It’s official. The first taps of the season (and my first taps EVER) have been set. Temperatures in southern Vermont topped out at about 45 degrees on Thursday, February 20, 2014, and it was probably the first day the sap has run this year. I checked the weather forecast Wednesday night after hearing rumors all week that it would be warm, and decided that first thing Thursday morning I would tap.
As a first time sugarer, I was eager to test all the research/theories I’ve been reading about. Here are the things I knew about tapping from my research…
- Use a 7/16″ drill bit. Unless you have homemade or custom-made taps, this is the standard size for taps (taps are also called spiles).
- Drill your hole at a slight angle, so that your sap can downhill out of the hole. Might as well let gravity be your buddy.
- Be sure to clean any wood shavings and debris out of the hole. I used a twig. Shavings can clog your tap.
- Don’t use holes from previous year’s taps. Drill fresh holes.
- Choose a tap site that is beneath a large branch or above a big root. From what I’ve read, this is a theory and not a fact — but the idea is that big roots and branches are the on-ramps of the sap highways running through the trunks.
- Tap on the south side of the tree. Again, this one is a theory, but it seems very plausible. The idea is that the sun warms the south side of trees, unfreezing the sap highways earlier and faster to allow for better flow.
I put out three taps on Thursday morning. I put one tap on one tree, chosen completely at random. Well, it wasn’t completely random — it was right next to the driveway and easily accessible. What, I can’t be lazy? I call it efficiency. The other two taps I put in a single large tree. I chose the tree because it seemed like the alpha wolf of the sugarbush. It was big and stately and had no scars or missing branches. It looked like it would produce.
The single tree near the driveway turned out to be stubborn. By 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, there was about a shot glass-worth of sap in it. Bummer. I wondered if I did something incorrectly. After all, it was the first tap I’d ever set. But my stately double-tap tree… now that was a different story. It gifted me about 3/4 of a gallon of glistening, beautiful sap. Score. My first tapping wasn’t a complete failure.
Friday was not as ideal weather-wise, with cooler temps and gray skies and rain. The sap barely ran. But today, Saturday, the sun shone brightly and the temps reached the mid-40s. With my father-in-law as a willing assistant, at 8:30 am I went out and set 7 more taps in 7 different trees.
As of right now — Saturday night, February 22, 2014 — I’ve collected 3 gallons of sap. All 7 of those new trees I tapped were producers. Two of them gifted about twice the amount of the other trees. Beginner’s luck? I hope not.
As I type, I am boiling down the 3 gallons of sap as a test batch. It’s not worth it to fire up my evaporator for this small a batch, so it’s on the kitchen stove. I have the hood exhaust on full blast to vent the steam. It’s been boiling for about 4 1/2 hours now and about 2.5 gallons are boiled off. Some simple math informs me that I’ll have half a pint of syrup when it’s done. More than enough for Sunday-morning pancakes and sausage with the family tomorrow. If today’s foray into maple syrup making is any indication of the future, I’m sold.
I have much to talk about in future posts, including the lessons I’ve learned from tapping, my sap collecting method, and musings from Fred, my kick-ass next door neighbor who’s been making maple syrup for a quarter-century. Stay tuned.