The Art and Science Behind
Tapping Maple Trees
Toronto life didn’t prepare me for tapping maple trees, I didn’t even own a good drill capable of driving the bit into a tree. When tapping maple trees for sap, a drill more powerful than one for used hanging picture frames is required. After all, the tree is solid maple and not thin Toronto apartment drywall.
Maple is adamantium compared to a Toronto apartment wall. You know the stuff used to craft Captain America’s shield and Wolverine’s claws. Every Marvel fan knows adamantium is unbreakable, and with the wrong drill, maple trees are pretty darn unbreakable too.
That’s because maple is considered one of the hardiest woods among the hardwoods, therefore it’s best to invest in a contractor quality drill with plenty of torque. An avid garage saler pre-COVID, a quality drill was located at a contractor’s garage sale, and it’s used specifically for the task of tapping maple trees.
Unfortunately when it comes to tapping maple trees, I discovered there’s little information, and the videos and articles are contradictory. Basically there is an art and science behind tapping maple trees, and how you tap is an individual preference.
For best sap collecting the spile needs to go in on a slight angle. The sap doesn’t flow when the spile is too straight ahead, but too much of a downward angle is bad too. I think when the angle is too downward the sap flows down the tree and not into the bucket, but without someone who has years of experience providing me tips, I’m not sure.
Small scale sappers have their own style, and they tend to be secretive about how they tap their maple trees. I’m starting to get much better my third season tapping maple trees, and developed my own methods that I’ll gladly share.
When Is The Best Time For Tapping Maple Trees?
Mother nature is responsible for starting the sap flowing process. Maple sap flows best when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. The taps stop flowing when night time temperatures are above freezing because the maple trees are convinced they have enough sap for the season.
Watching the Weather Channel only helps a little when deciding to tap for yummy Canadian Gold. A week’s worth of weather data is highly unreliable, a snow storm could blow suddenly in from the lake, or a cold front could drop daytime temps below freezing. A slowly warming spring is best, but that doesn’t appear like it will happen in maple syrup season 2022.
The Enchanted Forest has its own unique microclimate too. I’ve noticed a temperature difference a mere 500 meters from the forest. The temperature begins to slightly rise a few degrees the further away from the forest, and this slight difference has helped keep the taps flowing when other sappers’ seasons have ended.
The temperature is impacted by elevation too, Grey Highlands is 1500 ft above Toronto and located ten minutes away from Beaver Valley Ski Club. Generally speaking our elevation creates a few extra sap flowing days compared to our lowland neighbors. Lowlanders do start their season a few days early.
A combination of weather data and observation is used when tapping maple trees. Snow melting around the base of a maple tree is the first sign. Snow melts faster around the base of the trees, and this is a signal trees are warming up.
When daytime temperatures are predicted above freezing, a tester tap goes in. The tester really helps determine the start of maple season by letting us know if the trees have woken up. I just feel bad tapping maple trees if they are still slumbering.
If The Weather Channel is correct with their week’s forecast, and the tester is filling up a bucket, the remaining taps will continue to go out as the maple trees wake up. It doesn’t take much time tapping fifteen maple trees, and spreading the tapping out over a few days doesn’t result in much syrup loss.
Toronto doesn’t have many legit sugar maple trees, most are imported Dutch maple, but a hipster might tap a birch. Note, it takes about 25 liters of birch sap for 1 liter of birch syrup. One tree could potentially produce this much, but the sap would have to be frozen before boiling as it may go bad before boiling down.