As an Environmental Educator, one of the programs I used to teach was Maple Sugaring. We had a Sugar Bush and a Sugar Shack where there was an evaporator and all the tools we needed to teach the process.
Where I lived I had three large Norway Maples in my yard and would tap them for the whole winter. I would usually get about 35 gal. of sap which equated to more than a gallon of syrup, they were very sweet trees!
Here in NC I have one Silver Maple on my property and the thought of taping my maple tree has occurred to me a few times but I had the notion, from all that I have read, that we are too far south. Than last year we had a very cold winter but by the time I thought about it it was too late.
So, this year I thought about it when the weather got pretty cold there for a stretch. I went through the whole process and the sap actually flowed on the day I did it. I got very excited thinking I may actually get some syrup this year. Unfortunately it started getting warmer and warmer from that point on and the sap stopped running. Now the Tree's buds are swollen and it is in Spring Mode so the chance of getting any more sap is slim to none.
Looks like this Ethnobotanical Pursuit is not going to happen as planned, yet, it was a pursuit non the less and it felt good going through the motions again. What follows is a description of the steps for tapping a tree, I hope you find it interesting even though I was not able to see it through to the end product.
The first thing you need to do is make or gather a Spile. A Spile is a hollow tube. My favorite Spiles are Bamboo and my next favorite is the hollow stems (once you take out the pith)of Sumac. I decide to make one for the project this time. The Spile is what allows the sap to drip away from the tree so it can be gathered easily.
The O.D. of the Splie should be slightly larger than the hole you will be drilling into the tree and tapered at one end.
Next you need to find a Maple or other suitable tree to Tap.The tree need to be at least a foot in diameter and should be in the sun if at all possible.
This might be a good time to explain the whole Tree/Sap thing. Sap is mostly water and the Tree uses it to transport water and nourishment in the form of vitamins minerals and sugars from the roots/leaves to the rest of the tree. Remember Xylem and Phloem? Since the sap is mostly water, in the cold winter, the tree sends the sap down to the roots for storage, because if it stayed in the tree and froze, it would crack the tree due to the waters expansion. So, on a very cold night the sap heads down to the roots and if the day warms to around 45deg. the sap goes back up the tree. This is referred to as "the sap is Running". Sap can only be collected if it is Running, this is why all Maple sugaring is done in the north, and even there, depending on the weather, they may only get two or three good sap Runs a year! Just one of the reasons Maple Sugar is so expensive. So the ideal time to collect Sap is when we get freezing nights and the days warm to above 45deg.
Back to the process. Because of the above explanation you should Tap or drill your hole on the south side of the tree because it warms first and will start to flow sooner. I have Tapped large maple trees with three taps going around the tree and the Tap on the south side always starts dripping first. Some days when the Temperature is teetering on being warm enough, only the south facing Taps will produce. Also if you can Tap the tree under a large branch you will get more Sap as the tree has to send more to that part.
Drill your hole at least three feet of the ground and at an downward facing angle. This angle is important so the Spile never clogs with frozen sap. the hole only need to be about 1.5 inches deep.
Once the hole is drilled. Tap the Spile in, tapered part first, with a rock or hammer till it seats nice and tight, this will prevent sap from being wasted and just running down the tree.
If you do this on the right day the sap will start flowing immediately!
Next you need to find a container to collect the sap. If you use a nail to hang your container, please don't use galvanized, it is toxic to you and the tree. You notice I am using glass, if you do the same, you need to empty the sap every night or your jar will crack if it freezes. Learn from my mistakes, I have lost Sap his way!
Once you collect enough sap you can start to boil it down. Depending on how sweet your tree is it could take up to 50gal. of sap to make 1gal. of Syrup! Keep in mind that all that water has to go somewhere when you boil it off, imagine what 40 gal. of steam will do to your wall paper!
Once you get close, and the Sap starts to thicken, watch it very closely as you can burn it quite easily. A mistake you don't want to make after all the time, effort and energy to get this far. Your Sap will be Syrup when it reaches 219 deg.
Unfortunately, we have to wait till next winter to try this again, but start to scout out the trees you will use and get the materials together, and good luck!
As you can see, even the best laid Ethnobotanical Pursuits of mice and men often go astray!