While at the moment, I’m very low in inventory, I’m preparing for the 2021 maple season. All of my taps are connected by tubing to my sap storage tanks. I have done some repairs on that tubing, any trees or limbs that fall on the tubing needs to be removed, and any damage from those limbs or from wildlife must be repaired. I will have repairs finished by mid February. Then as the forecast shows that the sap will start running I’ll tap.
After 2 or 3 days of sap flow, if I get at least 400 gal of sap, I can start processing. For the first boil of the year I need at least 400 gal, after that I can boil smaller amounts, such as 200 or more. As the season progresses I start to get larger quantities of sap. On my 400+/- taps I can get as much as 1000+ gal if the sap flows good, if marginal it may only give me 50-100 gal in a day. Most of the difference is caused by the temperatures. If it goes down to 27F or colder overnight, then up into the mid 40’s I will get a lot of sap. If it only goes down to 30F and then only up to the mid 30’s during the day, or for only 2-3 hrs I get very little. The best sap flows are when the temperatures were well below freezing over night and then pleasantly mild during the day. It also actually helps if the weather is rainy, meaning low atmospheric pressure. The greater the difference inside the tubing to the outside pressure the greater the sap flow if the temperatures are in the right range.
Having vacuum on the taps actually does no harm to the tree, in fact it helps, let me explain. Before the days of vacuum on the taps, the tapping guidelines were different. Back then we tapped a 12-17″ diameter tree with 1 tap, an 18″ to 27″ tree got 2 taps and a 28″ or larger got 3 taps. Now, using vacuum we tap a tree from 10-24″ with just 1 tap, 25+ gets 2, no matter how big it is, never more than 2. The only physical damage is from drilling the tap hole. The tree senses it is losing sap, and eventually it seals off and compartmentalizes the small area. Sap will never again flow in that exact spot. If you were to look at a board made from a maple tree that had been tapped for many years, you would see narrow, dark stained columns in the wood. The compartments will be starting up to 2 feet below the tap hole and up to about 2′ above it. The stain will be up to about 2″ wide at the tap hole (that healed back up) and it will go to a point both above and below the tap hole. That will not be dead wood, just wood that carries very little sap. As the tree grows and adds about 1 1/2″ of new wood, we tap again. We use a tapping pattern that keeps new wood available every year to place a new tap (or 2). With vacuum, we also tap a wider band around the tree. Years ago, before vacuum, guidelines called for a tapping band (the area we should tap) of up to 15-18″ around the tree, typically just above waist height, now we tap over a band width up to about 3′ above the sap tubing and as much as 2′ below it. That gives us up to 4 times the area to tap in. Thus we tap a 12″ tree this year, our tapping pattern uses up that band width by the time the tree has grown to 15″ and we tap in all new wood, going around the tree again, in a specific pattern.
I’m a first generation maple producer, having started in 2003. Actually about 25 of my trees were tapped back in the early 1980’s by my oldest son and 2 of his friends. They asked if they could camp out when they had a week off from school in late February that year. All 3 were boy scouts. We got written permission from the parents, letting them know that the 3 boys, then 14-15 would be alone, no adult supervision. They set up camp and tapped trees on the Saturday, that vacation began. They collected the sap in jugs and boiled it over an open fire. On Sunday, 8 days later they had made 6 quarts of maple syrup for each of them, along with having had some on their pancakes each day for breakfast except the first Sunday, nothing had been finished to syrup at that point. Counting what they likely ate that week, the 3 had likely made about 5 or 5 1/2 gal of maple syrup. It was a little smoky tasting but in all a great success.
We still boil using wood, but we boil in a 3′ x 8′ stainless steel evaporator which has stainless steel hoods over it. We have high pressure air blown into the fire, both under the fire and above the fire. The under fire air make it burn hotter, the over fire air burns the smoke and gasses more completely. When we added that feature we boiled about 10-12 gal per hour faster while using 15% less wood. We also use a reverse osmosis machine that removes enough water that we boil 8-12% concentrate rather than about 2% sap. At 2% sap, it takes 44 gal of sap to get 1 gal of maple syrup. At 12% concentrate we make a gallon of syrup by boiling just 7.33 gal of concentrate down to 1 gal of pure maple syrup.