If you are lucky enough to have old sugar maple trees in your yard, it is quite easy to collect your own sap and turn it into delicious maple syrup that you can use for many purposes. To tap a maple tree, you’ll need a spout, a hammer, a drill, a rustproof bucket or a container with a cover (you can also use clean plastic milk jugs), containers to store the sap prior to processing, a pan with high sides for boiling the sap, cheesecloth for filtering, and canning jars or other containers for storing the finished syrup. Once you have collected all of your supplies, it’s time to find a sugar maple!
Once you find a sugar maple that is suitable for tapping for maple syrup, choose a spot on the south side of the tree where the sun falls on the trunk, and look for a big root. The larger the root, the more sap will be running up the tree. Drill a hole at about waist height, going inside the tree about an inch and a half. Make sure to angle the hole slightly uphill into the tree so that the sap will run down into the bucket. Next, clean any loose wood from the hole and lightly tap the spout into it with a hammer. From the spout, you will hang the bucket or milk jug that will collect the sap as it drips out. Once your containers begin to fill up, you will need to collect and refrigerate the sap until you are ready to boil. When all of the sap is collected, boil the sap outdoors in a large stainless steel pot, and once it reaches its first boil, take the temperature and record it (for this you will need a thermometer that goes up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit). When the sap begins to thicken, bring the pot indoors and continue boiling on a stove. Your syrup is done when it is 7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it was when it first boiled—usually around 219 degrees. Finally, strain the syrup through cheesecloth to remove any debris, and store in proper containers for future enjoyment. Few things are as rewarding and delicious as fresh organic maple syrup on your pancakes – or as a delicious ingredient in one of our favorite maple recipes!
The sap in a sugar maple comes up from the ground and is carried from the roots up to the branches. The roots of the tree store starch over the course of the winter season, and it is this starch that gets converted into sugars that feed the tree and fuel the growth of leaves in the spring. Each tree produces hundreds of gallons of sap each spring, so taking around ten gallons over the course of a month does not harm the tree in any way.
It is imperative to only tap trees that are 12 inches in diameter and larger. Between one to three taps can be inserted into the tree depending on its size, but with smaller trees, it is wisest to stick with one. While it might seem like tapping for maple syrup and removing so much sap is harmful to the trees, when you follow tapping guidelines and tap only healthy trees, it does not cause damage. Healthy trees growing on good sites that have well-developed branches full of leaves can be tapped for decades — even centuries — without causing any noticeable decline in sap production.
At Coombs Family Farms, we support other small family farms like ours because we believe they share our commitment to sustainable farming and producing high quality food. For us, this means that we are not only passionate about making and selling maple, but we are also committed to maintaining the health of our Sugar Maple Trees. The trees are part of our history, part of our heritage, and so it is our charge to care for them responsibly. The deep respect that we have for our land shows in our unwavering commitment to practicing and maintaining a sustainable forest management plan. By doing so, we not only help to protect all aspects of this invaluable ecosystem, but we also do our part to ensure the livelihood of future generations of sugarmakers. We always use tree-friendly health spouts, and never jeopardize tree health by over-tapping – two taps per average-sized tree is our maximum. Our use of low impact vacuum tubing helps us to protect the fragile root systems of our trees, and because these tubes can carry the sap from thousands of trees to one central holding tank, it reduces the need for roads to collect sap from buckets. This eliminates the compacting of soil that can wreak havoc on tree roots and cover vegetation that healthy forests need in order to thrive.
All Coombs Family Farms organic maple products use QAI organic certified cleaning processes to prevent contamination of equipment, soil, and groundwater and we never use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. We also support other small farmers who practice sustainable forestry and share our commitment to the environment. In this way we are helping to support responsible forest stewardship policies beyond our farm, keep land open and forest ecosystems intact, and strengthen rural economies.
Each spring we are reminded of our personal roots and our connection to the land and to the family farming community when we tap many of the same maple trees our great-great-grandparents once tapped—some of them more than 300-years-old. As our farm has grown over the years, we have continued to take pride in maintaining our connection with these ancient maple trees. To us, they represent a meaningful link to the past, and remind us every day of what can be accomplished when a forest is properly cared for and treated with the respect that it deserves.