Over the years in March, I’ve come to watch for the incongruous white buckets dangling from tree trunks when we took our first spring drives in the country. We were looking for signs of returning warm weather and big groups of turkeys to count as they picked over last year’s acres of corn in the valleys or the cranes that we had heard calling as they flew over our house. It was startling to see the flocks of plastic pales hanging off of trees so far from the nearest house.
I always thought, we should try collecting sap from our two maples and making some syrup. It would be something to keep me sane until I could get the first seeds in the ground. Why didn’t we try this years ago? No spiles.
Spiles are those things that they tap into holes drilled in the trunks of trees to reroute some of the sap that runs from root to branches of the tree as the weather warms to in the 40F in the day and drops to freezing again at night. (My spiles came from a company called Tap My Trees.)This tapping goes on until the oaks start to get their leaves later in the spring.
I had found a book called Backyard Sugaring: A Complete How-To Guide by Rink Mann that explained the process simply and clearly but hadn’t gotten around to finding the key specialized pieces of equipment needed to do the job. This all changed during a trip to Minneapolis to visit my son and his family. One of the places my daughter-in-law took me on this visit was a little urban homesteading store that sold seeds, mushroom logs, canning supplies, garden implements, chicken feeds, organic fertilizer, books, chicks, backyard coops, a few bales of straw–you get the picture. And there on one shelf was all the supplies for maple sugaring, including SPILES!
So I assembled all the items necessary for collecting sap: the correct size drill bit (the only size bit that my husband didn’t own, so I had to go out and buy one!), spiles with hooks, tape measure, ice cream buckets with holes cut in the tops lids (next year I am going to use gallon milk jugs), clear plastic tubing to conduct sap from the spile ends to the hole in the lids, a couple five-gallon food-grade plastic pails to store the collected sap until it is time to boil it down into syrup.
First, I cleaned and bleached the pails, spiles, and tubing. Then I measured the trees and figured out their diameter to determine how many spiles the tree would support. Each spile will supply a quart of syrup in an average season. Finally, my husband drilled the holes 2-inches deep at a slightly uphill angle so that sap would easily run into the buckets on the southeast to southwest sides of the trunks about three feet up between a big root and a big limb.
Each night we go out and empty the buckets so the sap doesn’t freeze and make it difficult to collect. We keep the 5-gallon bucket we are using to store sap in the garage were it will stay at least 40F. (If the sap gets too warm, it will begin to spoil like any other juice.) The sap is clear and a little tinted. We will strain it through cheese cloth before boiling.
The next step will be boiling it on the patio on that LP gas stove that I bought for backup cooking in preparation for Y2K! The tale will continue when we get our first five gallons of sap. Begonia