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What is maple syrup and when should it be harvested?

damaging the tree's health, by boring a hole into the trunk and collecting some of sap that drips out.

Maple syrup is obtained from the sap of various kinds of maple trees, including red maple, sugar maple, black maple and bigleaf maple. Essentially, any kind of maple tree can be tapped for sap, but the sugar maple generates the sweetest of all syrups, with a 2% or higher concentration of sugar in the sap.

Historically, First Nations people had been harvesting maple sap in early spring for hundreds of years, and their preparation technique involved boiling down the sap to obtain the rich, sticky syrup. To this day, this is still the best and most natural preparation technique. Alternately, sap can be consumed in its raw form, as it is a highly nutritious, sugary beverage.

Other trees that can also be tapped, aside from maple, include walnut, hickory, sycamore and sweet birch trees. Trees that are suited for tapping should be at least 1 1/2 feet in diameter, have full and healthy-looking crowns, and must receive a lot of sunlight.

Maple trees can be easily recognized by their distinctively shaped leaves and their impressive stature.

Maple trees produce sugar-rich sap by storing starch in their trunks during the winter, which is later converted to sugar, and ultimately infused into the sap during early spring. Some of the sap can be collected without

What tools are required for tapping maple trees? • spiles • metal hooks off which to hang the buckets • hammer • buckets with small holes or handles they can hang by • brace and bit • 5 gallon pail (optional) • large plastic container (a garbage can works) • evaporator * Spiles are collecting spouts that are to be fitted into the drilled hole, and they can be either purchased from a local store or made at home. A 3/8" metal tube is usually a good choice, as it can be cut into 2 1/2" segments.

Note: Copper tubes should be avoided, as they are poisonous to plants.

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To adapt the tube for tapping purposes, one end should be flared so as to allow for easy sap collection into the bucket.

How do I tap the tree? Weather conditions influence the amount of sap you will be able to collect. The maple sap only begins to flow after the ground thaws, and a few sunny days have literally liquefied the sap within the trees once again. The sap flow stops every time temperatures drop below the freezing point. Sap flows for about a month, during the warm season, and it is best to be collected in late afternoons. Holes that are drilled too soon, before the sap starts flowing, will be quickly healed by the tree, and will have to be re-drilled.

How many taps can I have on one maple tree? The number of taps you can put on a maple tree depends on its trunk circumference. A healthy maple tree with the trunk circumference of 31 to 53 inches should have only a single tap. Larger maple trees, with circumferences of 57 to 75 inches can support two taps, while trees with circumferences of more than 79 can withstand 3 taps.

Steps to tapping a maple tree: 1. The tapping hole should be drilled approximately 3 feet from ground surface and should reach about 1.5-2 inches deep into the tree trunk.

A small upward slope to the hole will ensure that the sap flows into the bucket with ease, with the help of gravity. Moreover, the hole should be drilled on the side of the trunk that receives the most sun exposure, and it should not be located below any lump or defect, as these may obstruct the natural flow route of sap. 2. As you begin to drill into the trunk, you may notice that the bark shavings are damp. This only occurs if the sap has started flowing, and it can be used as a sign to know whether or not you should continue drilling, or give it a few more days. 3. If you have purchased the spiles, a a 3/8" piece should best be used, and a 3 gallon bucket can be hung from it, although you can use tubes and buckets of different sizes as well. Smaller plastic bottles and containers can also be used, although they need to be checked more frequently, especially on days of heavy sap flow.

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4. After you have drilled the hole and cleaned out the shavings, insert the spile through the eye of a hook, allowing the hook to face outwards, so that the bucket can be hung from it. 5. Using a good hammer, tap the spile well into the drilled hole. A successfully tapped maple tree hole should look like this:

6. Hang the bucket from the hook.

If you don't have a hook and the spile is long enough, you can simply place a large bucket on the ground and let the sap collect into it. 7. Cover the bucket so that dust, rain water and other impurities do not gather on the sap. A lid with a sliding wire can be used.

If everything is done correctly, a tapped tree should look like this:

8. The final step in producing maple syrup is evaporation. To boil the sap, a shallow, wide pan can be used, as the greater surface area of the wider container ensures that the water will evaporate more rapidly. Ideally, and for the best tasting maple syrup - with a faint smoky flavor, the sap should be boiled over open wood fire. Note that as the water evaporates, a lot of steam is produced, so the sap should be boiled in a well ventilated room. You will know that the syrup is ready when most of the water has evaporated, and the remaining product has a thick, sticky consistency. Near the end of the evaporation process, it is important to keep your eyes on the syrup, as it may burn badly if left on fire for too long. When it is finished, the syrup should be boiling at around 219째. Heating it to very high temperatures (234째F) will enable you to produce maple sugar instead.

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If you want to consume the sap raw, instead of turning it into syrup, keep it at temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures will cause the sap to spoil. Since tapping a hole into the tree does produce a wound in its trunk, following the correct tapping procedures and harvesting only from healthy specimens will allow most trees to recover within a year. This is what a healed tap hole looks like after nearly a year has passed:

Last but not least, enjoy your homemade maple syrup!

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Comprehensive Guide to Tapping a Tree for Maple Syrup  

Step-by-step instructions for how to harvest and process maple sap yourself.

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