Maple sap gathering time: a step by step guide

There is a sweet spot right around mid-March when the sun sticks around a little longer during the day, the snow slowly begins to melt and the evenings are still cool enough to justify warming by the fireplace with family. It’s a short season – known as sugaring off or maple sap gathering time.

In Haudenosaunee folklore, there are a few different stories about how maple syrup was discovered. In the most well-known tale, a man throws his axe at a tree right before going off to hunt for the day. When he removes it, the sap from the tree drips down in to a container below. His wife, not wanting to be wasteful, sees the container of water and decides to use the liquid to boil some meat for dinner. She tastes the water and notices that it has a slightly sweet flavour, but doesn’t mind it at all. As her husband arrives back home from the hunt, he breathes in the pleasing scent of syrup and grows hungry. When they finally gather round for dinner, everyone notices the sweet, distinct flavour in the dish and they find it enjoyable.

Today we harvest our maple sap a little differently. Read below for a step-by-step guide on when and how to harvest your own maple sap:

Maple sap begins flowing when the temperatures are just above freezing (0 degrees Celsius) during the day, and below freezing (-0 degrees Celsius) at night. Maple sap gathering time is generally only 3-4 weeks long, so make sure you have identified the trees you would like to tap and have your equipment sanitized and ready to go. Sugar Maples, Black Maples, Red Maples and Silver Maples are all trees you can tap.

*Note: 1 tap will yield about 5-15 gallons of sap in a season. It will take about 10 gallons of sap to produce 1 quart or litre of syrup.

Equipment needed:
Cordless drill
Drill bit (7/16 size)
Bucket with a lid (available from maple syrup equipment suppliers or select hardware stores)

Sanitize your equipment using a mixture of 1 part household bleach to 20 parts clean water. Use a brush or cloth to clean your equipment with this mixture. Rinse everything at least three times with hot, clean water.

Once the weather conditions are appropriate, gather all your equipment and make your way outside to the maples you have selected.

Time to tap your tree! Remember, you want to choose a maple that’s at least 12 inches in diameter. Only 1 tap should be inserted into a tree of this size. A tree that’s between 20-27 inches in diameter can handle 2 taps. A tree larger than this can handle 3 taps.

Choose the location of your tap. Ideally it should be above a large root or under a large branch on the south side of the tree. Drill a hole that is 2 – 2 ½ inches deep, aiming slightly upward as you drill. You can mark your drill bit with a sharpie or a piece of tape to know when to stop drilling. Clear any shavings away from the hole you have drilled.

Make sure your hook is attached to the spile. Tap the spile into the tree with a hammer (gently, so the wood doesn’t split).

Hang your bucket and lid from the spile. If the weather conditions are right, sap should start flowing immediately. Check your bucket every day – some days your bucket may fill quickly and you won’t want it to overflow. When your bucket is full, pour the sap into a food grade container (clean, reused milk or juice containers, for example) using a cheesecloth to separate any debris.8 Refrigerate for up to one week. Sap can be consumed like a drink, but be sure to boil it first to kill off any bacteria.

Check next week’s issue for a tutorial on how to process your sap into syrup.

Healthy Roots participant Julee Green attended Six Nations Social Services’ Maple Sap Family Program this past Saturday, March 7.

Healthy Roots participant Kariwawihson and a family member, pictured here, snowshoed into the woods to tap some maples over the weekend.

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