How to tap trees for sap
How to Tap Trees for Syrup
Their front yard boasted seven regal sugar maples, and I’d help ferry buckets of the clear, watery sap to my aunt’s kitchen, where a stockpot was continuously aboil.
I make my own syrup now, albeit from the black walnuts in my neighbor’s North Carolina yard. Other trees that produce sweet saps include sycamores, butternuts, and shagbark hickories, as well as all manner of birches, box elders, and maples. Just be forewarned: Many of these alternatives contain less sugar than the aptly named sugar maple, so you’ll have to boil a lot of sap to yield a very small amount of syrup.
For any kind of sap to start flowing, though, below-freezing night temperatures must alternate with warmer days, hence the prime tapping time of late winter and early spring. And while the extreme climates of New England, the upper Midwest, and eastern Canada boast the most serious syrup-industry cred, I can attest to success below the Mason-Dixon Line and have heard of tree-tapping as far west as Kansas.
To get started, follow these simple steps, and be sure to disconnect the tap when the tree’s leaf buds swell, a sign that the sap will soon turn bitter. If done correctly, the process won’t hurt the tree. Think of it as an arboreal version of donating blood, only far more delicious.
1. Drill a hole.
Using a power drill and a sharp bit that corresponds with your chosen spout (see Step 2), bore a 2″-deep hole in a tree with a diameter of at least 10″. (Trees with diameters over 18″ can manage two taps, while those with diameters over 25″ can accommodate three.) The hole should be situated at a comfortable working height, approximately 2′ to 4′ above the ground and tilted upward at a slight, 5-degree angle.
2. Tap the tree.
Place the pointy end of a spile, as the spouts are called, in the hole and lightly hammer into place. Then hang a lidded tapping bucket from the spile’s hook. Or you can adopt my preferred – more affordable, if less aesthetically pleasing – method (inset), by running tubing from the spile to a plastic gallon-size water jug with a tube-sized hole drilled into the cap. (Spiles, lidded buckets, and tubing are available at okhardwarestore.com and bascomaple.com.) Collect the sap daily by pouring it into a second bucket or replacing the current plastic jug with an empty one. Refrigerate the sap in any large covered container until you’re ready to boil it down. (If debris has gotten into the sap, you’ll need to filter it through cheesecloth before boiling.)
3. Boil the sap.
In a large pot, over high heat, bring a gallon of sap to boiling, then reduce heat to medium high and maintain a low boil for about an hour – until the liquid thickens and drips from a spoon slowly. If the sap starts to boil over, touch the surface briefly with a stick of butter to settle. A gallon of sugar-maple sap will yield roughly four ounces of syrup, while other saps will give you one or two. (Note: If you’re working with birch sap, watch the heat level carefully. Birch sap features fructose instead of sucrose and scorches more easily.)
4. Bottle the syrup.
Use a metal funnel to decant the hot syrup into clean glass bottles, and cap them immediately. (To prevent the bottles from cracking, warm them by filling with hot water and pouring it out right before decanting.) Unopened bottles will remain shelf-stable for two years. After opening, store syrup in the fridge for up to a year.
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When To Tap Maple Trees
Generally the sap starts to flow between mid-February and mid-March. The exact time of year depends upon where you live and weather conditions. Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 Celsius) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. The rising temperature creates pressure in the tree generating the sap flow. This is basically a transfer of the sap from the tree above the ground and the root system below the ground. The sap generally flows for 4 to 6 weeks, with the best sap produced early on in the sap-flowing season.
Select Maple Trees to Tap
Now is the time to pull out that yard map where you have identified your maple trees, including the type of maple tree. The recommended order in selecting your maple trees to yield a higher sugar content is: Sugar, Black, Red, Silver. Select trees that are mature (at least 12 inches in diameter) and healthy. That tree on the edge of your driveway healing from a direct car hit is not an ideal candidate for tapping. Additionally, select trees with the greatest exposure to sunlight. If you have a limited number of maples available, you can tap a particular tree two or tree times, depending upon its size. Using these guidelines, a healthy tree will support multiple taps:
12-20 inches = 1 Tap
21-27 inches = 2 Taps
Greater than 27 inches = 3 Taps
Clean spiles bucket, and lids prior to use each season. With a mixture of 1 part unscented household bleach (such as Clorox® Regular-Bleach) to 20 parts clean water, use a brush or cloth to scrub your supplies. Triple rinse all with hot water.
Now the excitement starts. The weather conditions are ideal and you are headed out to the yard to tap your first tree. Take your drill (with bit attached), hammer, spiles, hooks, buckets, and lids. Don’t forget your camera to capture the moment.
Tap the Tree
The height of the tap hole should be at a height that is convenient for you and allows easy collection. A height of about 3 feet is recommended. If the tree has been tapped in previous seasons, do not tap within 6 inches of the former tap hole. Ideally, the tap hole should be above a large root or below a large branch on the south side of the tree. If more than one tap is to be placed in the same tree, distribute the tap holes around the circumference of the tree. Be sure to avoid any damaged area of the tree.
Drill the tap hole:
The size of the drill bit to be used is dependent on the type of spile you are using. Most spiles require either a 7/16 or 5/16 bit. Drill a hole 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. It may be helpful to wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit 2 ½ inches from the tip to use as a guide. Drill at a slight upward angle to facilitate downward flow of sap from the hole. The shavings from the drilled tap hole should be light brown, indicating healthy sapwood. If the shavings are dark brown, drill another hole in a different location.
Inserting the Spile:
Clear any wood shavings from the edge of the hole. Insert the spile into the loop on the hook (hook facing outward), and then insert the spile into the tap hole. Gently tap the spile into the tree with a hammer (do not pound the spile into the tree, as this may cause the wood to split). If the sap is flowing, you should immediately see sap dripping from the spile.
Hang the bucket and attach lid
Hang the bucket by inserting the hook into the hole on the rim of the bucket. Attach the lid to the spile by inserting the metal wire into the double holes on the spile.
Congratulations, you have successfully tapped your first maple tree. Send us a picture!
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Seven secrets of collecting birch sap
Collecting birch sap continues throughout central Russia. Even in Siberia, the harvesting season has already started, a couple of weeks ahead of the traditional time. Have you already been in the forest, breathing spring? If not, then by all means go for birch sap on the weekend!
It's really great: to wander through the awakening forest, listen to the murmur of a stream, smell the aroma of thawed earth and buds that are ready to burst. And then choose a few birches thicker and stronger, drill shallow holes, and put bottles under them - filled drop by drop with cold moisture, slightly sweet and soft in taste.
What secrets do you need to know in order to properly collect birch sap and not harm yourself or birch trees?
Choose an environmentally friendly area
Do not collect birch sap in environmentally unfavorable areas, along highways and railway tracks, and under power lines. Such juice can bring not benefit, but harm. After all, a birch, although it drives moisture taken from the earth through itself, still cannot completely clear it of chemical compounds. Go to a clean large forest away from the city, where nature is not spoiled by industrial influence.
Parks and reserves are not suitable
By law, birch sap cannot be collected in city parks and forest parks, in places of public recreation, in dendrological parks and botanical gardens. And also in historical and cultural reserves, memorial parks, in habitats of wild animals and wild plants, included in the Red Book. These restrictions also apply to the territories of sanatoriums, rest homes and health care institutions. So if you have planned for yourself a pleasant forest surrounding the out-of-town department of some hospital, then be prepared to pay a fine.
Find a tree with a thick trunk
Romantic thin birches, which artists like to draw, will not work for our purposes. Sap collection will only be safe for a tree with a trunk thickness of more than 20 cm in diameter. Choose a strong mature tree with a developed canopy. This indicates that its root system is quite deep and branched, which means that the tree takes moisture not from the surface, where the roots feed polluted melt water, but from clean bowels.
To determine whether you have chosen the right tree, make a shallow puncture in the bark - only a centimeter and a half. If transparent drops quickly appear on it, then you can drill a hole and tie up the dishes to collect the juice.
How to collect sap correctly
You can collect it from the moment the snow melts until the first leaves appear, then the strong root system of birch ceases to drive moisture along the trunk with such intensity. It is better to make a hole on the side of the trunk that faces south: there is more active movement of juices. At a height of 40-50 cm above the ground, we make a shallow vertical incision or drill a hole so that the hole goes deep and up. Approximate depth 2-3 cm, so as to only penetrate under the bark layer. Forget about notches with an ax right away - this is a barbaric method.
Insert a "guide" - for example, a plastic tube - into the hole and lower it into the container. A homemade groove is also suitable, if only the juice gets into a container tied to a tree or a container. It is better to collect in glass, but plastic containers are also suitable if you are not going to store juice for a long time. Otherwise, in plastic, after 6-8 hours it can acquire an unpleasant synthetic smell.
It is considered that two holes can be made on a tree over 25 cm in diameter. But even on a very thick birch, there should not be more than four of them.
How much sap can be collected and how to "heal" a birch.
If you want to collect more than a liter of juice, and not just ritually mark the spring, then use several trees. It is impossible to take more than one liter per day from an average birch. This can harm the tree. After the collection of juice is completed, the incision must be tightly closed. Experienced sap collectors take wax with them into the forest and cover up the hole. You can also take plasticine, as long as microbes do not get into the hole and rotting does not begin. A well-fitted cork from a cut branch or moss is also suitable, which must be pressed down with a piece of bark and tied to the trunk.
What is the use, except pure joy
Meticulous scientists have found out the composition of birch sap. It contains ascorbic acid and B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, fluorine and phosphorus. In small quantities - copper, manganese, titanium, silicon, barium. Glucose and fructose give a slightly noticeable sweet taste. Herbalists claim that birch sap improves immunity, improves metabolism, normalizes blood pressure, stimulates the heart, relieves swelling and relieves inflammation in the oral cavity.
Dermatologists add that it helps with neurodermatitis, boils, acne, eczema, wound healing, dandruff and hair loss. So it was not in vain that girls in Russia certainly washed themselves with the first birch sap, considering it a magical remedy for girlish beauty.
When birch sap is harmful
Only the one that is collected along the roads. Birch sap collected in an ecologically unfavorable place can even be poisoned. Therefore, never buy it from your hands, collect it yourself.
Birch sap is also prohibited for those who suffer from diabetes and are allergic to pollen from birch catkins. In the latter case, it is better not to go to the birch grove until the end of May.
If you know that you have no contraindications and are confident in the ecology of the place, then birch sap is what you need to find joy and vigor, to be nourished by the forces of awakening nature.
How to store it
Unfortunately, birch sap cannot be stored for a long time without special treatment. After standing for two days in the refrigerator, then it begins to become cloudy and sour, it acquires an unpleasant aftertaste.
“You can perfectly preserve fresh birch sap if you bottle it and freeze it,” Alexander Yastrebov, a true connoisseur of wildlife, a Kamchatka plant collector and a great expert in harvesting plants, told a MIR 24 correspondent. - In Kamchatka, the snow has not yet melted, but soon the sap flow will begin. I have already marked birch trees not far from my house. And this one I took a picture with is unique. I protect it, I don’t show it to anyone, and I won’t take juice from it.”
Alexander is a musician by education, many years ago he moved to Kamchatka from Zelenograd, built himself a house in the forest, on the shore of the lake, writes music, plays the piano and the guitar, hunts and fishes, collects wild plants, harvests, cooks from them Fantastically delicious dishes according to their own recipes and treats tourists.
“Frozen juice does not differ in taste from natural juice, so you can prepare a lot of juice for yourself and your family, if only there was a large refrigerator,” says Alexander. “I will do just that this year. And from birch sap you get very tasty kvass, which is unusually good for okroshka. And it's easy to prepare. It is necessary immediately after collection to strain the juice, pour into sterilized jars or glass bottles and add a few raisins and sugar to each at the rate of 10-20 g per liter. Then you need to tie the bottles with gauze and leave the juice to wander for 3-4 days in a cool place. Then cork and store in the refrigerator or in the cellar on its side. So it can be stored for several months.
When and how to collect birch sap
It is easy to stock up for future use and even use it as a basis for kvass.
Birch sap is a clear or cloudy colorless liquid with a slight sweet taste.
When to collect birch sap
The best time is spring. Birch sap is harvested when the trees come out of their winter dormancy and their buds begin to swell. In different regions, these dates vary, and spring sometimes comes late, so it is difficult to name the exact dates. On average, the right moment comes in March or April. In any case, it is better to choose a sunny day: in cloudy and rainy weather, the circulation of the juice is not so intense.
Do not try to collect juice when the first leaves have already appeared on the trees. There will be practically none, and what you can get is unlikely to be with a pleasant taste.
Where to collect birch sap
First, decide on a place. Do not pay attention to the trees that grow next to busy highways, large settlements, factories and factories. For juice, it is better to go to a suburban birch grove or a mixed forest.
Do not lose sight of the laws. So, according to information Official statement of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia regarding the collection of mushrooms and birch sap of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia, sap can be collected in forests. But with birch trees that grow in reserves and natural parks, the situation is different. Gathering is prohibited there. Cities also have similar restrictions. For example, in Moscow, the collection of sap within the city is considered damage to green spaces and is subject to Birch sap: Mospriroda warns of a ban on the collection of tree "nectar" fine.
How to collect birch sap
- Select a suitable birch with a trunk diameter of at least 25–30 cm at adult chest level. You should not collect juice from young trees: they need it for normal growth and development. Damaged birches are also best avoided.
- On the south side of the trunk, carefully remove the top thick layer of bark from an area of approximately 2 cm x 2 cm with a knife. .
It is best to use a screwdriver or a drill with a 5-10 mm drill, which is battery operated. You should not take an ax, otherwise you can severely damage the tree.
Do not drill more than one hole on a tree up to 30 cm in diameter. At 30–40 cm, 2 holes are acceptable, and if the thickness is even greater, even three can be made. At the same time, the distance between them must be at least 20 cm.
- There are many ways to collect birch sap. The easiest is to insert a plastic tube into the hole that you have made and direct it into a jar or bottle.
It is also convenient to use an ordinary medical dropper. And if you make a hole in the cap of a plastic bottle for its tube, then garbage will not get into the juice.The same dripper can be used multiple times to collect juice / Photo: schankz / Shutterstock
If there is nothing suitable at hand, you can take a branch of suitable thickness and fasten it to a plastic bottle with twine. The juice will drip directly into the bowl.You can also collect birch sap with the help of improvised means / Photo: Jrs Jahangeer / Shutterstock
- When you have collected enough juice - and you should not take more than 1-2 liters from one tree - carefully remove the straw or other device.
- Be sure to seal the hole in the trunk, otherwise the tree may be damaged. It must be plugged with a wooden peg, covered with wax or garden pitch, which can be bought at the store.
How to store birch sap
A natural drink will not keep for long if you just put it in the refrigerator. After 2-3 days, it will begin to turn sour, cloudy and lose its pleasant taste. To preserve the juice, it is usually bottled in plastic bottles and simply frozen. The only drawback of this method is that large stocks cannot be made without a capacious freezer.
Another option available is canning.
Birch sap with lemon and orange for winterThis recipe will make birch sap very similar to lemonade / Photo: Zatirka Ivan / Shutterstock
- 3 lemon slices;
- 3 orange slices;
- 100 g sugar;
- ⅓ teaspoon citric acid;
- 3 liters of birch sap.
Scald lemon and orange slices with boiling water. Place in a sterilized 3 liter jar, add sugar and citric acid.
Strain birch sap through cheesecloth folded several times. Boil and pour into a jar to the very top.
Roll up with a sterilized lid. Turn over the jar. Wrap with a blanket or blanket. When the juice has cooled completely, store it in a pantry or cellar.
What to make from birch sap
The sap obtained from the tree itself has a pleasant taste and is good without any additives. Although on its basis you can easily make different drinks. In addition, it will help to increase the shelf life up to several months.
Birch sap kvass with raisinsBirch sap kvass is best drunk chilled / Photo: Auhustsinovich / Shutterstock
- 3 l birch sap;
- 160-170 g sugar;
- 15 g raisins.
Strain birch sap through cheesecloth folded several times.