Everything’s better with maple syrup. At least that’s what you’ll hear when you ask Vermonters. So what better way khổng lồ solidify your love for all things maple than to learn how to lớn make it yourself? We’re counting down the days until sugaring season begins & we can start setting taps, running lines, và collecting sap. Are you? If you have sầu a couple of trees nearby — say in your backyard — we have sầu all the advice you need from spout to lớn syrup!

The following is an excerpt from The Sugarmaker’s Companion by Michael Farrell. It has been adapted for the website.

Bạn đang xem: What is tree sap and why do trees produce it?

(Phokhổng lồ by Nancie Battaglia)

Sap inside a maple tree is essentially sterile, yet once it enters the tubing system it becomes contaminated with bacteria and yeast—no matter how well you tried khổng lồ clean it. By preventing the contaminated sap from going baông chồng inlớn to the tree, the check-valve sầu spout keeps the taphole cleaner. It is the bacteria và yeast that cause the taphole khổng lồ “dry up” toward the end of the season, so sugarmakers who use check-valve sầu spouts report getting more sap flow later in the season than those with regular spouts.

Check-valve spouts have sầu been advertised khổng lồ greatly boost sap yields, though not all sugarmakers get the same results. The type of impact you see depends on the following parameters:

Age & chất lượng of tubing system. If your system is relatively new và clean, check-valve spouts don’t have as much impact as they vì on older, more contaminated tubing systems.Vacuum pump management. If you keep your vacuum pump running whenever it is above freezing & don’t turn it off until all the sap in your tubing system freezes, the impact of using a check-valve sầu spout is significantly minimized. Under the constant pull of the vacuum, the sap won’t be able to lớn migrate baông chồng in to the taphole. Type of releaser. Since mechanical releasers allow air to enter the tubing system every time they dump, this action can cause sap to move sầu backward inkhổng lồ the tree, making check-valve sầu spouts more useful. Electric releasers vày not allow air inkhổng lồ the system, so check-valves vị not have sầu as much of an impact in those types of tubing systems.Date of tapping. Using check-valve spouts makes sense for producers who want khổng lồ tap in January or February to catch the early runs while still having viable tapholes in April lớn catch the late ones. Sugarmakers who tap later in the season will not experience as striking an effect from the check-valve sầu spouts.
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Many sugarmakers collect old spouts & assemble them in nice displays for educational purposes. This collection was developed by Joe Orefice, a forestry professor at Paul Smith’s College. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.


Check-valves aren’t the only type of spout to gain a lot of interest & attention amuốn sugarmakers. Clear polycarbonate spouts came out a few years ago and are now being carried by most maple equipment companies. Our research found little difference in yield between clear polycarbonate spouts and the blaông chồng checkvalve spout adapters. Leader has since come out with a clear polycarbonate check-valve sầu spout that we are experimenting with this year. In 2013, researchers at UVM found that these spouts outperformed all others in their trials. One of the main advantages of clear polycarbonate spouts is that you can see through them, so it is easy lớn find leaky tapholes. They also seat very well in the taphole, so the chances of leaks developing are minimized. Finally, they are also relatively inexpensive, though I wouldn’t necessarily base my choice of spout on the cost. For a relatively low investment, the potential returns from using a good spout far outweigh the cost of buying it. A diverse array of spouts is available on the market & new ones are being developed almost every year, so be sure to lớn keep up khổng lồ date on the lademo developments & choose the spout that you think will work best for your situation.

Finally, I always recommend using 5 ∕16″ diameter spouts, especially if you have a vacuum tubing system. Research at Cornell, Proctor, and Centre ACER has found that 5 ∕16″-diameter spouts will give sầu you just as much sap as a 7 ∕16″ spout under vacuum, & slightly less with gravity-based systems. Even if you did get less sap with a 5 ∕16″ spout, the long-term benefits of drilling a smaller hole will eventually result in much greater yields than sticking with the 7 ∕16″ spouts. The only thing 7 ∕16″ spouts are good for is as a collectors’ thắng lợi. If you haven’t already switched over khổng lồ the smaller spouts, I strongly encourage you to vì so.

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How khổng lồ Tap

As previously mentioned, how and where you drill the taphole and mix the spout is extremely important to lớn your overall yield of sap from a given tree. It is best to lớn only use skilled, experienced people for this job. If you have sầu folks who want to lớn help and could vì chưng a good job—but they just don’t have any experience yet—be sure to spend plenty of time showing them how khổng lồ tap, and stay with them for at least the first trăng tròn khổng lồ 30 taps.

Before anyone ever drills a hole in a valuable maple tree, you should have sầu them practice on low-value trees (such as beech & aspen) that you were planning on cutting down anyway.

Finding the Right Spot

The first step in tapping is to find a good spot khổng lồ drill the hole. It doesn’t matter how nice a hole you drill, what type of spout you use, or what màn chơi of vacuum you are pulling if you have sầu drilled into lớn a bad section of the tree. To get a decent amount of high-unique sap, you need khổng lồ drill into clear, trắng sapwood. It is important lớn avoid previous tapholes and the associated stain columns as well as other defects and rotten areas on the trunk. Large seams và wounds are easy to identify and avoid, but it takes a trained eye to lớn locate old tapholes. We try lớn stay at least 1″ lớn the left & right và 12″ up & down on the trunk from an old taphole.

Drilling the Hole

When I try khổng lồ imagine the work involved in using a brace và bit, the drills that required a huge battery stored in a backpaông chồng, or gas-powered tappers, it makes me very appreciative sầu of the cordless drill. Depending on the Model you have và how old your batteries are, most sugarmakers can get at least 200 to 300 holes drilled on a single charge. They are lightweight, easy lớn use, và you can often find good giao dịch on them. If you don’t already have a good cordless drill, this is one of the best investments you can make in your sugaring operation.


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Some sugarmakers purchase a lightweight tapping hammer khổng lồ make sure that they don’t tap too hard. However, ordinary, lightweight hammers can work just as well. Be sure to lớn hold the hammer high on the shaft and gently tap on the spout until it’s properly seated và you hear the thumping sound. Photo curtesy of Brian Chabot.


When drilling the hole, some sugarmakers lượt thích khổng lồ use the slow setting out of concern that high tốc độ will cause the tissues to scorch or burn, thereby reducing sap yields. However, research performed by the USDA Forest Service back in the 1970s determined that drills operating at speeds as low as 120 rpms & as high as 6,600 rpms produced essentially the same amount of sap. The main issue with drilling too fast is the possibility of making an oval taphole if you don’t go straight in & straight out. Thus, it is essential that you have sầu good footing và proper control of the drill lớn make sure your hole is perfectly round.

Some people advocate drilling the hole directly into the tree whereas others recommkết thúc drilling at a slight upward angle. The proponents of drilling straight in feel it is the only way to ensure a perfectly circular hole that will not have sầu any air leaks around the spout. Those who recommover a slight upward angle (1 to 2 percent) believe that you can still get a good seal around the spout, and the slight angle allows any sap to lớn drip out of the tree more easily.

I can understand both points of view. I usually try to achieve a perfectly straight hole but always err on the side of making it at a slight upward angle whenever necessary. No matter how you drill the hole, be sure lớn use a relatively new, clean, sharp drill bit that is intended for drilling into maple trees. Old, rusty, and dirty drill bits immediately contaminate the taphole, so be sure to lớn properly maintain your drill bits between seasons or simply purchase new ones every year.

When you are pulling the drill out of the tree, always examine the shavings khổng lồ make sure that they are pure white. If you get brown or dark-colored shavings, you have sầu drilled inlớn a bad part of the tree. Your sap yield will be negligible, và any sap that does flow may have sầu a yellow tinge to it và impart off-flavors khổng lồ your syrup. Furthermore, drilling inkhổng lồ a bad part of the tree will often result in a vacuum leak; without a steady flow of sap, the spout may just be sucking air inlớn the tubing system.

One of the ways khổng lồ avoid drilling inkhổng lồ stained wood is by tapping at a shallower depth. Some producers drill 2″ deep or even farther into the sapwood of the trees, và while this may be fine in new sugarbushes that have not been tapped previously, it is risky khổng lồ vị on trees that have been tapped for many years. Under vacuum, the taphole does not need to be as deep to lớn achieve high yields of sap, so we try khổng lồ keep our taphole depth at 1.5″.

Setting the Spout

The final step is placing the spout in the tree. It takes some practice lớn figure out how hard to lớn tap on the spout lớn get it nice and snug without overdoing things. Not tapping in hard enough can cause the spout to lớn be too loose, creating a vacuum leak. On the other hvà, tapping too hard can potentially cause the wood to lớn split, which in turn leads to lớn vacuum leaks, lost sap, & increased wounding at the taphole. This is especially true on older spout designs that had a heavy taper; most of the newer versions have sầu a light taper that makes it very hard to lớn split the wood. It is important to rethành viên that the process is called “tapping” for a reason. Most sugarmakers use regular hammers to phối the spouts, but you don’t necessarily hammer the spouts in. Just a few gentle taps will usually bởi vì the triông chồng until you hear a thumping sound. As soon as you can hear the difference, stop tapping on the spout.