empty into larger foodgrade pails or jugs and store in the cold until you are ready to boil.
5. To boil sap, build an outdoor fire or use a camping stove.  This will take at least 8 hours, which can be done in one day or over several (as long as sap is kept cold inbetween boilings). 
6. Using a stainless steel pan or pot bring sap to a temperature that is 7.5 degrees over the point of water boiling.  Keep it at this temperature, stirring and skimming off foam.
7. Once sap has boiled down significantly (the ratio is about 8 litres down to 1-2 cups) strain it through a filter (cheesecloth or other filter) and hot pack it into glass jars. 

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