I don't remember when my Dad started making syrup, but I remember collecting sap with him until the time we moved when I was 15. The trees he tapped were more numerous (but not as large in girth) and more widespread. Since I live in the city, I have only the trees on my lot (4 large maples) and two on the empty lot next door (since I have permission from the people who own the lot). If I wanted to make a greater quantity of syrup, I could find more trees. One year I tapped at the daycare that my daughters went to as a way to teach them about maple syrup and collecting more sap. We don't go through large quantities of syrup, except as gifts, so I'm not too bothered about ending up with more.
I hope my daughters look back fondly at this activity and perhaps make their own when they get older.
It didn't get cold enough last night for the sap to run well today. It's also dreary and drizzly out there today. The best weather for running sap is temperatures above freezing, sunny and no wind during the day and then temperatures below freezing at night. When it is warm, the sap runs up from the roots into the branches because of pressure that grows when the tree warms. During the cool night, the pressure drops and suction helps the tree renew the sap by pulling moisture in through the roots. http://maple.dnr.cornell.edu/produc/sapflow.htm is a great explanation of what's going on in the tree.
Since I was the one wielding the drill, I have no pictures of that part, but C helped me with the rest of it.
For the spiles (the part that sticks out of the tree) that I use, a 7/16 spade drill bit is what I use. Spiles, and other syrup making equipment can be found at smaller hardware stores. Since all I purchased for sap collecting is the spiles, I didn't spend much on this aspect of syrup making, especially since my Dad gave me most of the spiles I have.
Here, C puts the spile in the hole and hammers it in.
Once the spile is secure, so it doesn't fall out or leak, you hang a bucket from it. We use milk type jugs since we go through so many. Some collectors will use tubes to have the sap run to a central collecting area or to buckets at the base of the tree.
The tree will start to heal after 6 weeks or so and sap will stop running out of the hole. Six weeks is plenty of time to make it through syrup season here, but you don't want to tap too early.
I don't know what to expect from this year. We've had some very warm days. Last year was odd and I only had two trees that gave me most of the sap I collected. I only ended up with 5 pints of syrup.
It takes a lot of sap to make syrup. The ratio is roughly 40:1. In other words, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Other trees can be tapped as well, but their sugar content isn't as high so it takes even more sap per unit of syrup. I would be better off with sugar maples (there's a reason they have that name), but most of my trees are silver maples.
The next step will be boiling the sap to make syrup. Boiling the sap reduces the amount of water and therefore increases the sugar content. I believe large companies will freeze the sap to remove water too. I did that one year...unintentionally.
I store sap in various containers outside unless it gets too warm. When I went out one morning to continue boiling the sap, I found a pretty thick layer of ice along the top and edges. I punched a hole in it (not with my hand) and was able to lift out this bin shaped chunk of ice that was hollow inside. We lose very little sugar with this method. The girls had fun breaking up the ice.
I'll post more information once I get some sap to boil.
Thanks for reading!