When Should I Tap My Maple Trees?

This is one of the most popular questions we hear from customers who are getting started in the hobby. It is also one of the most difficult questions to answer, even for the veteran sugar maker. While it may sound cliche, tapping your trees at just the right time is both an art and a science. There is no golden rule or specific date each year that works for everyone, in every location, every year. However, there are a number of factors we can look at that will help us determine when to start tapping.

The typical maple sugaring season in North America occurs during the early spring months between January and April each year. Climate and your specific geographic location are the two major factors that will determine the beginning and end of your sugaring season.

Climate is the most important consideration, as it directly effects the biology of the maple tree itself. First, let’s discuss how sap flows from a tree so we can better understand the process.

Maple sap flows from your tree tap due to a fluctuation in the tree’s internal pressure, which is caused by environmental temperature changes that occur each spring. Freezing temperatures at night, and above freezing temperatures during the day are the catalyst for this internal process. Every spring, this special freeze-thaw cycle occurs as we move away from winter. The maple tree stores water and essential nutrients in its sap during the winter, which is pumped up from the ground through the trunk and to each individual branch.

drillingtreestaps

Each year brings new climate change related challenges to those of us who make maple syrup. In the 2015 season, an unusually cold and harsh winter led to a very late start to the season for us here in New England and in the Midwest. When most of us would be collecting sap in February, the unusual arctic blasts pushed the sugaring season into March. At the time, we were worried about whether or not the warm weather would then come too quickly in March, causing the trees to sprout buds – effectively ending the season before much sap could be collected. Despite those fears, March turned out to be a very successful month for sugar makers in 2015.

This year, the 2016 season has its own climate related challenges to overcome thanks to El Niño. El Niño is a cyclical global warming event caused by warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This warming pattern typically creates warmer, drier winters for New England, the Northern Mid-Western states, and the North Western states. So what does that mean for us this year?

While the exact effects of El Niño remain to be seen, scientists are predicting a milder winter here in New England. We anticipate tapping our maple trees this coming week here in Connecticut, Monday January 25, 2016. Here’s this week’s weather forecast, notice the above freezing temps during the day and freezing low temps. Sap will be flowing very nicely on those days where it warms into the 40’s.

That brings us to the next factor to consider, geographic location. Our customers are located all across the United States, so tapping times vary greatly depending upon your location. For example, here in Connecticut we usually tap quite a bit earlier than Vermont or New Hampshire, as their temperatures stay colder longer up North. That is balanced out by the fact that as we warm up here and buds sprout on trees in Connecticut, producers up North are still collecting sap a few weeks after we end. The same can be said as you travel further North into Canada where the season can extend into early April.

Our final tip to you as you embark on your first season, would be: reach out to local sugar makers in your area. Stop in to your local sugar shack or place a call; ask them if they’ve tapped their trees yet. We are a unique breed who enjoy creating a natural, delicious product from the land and often have a story to share with those who express curiosity in this ancient tradition.

Have more questions or want to chat? Join us on Twitter @KaitoRidge

Get a maple tree tapping kit here!

12 Amazing Facts About Maple Syrup

1. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup.

2. In early spring, sap flow is caused by a daily fluctuation in temperature. Below freezing temps at night and warming above 32 degrees during the day causes sap to flow.

3. Maple syrup is a 100% natural product with nothing else added.

4. Scientists from the University of Rhode Island have identified 54 beneficial natural compounds in pure maple syrup.

5. In 2012, thieves stole $20 million dollars worth of syrup from reserves in Montreal, Canada.

6. In Japan, people eat fried maple leaves as a delicacy.

7. Canada produces over 80% of the world’s total maple syrup supply.

8. There are several grades and colors of maple syrup, and each has different flavors and nuances. Syrup produced early in the season is light amber with light flavor, and gradually darkens in color and strengthens in flavor as the sugaring season progresses.

9. The maple tree is the only tree that is self healing.

10. Maple water is the new coconut water! Maple sap is now commercially sold as a beverage.

11. Drinking sap from the maple tree known as Gorosoe has long been a spring tradition in South Korea.

12. Sap is enjoyed at heated public bath houses across South Korea each spring. They believe in sweating out toxins from the body and rejuvenating the body with healthy minerals and nutrients from maple sap.

Make your own maple syrup at home with a tree tapping kit!

 

How to Identify Maple Trees

Autumn is here and the frosty winter air is rolling in quickly across New England this week! Now is the perfect time of year to identify your maple trees for the upcoming spring maple sugaring season before the leaves are completely gone from the branches. We’ll use a combination of clues from both the bark of the tree and its foliage to accurately identify each species of maple.

Some of the most common maple species found here in North America include: Sugar maple, Red maple and the Silver maple. We will also identify the Japanese maple which is commonly planted here for its beauty, though it is not native to North America.

Sugar maple, acer saccharum, is the most common species out of the group and also provides the best sap for producing maple syrup. It has the highest sugar content in its sap compared to the other species, and its leaf is featured on the Canadian flag. Its leaves usually have five lobes with smooth, u-shaped connections between each lobe and no serrated edges.

sugar-maple-leaf

The sugar maple’s bark is medium to dark grey and smooth on young, small diameter trees. Mature trees of larger diameter have a distinct textured bark with vertical ridges or fissures that are brown to dark brown as pictured below.

sugar-maple-bark

Next we have the Red maple, acer rubrum, another common species known for its brilliant red fall foliage. The leaves have a distinct shape, with serrated edges and v-shaped spaces between the lobes.

red-maple-leaf

The Red maple’s bark is very similar to that of the sugar maple, and can have robust ridges in the bark in mature trees as pictured below.

red-maple-bark

Silver maple, acer saccharinum, is one of our favorite species of maple and is also characterized by a very distinct leaf shape and bark type. The leaf of the silver maple has five lobes, with very deep notches between each long, slender lobe. The silver maple leaf is pictured below.

Silver Maple Leaf.jpg

Silver maple tree bark is shaggy and rough similar to the sugar maple, but is distinctly more light grey or silver in appearance. It is very easy to spot silver maples in the woods amongst other species because of their bright, silver colored bark pictured below.

Silver Maple Bark.jpg

Japanese maple, acer palmatum, is native to Japan, Korea and parts of Russia. There are many variations of this species so it would be impossible to classify all of them under one set of identifiers. Generally speaking, its leaves are typically deeply cut and feathery in appearance with beautiful deep red hues, though some vary to deep dark purples.

Japanese Maple Leaf.jpg

Japanese maple’s bark is smoother and less textured than other species, as pictured below.

Japanese Maple Bark.jpg

While there are many more species of maple trees along with sub-species, these are just a few of the most common trees in our area. This is a great time of year to identify the trees you want to tap on your property for the upcoming sugaring season, since we can use the foliage as our guide.

If you have a large property with a number of trees, you can always mark the trees you want to tap by tying a brightly colored ribbon loosely around the tree’s trunk. This will help make your first season of sugaring successful as you’ll take the guess work out of identifying your trees in early Spring when it comes time for tapping.