I decided to tap three maples behind my house this year. I figured since my kids can’t do without syrup on their waffles, why not put their little hands to work making it?
I got started with some resources here on MyWoodlot. I found the Tap a Maple Tree activity especially helpful. It had some information, and it included a link to buy a “maple tapping starter kit,” which made a great Christmas gift from the grandparents.
The directions in the starter kit were straightforward. Even so, my gut curled with uncertainty in the weeks since New Year’s as the kids ran around celebrating their backyard syrup before it was tapped. I had to deliver. Resolved to figure it out, I laid aside my doubts, grabbed my power drill, and called in my six-year-old, Andy.
Figuring out which trees to tap was easy enough. Two sugar maples and a red maple stood between my fenced yard and the road. Sugar maple yields sweeter sap, but red maples also work for tapping.
We plunged the drill into the first tree without much thought. The drill struggled to reach 2 ½ inches, but we were rewarded with pale white shavings that mean healthy wood. Dark, rotten shavings signal a poor tap site according to the instructions and require that you try elsewhere on the tree.
Andy was already grabbing the bucket as I slipped the tap into the hole and seated it firmly with a hammer. At this point I was feeling pretty proud of my outdoor savvy.
That feeling didn’t last long. My heart sank as I saw the bucket hook lying on the ground. The tap should have slid through the bucket hook and then seated in the hole, but it didn’t. I gently rapped the thin metal of the tap to dislodge it. My first tap installation had been quickly followed by my first tap removal. It happens. On the second try, we got the tap in place.
With the bucket finally hanging, we moved to tree #2. Wrestling with Andy’s excitement was my biggest challenge on this one. His hands grasped the drill with lightning speed, and I barely got my hand around the handle in time.
Some quick negotiations worked out who was boss. Andy would pick the spots to drill, and I would provide the muscle.
The hammer was another story. After gingerly placing each tap in its hole, I would stretch to grasp the hammer only to see Andy banging on a tree with it, out of reach. Repeated pleas finally lured him away from his imaginary taps.
For all our misadventures, tapping turned out to be pretty fast. It only took 15 minutes to tap all three trees. Of course, the job wasn’t done until we checked each bucket a second time. The timid drips of sap had barely wet the bottom of the buckets, but that was enough to capture Andy’s imagination. We checked those buckets another dozen times before bed and first thing the next morning.
What we discovered in those buckets the next morning surprised us, but that’s a story for another time. Check back next week for part 2 of Andy’s and my maple tapping saga.