Before sap runs, sugarmakers trek through the woods to tap trees. This pivotal step in the maple making process requires effort, time, and tall snow boots. Curious how pure maple syrup journeys from tree to your table? Let’s start by illuminating the intricacies of the tapping season, the precursor to spring’s busy and beloved sugaring season.
Do we tap every single tree in the sugarbush? How do you know where on the tree to tap? Does sap gush out like a faucet the second a tap is installed? There are so many details to discover, and we can answer all your maple making curiosities.
Within each bottle of maple syrup is a story of a passion, dedication to detail and hard work. Get to know the reality of a sugarmaker’s year beginning with the calendar year’s first season in Vermont: tapping season.
What types of trees do you tap?
There is a rich diversity of trees at our home farm in Johnson, Vermont but we don’t tap every kind. To make maple syrup we tap Sugar Maples and Red Maples. These two varieties produce sap that yields higher sugar concentration. (Ideal for turning into syrup for coating pancakes.)
When boiled into pure maple syrup, you won’t be able to pick out the flavor of a particular tree’s sap. It all tastes rich and delicious.
Can you tap the same trees as the previous year?
With proper care, the same tree can be tapped for centuries. It takes about 40 to 50 years for a tree to reach a productive size of which they can be sustainably tapped, according to Butternut Mountain Farm founder and forester, David Marvin.
But one thing is important to note: you cannot tap in the same spot as last year’s tapping hole.
Why? Because after a season that hole and the wood surrounding it won’t produce sap. It’s crucial for the tree’s health to allow the tap holes to heal. This timing depends on how fast a tree is growing and its age.
To be certified organic according to NOFA Vermont, “taps must be placed at least six inches to one side and one foot above or below the prior year’s tap holes.”
The crew grows during tapping season
Tapping season calls for additional crew. While the tasks of tapping season may be able to be completed by an ambitious person, the daily routine is time consuming. To efficiently tap thousands of trees on our home farm, our forestry crew grows to 6.
These dedicated sugarmakers endure the elements of the northeast to ensure sap flows for the sugaring season ahead. Tapping and sugaring is completed with a collective passion for this natural crop.
It takes anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to complete tapping at our home farm. This timing varies depending upon mother nature’s weather patterns and the appetite of squirrels.
What type of weather do we tap in?
Bluebird conditions aren’t every day. In January and February, when the crew heads to the woods, snow and ice are imminent. While we tap through snow and cold temperatures, there are some days that keep us out of the woods.
Generally, when the temperature falls below 10F we refrain from tapping. These polar temperatures could cause the wood to split if tapped.
There are things to fix through tapping season
As for the appetite of squirrels, forest creatures gnawing on maple lines can cause damage that may affect the coming harvest. As tapping proceeds, we perform maintenance. Deer and squirrels snack on equipment. Tree limbs can fall on lines. A spooked moose can wreak havoc.
To ensure the maximum movement of sap come sugaring season, tapping is a time for mending.
Do taps start flowing with sap immediately?
Once a tap is in, sap will not immediately begin to pour as if turning on a faucet. If sap is flowing during tapping this is because of weather. If the weather is above freezing and the night falls below freezing, the sap can technically begin to flow. However, this weather generally occurs in the spring.
We time tapping to avoid the ideal sap running weather.
Do you tap the same number of trees every year?
This number fluctuates by the season, but not dramatically. Over the years there are wild grown maple trees that phase out of production (they’re dead). We replace those sections with new ones that have matured to the size requirement.
It takes 40-50 years for a maple tree to reach maturity and must be at least 9” in diameter to be tapped, according to the spout specifications published by NOFA Vermont.
How can you tell a tree won’t produce sap?
There are characteristics that are a dead giveaway. By looking at the top of a tree, you’ll be able to tell if it’s live or not. Features of a dead tree include the absence of branches and bark peeling off. If tapped, the wood will be dark as opposed to a healthy sap-producing tree’s white wood.