Hey there. Nice to meet you. I’m getting ready for the 2021 Maple Syrup Season and already have maple tree tapping fever. The weather has been strange and unpredictable this winter, which is making me a bit impatient.
I started learning about this hobby in January 2019, when I tapped the silver maple trees in my backyard. That year, I collected 38 gallons of sap, about enough to make an entire gallon of delicious maple syrup.
Later on that year, we had a severe storm. What they called straight-line winds ripped through my neighborhood and ripped 80% of the still green leaves off the trees and broke ~30% of the branches/canopy.
I gave the trees the year off to recover. But we are in the midst of the pandemic, so I’m cooped up AND we have been experiencing some mild temperatures here this winter so far. So I am itching to get out my drill bit and start tapping.
The best time to tap a Maple Tree for sap
The ideal weather to tap a tree and start making Maple syrup is when it dips well below freezing overnight and then up into the 40s during the day.
When the temperature drops below freezing, the sap that is stored in the roots of the Maple trees also freezes up, causing crystals to form. If you’ve ever frozen a beverage in your freezer, you’ll know that frozen water takes up more space and expands.
Then, when the temperature warms up, the sap warms up too, thaws out, and then runs up the tree, which is why we call it a sap run.
All the traditional advice is that you want to wait for that weather pattern to tap your tree–and to expect sap to be collected for about 6-8 weeks after that. The part that has frustrated me, however, is that absent a crystal ball, there is no real way to predict what the weather holds and there are plenty of traps. For example, check out the local weather coming up.
Can you tap maple trees too early?
Yes, you can tap maple trees too early. Your entire season will be about 6-10 weeks long. The best time to tap them is when you expect the temperature to be in the 20s (Fahrenheit) at night and high-30s to mid-40s during the day. If you tap maple trees too early, you will end up with much less sap volume than if you tap at the right time. If you tap too late, your sap will be of lower quality and also potentially lower volume.
Picking the optimal time is challenging and also involves some luck.
In 2019, I started on January 19, when the temperature looked right on paper for 3 of 7 days. But two of those days were surrounded by bitter cold, and the sap didn’t really flow until the third week when the sap yield took off.
This is the weather report in my area over the next week. I’m starting this investigation two full weeks earlier than in 2019, but it is driving me crazy, because, from the looks of it, it is perfect Maple syrup making time, right now.
January 2, 2021- January 9, 2021
On paper, this looks like a pretty good week for sap to run. In fact, it looks like a great week for sap to run. But what I’m worried about is what the weather looks like after this week.
Since winter has really just started here, we likely have weeks or months left of bitterly cold weather. If I did tap my tree, I would probably get some sap this week…but a cold snap could shut things down for 2-3 weeks or longer.
So, I’m going to wait. Let’s hope I’m right.
January 11, 2021- January 18, 2021
Take a look at the weather for this upcoming week. Now I am starting to get that…maybe I’m waiting too long itch… it is so tough to know exactly when to tap maple trees.
The weather is looking perfect for collecting Maple Sap. It is getting cold at night (into the 20s many nights), below freezing and then it’s comfortably above freezing during the days.
These days look exactly like my prime sugaring days in 2019. That year, my best days were during swings from the coldest temperature of ~20-25 Fahrenheit to the warmest temperature of at least 39, upwards of 50 degrees.
Ugh! It is excruciating here, sitting on the sidelines.
The buds are also starting to form on the branches. There’s sap in that tree.
They are talking about a polar vortex here. I’m not really hoping for a cold snap other than banking on it so that I’m not too wrong for not starting first thing in January.
For now, I’m going to hold off at least another week. But if you’re thinking of tapping your trees now, let me know how it turns out.
In the meantime, I’ll get my gear ready. Do you have your gear ready? Check out this post for the best Maple tree tap kit.
January 18- January 25, 2021
Here is what the weather looks like for the next week:
It is definitely a little cooler this week. For example, I’m not sure Wed, Sat, Sun will get warm enough to produce a temperature differential to squeeze a whole lot of the sap up the tree. But, as you can see, we really are still in the maple sap making zone here.
I still have not tapped my trees, but I am regretting that I did not start 3 weeks ago. Based on what I have observed here (from the sidelines), I wouldn’t be surprised if these three weeks, with this one upcoming as the worst of three.
Sounds counterintuitive, but I’m hoping for a cold blast to shut things down for 1-2 more weeks and a fresh/clear time to start right after.
January 24- January 31, 2021 Weather
Here is the 7-day weather forecast for Sunday to Sunday.
You can see from the hourly forecast that Sunday night into Monday is still maple sap weather (looks like another textbook day, but then things get a bit cold. There is a chance on Wednesday, but other than that, the weather looks to be a bit too cold.
I’ll be on the high alert then, starting next weekend, to look for the right time to tap. If we have another cold week in-store, or a wishy-washy week, I’ll wait. If it warms right back up, I’m probably going to go for it. At this point, there were already 3 great weeks in January that I missed. But those are history now. The goal is to hit a 6-8 week streak of the best temperatures. Hoping my patience paid off a bit there and that I have an easy decision next week.
January 31 to February 7
That cold front did come through last week–it was not a great week for tapping maple trees. At this point, we are through January (almost). It is possible that Thursday, February 4th will start the Maple Syrup season for me here.
Check out the 7-day weather forecast:
The temperature is too cold Sun- Wednesday, but Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all have great temperature ranges.
Given the fact that we are in the midst of a cold snap, progressing into February with what looks like some warmer temperatures at the end of the week, I’m going to try and watch the weather closely and may get out there on Thursday.
Here is how the week turned out–we got a lot of snow–like two feet of snow. There were at least 2 decent days for maple tree tapping, but based on the weather forecast, I resisted the urge.
Rather than start warming up, we actually are experiencing a cold snap next week. Check it out.
February 9 – 16
As expected, it is cold. very cold. The forecast looked too cold this week to tap my tree.
But, as the week progressed, the weather outlook improved:
As of 2/14 (Happy Valentines Day), here is the 7-day forecast:
Based on that weather, it looks like Sunday might be an okay day–Tuesday, Friday, and the following Sunday should all be great. Looking ahead at a 10-day forecast, the following Monday and Tuesday look great too!
So I tapped my tree on February 14, 2021. Tuesday was a perfect day for collecting sap.
Textbook day and the yield proved it.
More than a gallon of sap in one day!
By the way, after boiling down the gallon of sap to a concentrated pint, the kitchen room was filled with humidity. This is the wall of my kitchen above the cabinets…literally dripping with evaporated water :).
That’s why everyone recommends you do the bulk of evaporation outside. But where’s the fun in that?
But then the weather turned colder. Neither Friday nor Sunday ended up being great days for sap.
February 21- 28
Here is the weather forecast for this coming week:
I really wish Sunday 21st was 2-3 degrees warmer…but from the looks of it, should get a stretch of good days ahead, as long as the nights get cold enough.