A weekend not too long ago was the Maple Syrup Festival just down the road from Mossy Banks at the Forest Discovery Centre. Lynn and Jordan went out to it, while I was otherwise out of town. They came back fully charged to go out and start tapping our maple trees. And that is exactly what we did. With our first four taps we headed out onto the land; drill, tubes, and hammer in hand as well.
I turn to the first page in the book picked up at the festival: Bigleaf Sugaring, Tapping the western maple by Gary and Katherine Backlund. There is a quote that puts a smile on my face and aids in my own excitement about this new project we are undertaking. It says "Three good producing trees will yield enough sap to produce four litres of syrup per year". We currently have three trees tapped, and that is just the beginning! What a great thing to look forward to in the winters.
Here are a few things that I have learned so far from this Bigleaf Sugaring experience and our handy little book.
- The season starts as early as the beginning of November and goes until early March. Tapping is best once the fall leaves come off and before the new buds come out. December and January are noted to produce the best quality syrup.
- Pick trees that are younger, as the sap is more readily available and more vigorous in flow. Coppices can be tapped as young as 10 years old, while single trunks are good as young as 20 years. The older a tree is, the more energy it puts into healing larger injuries than a small drill hole.
- A coppice can be as small as 10 cm in diameter, while a single trunked tree is better being 25 cm. Both seem to have a cap at 45 cm diameters.
- Trees with large crowns are better for tapping.
- Good sun exposure may lend a hand in better flow. Though our winters are a lot milder than out East, we can probably get away with more flexibility in this area.
- Trees that have a good supply of water produce more sap as they drink up the available water in the area.
- Drill a hole 12 mm in diameter and 10-13 cm deep with a twist type bit, not a flat spade bit. If you have used the bit for other projects, it is a good idea to give it a good wash, as it can contaminate the hole and effect the flavour of the syrup. Measure the depth from the inside of the bark layer.
- Drill the holes at a slightly upwards angle to encourage the sap to run down into the taps and tubing. This also keeps the hole clean.
- You don't have to drill too high up the tree. 24-36 cm is high enough.
- More then one tap can be put into any given tree and attached to the same tubing using a "t". The holes should be staggered to tap into different sap channels.
- Each season the taps should move over so you eventually run a full circle around the trunk. It only takes about a year for the tree to repair the holes drilled.
- The collection containers should be sealed to keep out rain and insects.
- The sap should be boiled within a couple days of its collection.
- The boiling off of the water in the sap produces a whole lot of steam, and it is best done outdoors to avoid it peeling off paint or wallpaper.
We produced one tiny jar of fairly thick syrup the first time around, and filled an 800 mL jar the second time. The syrup really is quite sweet and delicious. To celebrate we dished out some vanilla ice cream and poured a bit of our still warm maple syrup on top. Yes, yet another part of the process that boosted the excitement of this project.
With just a couple of weeks of tapping left to be done, we are hoping to fill a few more jars that can last us a little while into the spring and summer. We can work out a few more learning kinks during this time, and be ready for November, when we will be back out in the forest with our taps and buckets. If we get good flow in late November and early December we are planning on having some very tasty Christmas gifts even!
If you have even just one maple tree in your yard, I highly recommend picking up a tap or two and experimenting with making your own wonderfully delicious maple syrup.
Enjoy the marvels of living in Canada!