Tapping sugar maple trees and collecting tree sap in the early Spring weather is one of life’s great joys for any outdoors enthusiast, so long as they’re adequately protected from the elements. New Englanders know that maple sugaring season is synonymous with navigating the sporadic, fast-moving Spring snow storms and surprise Nor’easters that make this harvest season unique.
Sugarmakers around the country face the challenge of staying warm and dry while installing their tree taps, drop lines and tubing for sap collection. Tubing installations must be monitored daily in all weather conditions, and sap is collected each day under all weather conditions. With this in mind, we’re proud to announce the Sugarmaker’s Watch Cap™.
Our watch cap is designed for the Sugarmaker and made to last. Each cap is handcrafted in New York, USA from 100% Wool sourced from US Woolen Mills. Wool is a natural fiber that’s naturally water resistant without the use of synthetics or chemicals. Our caps are built to US military spec standards and are the same caps issued to the US Navy. Trusted to perform at Sea and at home.
With performance and construction requirements established, we had to make sure that our caps were also aesthetically on point. The hats are based on classic US Navy or Fisherman’s watch cap styling. This classic design never goes out of style, made famous by icons such as actor Steve McQueen and explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.
With sustainability as a priority, our packaging is minimal and our product tags are made from 100% recycled cotton t-shirts. No trees were harmed to produce paper for our packaging, protecting trees for future generations of sugarmakers!
Two colorways are now available, black and orange. Black is classic and matches any outdoor gear or casual wear for a sleek look. Orange provides additional safety and high visibility while working out in the sugarbush. Available now on Amazon.
Light, Medium and Dark Amber: Which is the Best?
Maple syrup is one of the most universally loved natural food products ever discovered. Long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans were producing maple syrup from the land.
The standard grading system rules for maple syrup officially changed in 2015 with slightly different names announced by the USDA. The grading system describes how syrup’s flavor and color spectrum ranges from light to dark with several variations along the way. There are 5 different grades, however we will discuss the three most popular today.
Traditionally known as “Grade A Light Amber”, the new description for this syrup is “Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste”. This light, golden syrup is produced very early in the season when the sap flow first begins. As any maple tapper knows, the first sap flow of the year is eagerly anticipated as we come out of winter’s deep freeze. The early sap flow is easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention to the weather patterns in your region.
This early sap flow that produces golden color syrup is very short, approximately the first two weeks or so of the season. This light, golden syrup is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, its delicate and subtle flavor is unmatched by the darker grades produced as the season progresses. It has a floral quality to it with wildflower notes and a very mild finish of caramelized sugar. Secondly, this golden color syrup is usually harder to find and produced in smaller quantities due to the nature of the season. The early sap flow required to make it is short, so it’s rare in that sense.
Golden color, light tasting syrup pairs well with blueberry waffles, Camembert cheese, or drizzled on top of your favorite organic fruit dish. Try using it in tea as a replacement for your usual sweetener.
As the maple season progresses, the syrup produced darkens slightly into the classic “Grade A Medium Amber” now called “Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste” under the new USDA grading system guidelines.
This rich tasting amber syrup is the most classic flavor of maple that most people will think of when looking for maple syrup products. Its flavor is much stronger than the light grade, with a beautiful color of aged Scotch. This grade will be produced throughout the bulk of the harvest season and is most commonly found throughout the Spring and Summer until syrup producers sell out. Pair with anything and everything!
If you’re looking to give a gift of maple syrup, the amber color rich taste is the classic bottle to go with; it will be enjoyed by everyone.
Finally, as the maple sugaring season draws to an end late in the Spring, the syrup produced steadily darkens. Changes in the weather and the trees’ internal chemistry cause the sap to develop this way. The syrup produced during this time traditionally known as “Grade A Dark Amber” is now called “Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste.”
This late-season grade has wonderful toasted caramel and brown sugar notes. The initial flavor on your palette is like melted browned butter, which is a joy to experience. The stronger flavors are perfect for holiday baking and use in all of your recipes, as the flavor comes through better after cooking than the lighter grades. Pairs well with robust Vermont and English Cheddar cheese or cooked down with Fall squash, sprouts, and pumpkin.
No matter which grade of maple syrup you prefer, there is no right or wrong choice! There is no best or worst rating system. Just like selecting wine, there is a syrup choice and pairing that’s right for each person and each culinary purpose. If you can’t decide, a tasting sampler is the best way to experience several grades with a fun little maple syrup tasting. Tasters usually come with three or four small bottles of syrup ranging from light to dark, an affordable way to try them all.
As a note, there are also two more grades not photographed in this article: “Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste” and “Commercial Grade” or “Processing Grade” which is used in commercial food production.
The start of maple sugaring season varies each year depending upon two important variables: weather and location.
The season typically runs from January to April, and sap can run for several periods during these four months. In the 2017 season, warmer weather here in Connecticut started the season off early in January and ran through March. We had above average temps by the third week of February which resulted in a crazy sap flow – more than we could keep up with!
By mid-March the weather warmed up so quickly that the buds on the maple trees started to sprout, and that marked the end of the sap collection for us. Even though temperatures dropped again for a few weeks in April causing sap flow, it was not collectable because the buds had already sprouted.
Once the buds sprout, the tree begins to produce nutrients that spur leaf growth – yet it can be tasted in the sap and is not pleasant. It’s nature’s way of letting us know the season is over. We refer to that as the sap tasting “buddy”.
It’s pretty common in recent years here in Connecticut to have an early start to the season, so we have been tapping in mid-January due to warm weather patterns. However, January 2018 started out with historically cold temperatures below zero, and the thaw did not come until later towards the end of the month. Timing when to tap your trees is a balance of looking at your current week of temperatures, while looking closely at the 10-day forecast in your area.
If you’re located further North such as up state New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine or in the Midwest such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa where weather and temperatures are typically colder, your tapping may not begin until February. The season lasts well into April up north in states like Vermont and New Hampshire as it stays colder much later into April.
States located farther South such as Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, New Jersey and Kentucky may find that their season starts earlier and ends earlier than those of us located in New England. It would not be uncommon for people tapping in those states to end their season in mid to late March as the weather warms up and stays warm.
To read more on when to tap your maple trees, see our other posts here.
Ah yes, the age old question of how many taps per maple tree is upon us once more. At this point in your maple sugaring adventure you have your maple tapping kit ready to go, and you’re looking at the best trees on your property to tap. You wonder, “exactly how many spouts can I put into my big sugar maple out back – and how many in the small tree next to it?”
Tree diameter determines the number of spouts
Older, large diameter trees can support more spouts than younger, smaller diameter trees. While most trees will be fine with just one spout, sometimes you may want to put in two spouts to maximize your sap production from a very large tree. Generally speaking I would not recommend installing more than two spouts in even the largest trees. As stewards of the land, sustainability and tree health must be our priority.
Measuring a tree’s circumference and calculating the diameter
You’ll need a measuring tape and piece of string to measure the circumference of the tree.
- First, wrap the string around the the trunk at breast height – about 4.5 feet high and mark the string with a pen.
- Lay out the string and measure it’s length to determine the tree’s circumference.
- Divide the circumference number by 3.14 to calculate the diameter.
Let’s say, for example, the tree’s circumference is 38 inches around. Divide that number by 3.14 to get the actual diameter. In this case, 38 / 3.14 = 12.10 inch diameter. We can put only one spout in this sized tree.
Trees at least 12” in Diameter
Trees should have a diameter of at least 12” to be tapped. Some guides allow for 9-10 inch diameter trees to be tapped, but it is best if you leave those younger trees with more time to grow.
Trees from 18” to 24” in Diameter
Trees with a diameter from 18” to 24” should receive no more than two spouts or taps. While it may be tempting to add a third spout to these giants, don’t. Future generations of sugar makers will thank you!
Need more tree tapping information? Curious about how deep to drill maple taps? See our FAQ here for a comprehensive list of most frequently asked tree tapping questions.
Shop our maple tree tapping kits and equipment here.
Tapping your maple, birch or walnut trees is one of the most simple and enjoyable Spring activities for the outdoor enthusiast. While this activity is quite simple in theory, knowing the small details can help bring you a successful season of tree tapping. One of the most commonly asked questions we hear is, “How deep do I drill a tap hole in the tree?”
How Deep to Drill a Tree Tap Hole
Generally speaking, we drill one inch or 1” past the bark of the tree. The thickness of each tree’s bark is the variable; which is dependent upon both the species and the age of the tree. Older trees generally have thicker bark than younger ones, so a tap hole’s total depth may be deeper than on a younger tree. You may also find that species such as the red maple may have thicker, chunkier bark – especially if the tree is large and very old.
Measuring the Drill Bit Depth
We recommend measuring out 1” to 2” on your drill bit with a measuring tape or ruler. You can mark the bit using a small piece of painters tape wrapped around the bit to serve as a depth-guide for drilling the trees. The correct size bit is 5/16”. We have medium aged trees with average bark thickness, so we marked out a depth of 1.5” on our bit. This allows for approximately 1/2” thick bark and an additional one-inch drilling-depth past the bark.
Drilling your Tap Hole
Carefully drill your tree at a very slight upward angle on the side of the tree where the sun is shining on it. If the sun shines on that side for the majority of the day, it tends to produce more sap flow. If you tap on the shaded or dark side of the tree, it tends to produce less sap flow. Allow the bit to remove the wood shavings, and never blow out the hole with your mouth. Blowing into the hole can contaminate the tree with your saliva. That will cause the tree’s internal healing process to go into overdrive and close up the hole faster, resulting in less sap flow and a shorter season.
Inserting the Spout into the Tree
Carefully tap the spout into the tree, gently, and not too hard. We are not putting nails into a deck – there is no need to pound the spout in hard. You should be able to twist and pull the spout out of the tree with a little effort without damaging the tree or the spout. If you destroy the spout upon removal, it’s likely because you drove the spout in too hard and too far into the tree. A few light taps so it is snug, nothing more. As you can see in the photo below, ice-cold sap immediately begins to drip from the spout.
Connecting the Tubing
Slip your 5/16” food grade tubing onto the barbed end of the maple spout or spile. This can be difficult in colder weather, so you may want to warm the tubing in hot water first. Hold the end of the tubing in hot water for 10-15 seconds and then connect to the spout.
Choosing a Sap Collection Container
The best collection container is a clean, food grade container such as a five gallon bucket with lid, or gallon size spring water jugs. We don’t recommend used gallon milk jugs, as the flavor of milk is very difficult to clean out. Tree sap is very delicate and can pick up flavors from the collection container very easily. For best results, use spring water jugs to collect sap. Be sure to check the container twice a day – morning and night – as sap flow varies throughout the season. You may find some trees produce more sap than others, and that is totally normal and to be expected.
Do you have more questions about tree tapping and making syrup? Check out our FAQ page here, or connect with us directly on Facebook and Instagram. We’re happy to answer any of your sugaring questions, no matter how small!
How do I tap my trees? That’s a great question, and today on the blog we’ll show you exactly how to get started. The first thing you’ll need to do is identify what types of trees you have for tapping. Fall is the perfect time to identify the trees in your yard because the leaves have not completely fallen off of the trees yet. Next, you’ll need to pick up a maple tree tapping kit, available here with free two day shipping.
Step One – Identify Your Trees
Identify the trees in your yard and mark them with a ribbon so that you know which ones you’ll be tapping during the sugaring season. The shape and color of the leaves will help you identify what type of trees you have. See our maple tree identification guide here.
Step Two – Purchase Tree Tapping Supplies
Maple sugaring equipment can be purchased directly from our store on Amazon here. You’ll need a basic maple tapping kit which includes instructions, taps and food grade drop lines. It’s essential to purchase food grade equipment here so that your sap is not contaminated with any chemicals or other unwanted contamination.
Step Three – Tap My Trees
Once the sugaring season rolls around between January and March you can tap your trees! Figure out exactly when to tap your trees by reading our timing guide located here. You’ll need to drill a 5/16” tap hole in each tree, where you’ll insert your plastic tap into. Collect your sap into a food grade container such as a spring water jug with cap. Be sure to check the container twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Still have more questions about sugaring? Check out our FAQ page here full of frequently asked questions about making maple syrup at home.
One of the most rewarding outdoor activities during the spring season is to tap maple trees and get outside with nature! I tap my trees each year in early spring, which here in Connecticut is usually in February. Though unusual, sometimes the sugaring season comes early like it did in 2016 – where I tapped in January.
I love being outside during this time of year; the forest is calm as the sun begins to warm the earth. The smell of crisp spring air fills my lungs as I hike through the woods to collect ice cold maple sap. Snow melts from the daily thaw cycle, and the sound of spring birds singing and water dripping is all you can hear. Wether we’re here or not to observe its rhythm, mother nature carries on.
There is something enchanting about being out there in the sugar bush observing its beauty. To think that Native American tribes collected and processed maple and birch sap hundreds of years before us is amazing. Though the methods and technology have changed, we still collect sap for the same reasons people always have. We enjoy drinking maple sap, using sap to brew coffee, and boiling it down into maple syrup.
The best way to get started making maple syrup is to pick up one of our super affordable maple tree tapping kits. Each kit includes food grade drop lines, 5/16” tree spouts and a quick start guide explaining how to tap a tree. This is the same equipment used by professional sugaring operations all around the country today! Kits can be easily cleaned at the end of the sugaring season and reused year after year. It’s also a great way to teach kids about nature in both a school and at home setting.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and reconnect with the natural beauty that surrounds us!
We hear a lot of questions about how to tap trees, collect maple sap and make maple syrup. Today we will talk about some of the most frequently asked questions we see and answer them below. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, ask us in the comments below or connect with us over on Facebook!
What is the smallest tree I can tap?
The smallest tree you would want to tap would have a diameter of 10” or ten inches. Trees smaller than that should not be tapped.
Can I install more than one tap or spout in my maple tree?
Trees with a diameter of 10”to 17” can support one tap. Trees with a diameter of at least 18” can support two taps.
How much sap will I get from each maple tree?
Each tree should produce around ten to twenty gallons of sap each season. This varies depending upon the maple season and the health of the individual tree. For example, two identical trees located right next to each other can produce very different levels of sap.
How deep should I drill into the tree?
Drill into the tree approximately 1.5” past the bark and into the white wood. Total depth is approximately 2.5”.
Does maple tapping hurt or damage the tree?
Tapping does not hurt or damage the tree. Following proper care when tapping will avoid any damage to the tree. Only drill one tap hole with one spout for small trees to reduce stress on the tree. The maple is the only species that is self-healing, and the tap hole will heal and close up during the year.
When I’m done collecting sap, should I put anything into the tap hole to stop the flow of sap?
No. The maple tree will heal and close up the tap hole on its own. Never put any foreign objects or plugs into the maple tree.
What is in maple sap?
Maple sap is a complex natural blend of water, sugar, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Is it safe to drink sap straight from the tree?
Generally speaking, sap is sterile before it leaves the maple tree. However, bacteria can enter the sap once it leaves the tree and is exposed to the environment or your collection container. It is similar to consuming raw cow’s milk; there are both risks and benefits to consuming raw vs. pasteurized beverages. To be safe, boil your maple sap first before drinking it.
How much sap does it take to make a gallon of finished maple syrup?
Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugar in their sap, so they work best for making syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap boiled down to make one gallon of finished syrup.
Where can I buy a maple tree tapping kit and supplies?
Buy a complete tree tapping kit complete with guide sheet and instructions here on Amazon.
How do I tap a maple tree?
Watch our video guide on how to make maple syrup here!
How do I identify what kind of maple trees I have?
See our complete guide on identifying maple trees here.
Learn how to tap your maple tree, collect the sap and boil it down into syrup! We just tapped our trees a few days ago here in Connecticut, and have already collected several gallons of fresh, nutrient-rich organic maple sap. We boiled down the sap with a propane gas burner until the sap reached a wonderful golden amber color and stored it in a sterilized mason jar.
This buttery, light amber syrup pictured above is characteristic of the syrup produced very early in the sugaring season. As the season progresses, the syrup produced will become slightly darker in a medium amber color, eventually getting very dark and robust in flavor as we near the end of the season.
How to Tap a Maple Tree
After properly identifying your maple trees, you are now ready to begin tapping!
- Gather the tools for the job: drill (cordless preferred), hammer, food grade collection container, and a 5/16” drill bit.
- Locate the tree’s Southern exposure. The side facing South tends to produce sap earlier than other sides of the trees.
- Measure the height of the tap hole carefully before drilling. The tap height is based on the total height of your collection container and the length of tubing. Be careful not to drill too high up.
- Drill into the tree approximately 1” past the bark, into the white wood, at a very slight upward angle. Remember to use caution and wear eye protection while drilling.
- Insert the smooth end of the spout into the tree, while the barbed end inserts into your blue tubing. (Pro Tip: place the end of the tubing into hot water for 10 seconds to ease the attachment of the tube to the spout!)
- Firmly tap the spout into the tree, and be careful not to hammer the spout in too much or it will be difficult to remove. It’s better to have the spout slightly loose than to have it stuck in the tree.
- Connect your tubing to a food grade collection container. We suggest using a large, clean spring water jug or soda bottle. Be sure to check the collection container daily, up to twice a day (morning and night) as the flow of sap varies by tree and temperature.
- When you’re finished collection, the equipment can be cleaned and reused next year. (Pro Tip: to ease disassembly of the tube and spout, place in hot water again for 10 seconds to soften the tube.
The clear blue tubing enhances visibility in the woods so you know exactly where your tapped trees are, even after an early Spring snow storm! There is nothing better than making 100% pure organic maple syrup yourself with these simple tools at home.
Maple tapping season runs from January through April, and varies by region. Birch sap flow begins when maple season ends. The season’s length also varies by earth climate patterns year to year. Please research the season in your region before ordering, or send us a message and we’ll be happy to help.