Tapping Manitoba maple trees

My dad, the maple man.

My dad, the maple man.

My family is a family of procrastinators, or at least one-third of the family is — my brother and I. He was already a few years into his degree when I started university, and he taught me cramming for exams the night before was OK because sometimes there were other more important things to be doing earlier in the week, like perfecting your pool skills or boiling maple sap to make syrup.

He'd tap some trees at my parents' place, and then sit for hours and hours, boiling down the sap outside, sitting next to it in a lawn chair reviewing, his biology notes now and then. 

My dad took over syrup duties a couple years ago and made another batch this year. He tapped 10 Manitoba maple trees around late March/early April, when it was below 0 C at night and above 0 C during the day (so the sap flows).

My dad tapped Manitoba maple trees along a field as well as some in a narrow forest. You can also collect sap from other tree species, like birch, to make syrup.

My dad tapped Manitoba maple trees along a field as well as some in a narrow forest. You can also collect sap from other tree species, like birch, to make syrup.

He picked out some healthy trees to drill a hole into for the taps. (Read about choosing trees in this PDF and more details about tree tapping on Mother Earth News.) My sister ordered these taps for my brother online when he first started. My dad put the taps two to three feet above the ground on the south side of the tree, thinking that since it's sunnier and warmer on this side, more sap will flow. (Some people say the side matters, and others don't).

The tree-to-tube-to-jug system means less debris in the collected sap.

The tree-to-tube-to-jug system means less debris in the collected sap.

My brother used your typical set up, with a pail on a hook, but my dad created his own contraption out of a tube and a 4-litre milk jug. The narrow opening of the jug means fewer bugs and less debris can get in.

He emptied the jugs whenever he had the chance, about once per day. The amount of sap collected depended on the day and the tree. Sometimes, the jugs were nearly empty, and other times, the jugs were full after one day.

In total, he ended up with about 84 litres of sap. He took the taps out, allowing the trees to heal. He won't tap those same spots the next year. For a few years after you remove the tap, you can still see where the hole was.

Removing the tap right after sap-collecting season is over allows the tree to heal.

Removing the tap right after sap-collecting season is over allows the tree to heal.

He boiled it down, using a turkey deepfryer, until the sap had a syrupy consistency. And that's it — then you have some syrup.

Photo by Chris Vitt.

Photo by Chris Vitt.

The ratio of sap to syrup is about 40 to 1 — so yes, after weeks of collecting and three days of boiling, he got two litres of syrup.

So is it worth it?

He says yes.

"It's just sort of magical how it's water that comes from a tree, and it becomes this delicious treat," says my dad, Chris.

I agree. It is worth it, and it is a delicious treat.

It's quite sweet, but it's not too sweet. And it has the maple flavour, but it's not too harsh. It's light. It's fresh. And it's great on (my dad's homemade) waffles.