This post may be drearily redundant to those familiar with the process, but for those who aren't, here is how we obtain pure delicious maple syrup from our own mini "sugar bush."
From a Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), the typical ratio is 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup. Thus, the sap is quite watery, and it takes a long time to boil down and concentrate the sugars.
Depending on tree size, you can safely have two or more taps per tree without causing the tree any harm. We are comfortable with one tap per tree.
Last year was our first, and we tapped two trees by the barn. We set the taps on Feb. 14, and removed them March 9. Over that time we got roughly 20 gallons of sap, which became 2 quarts of syrup. That is plenty for the two of us for a year. This year we are doing 4 trees for hopefully a shorter amount of time.
On a small scale, the cost of the equipment is very nominal. Per "tap," you need a bucket, a spout (called a "spile"--why they need a different word is beyond me), and a lid. A set costs about $11 and should last a long time.
The sap flows in waves, called "runs." In the late winter, if the days are above 40 degrees F, and the nights below freezing, you get a run. Otherwise the taps just sort of sit there.
This past Wednesday we tapped, as we were expecting 4 days of favorable weather starting the next day.
The first step, if required, is shovel a path to your trees! Lots of snow this year.
Next, choose your spot (healthy wood only, not near a tap from last year) and drill a 5/16" hole 1.5" deep, and slightly angled up. A piece of tape on the bit helps you get the right depth. Helpful hint: make sure your cordless drill is adequately charged!
Next, hang the bucket from the spile.
Next, attach the lid. This helps keep snow, rain, and bits of tree bark or lichen from getting in.
The lids are thin sheet-metal. I've found that attaching a C-clamp helps keep them from flipping up in a wind.
Now wait for the drip drip drip!
We probably have 2 dozen sugar maples on the property, some of great size, and we could vastly increase production if we wanted to. No plans for that, however.
As I write this, it looks like the "run" will be over for awhile. This run was not a particularly good one (one of the days in the middle was colder than forecasted). We got about 3 gallons of sap--enough to start a boil. I'll show that process in another post.