Can you tap maple trees in the fall

can you tap a maple tree in the fall

The weather just got cold here. By cold, I mean freezing at night. Which has been biologically proven to make me start thinking about making maple syrup again. The weather seems perfect…25 degrees Fahrenheit overnight and mid-40s during the day.

This begs the question: can you tap maple trees in the fall?

I researched the topic, to see if I wanted to start the sugaring season early here in Eastern PA, and this is what I found out.

Can you tap maple trees in the fall?

You can tap maple trees in the fall and should expect to collect 15-33% of the sap volume as you would in the Spring, according to experimental data. The sap will also have about 66% of the sugar content as it would in the Spring.

Combining those two statistics–lower volume and lower sugar content means a fall tapping ‘season’ would produce about one-fifth the amount of syrup as you would expect in the Spring.

Koelling, Melvin R. “Sap Yields from Fall and Spring Tappings of Sugar Maple”. U.S. Forestry research service. 1968.

Wilmot, Timothy. “SUGARING IN THE FALL”. Journal of Northeast Agriculture. September 2009

Pros of tapping maple trees in the fall

There are a few advantages to tapping maple trees in the fall:

  1. Easier access to the trees–no wading through snowdrifts
  2. Access to maple sugar earlier/off-peak
  3. More opportunity to collect and not miss those big runs in the fall

Cons of tapping maple trees in the fall

There are also a few disadvantages of tapping maple trees in the fall:

  1. Even though you add an additional season and sap collection time, the total sap you collect from the tree will likely be the same or lower as you would have if you just tapped in the Spring
  2. The overall amount of sugar you collect, per tree, will likely be lower–first from collecting less volume of sap and second, from collecting a lower sugar concentration in the fall
  3. Tapping twice in a short amount of time creates some logistical challenges–do you tap a fresh hole or ream out the original hole? In experiments, this has led to challenges like cloudy sap, leaking holes, etc.

 

 

Unknowns about tapping trees in the fall

It is fairly well established that the traditional method of tapping maple trees is a sustainable process that yields sap year after year while maintaining the health and vigor of the trees. It is not established whether fall tapping has any negative effect on the health and vigor of the trees.

Since the overall volume and sugar collected are less, it seems likely that it is equally safe, but what is uncertain is whether harvesting the sap while the tree “prepares” for winter has any impact beyond what was observed, with the lower sap yields from the experiments.

Who should tap maple trees in the fall

After this investigation, it seems there are three potential use cases for tapping maple trees in the fall.

Hobbyists/small scale operations with “too many trees” to tap

I would definitely be tapping trees in the fall if I owned a bunch of maple trees. This is a hobby for me. I enjoy making my own maple syrup, but it is not a business. If I had several trees in my yard, I would definitely consider tapping some in the Spring and some in the Fall to extend my season and keep the syrup in the house for more of the year.

Someone trying to absolutely maximize yields

Timing things perfectly to make maple syrup is difficult. The weather and runs can be fickle. Tapping maple trees in the Fall is equally fickle and fraught with some risks, but it does seem like SUGARING IN THE FALL article (referenced below), one of the big producers was continuing to tap in the Fall and Spring. If the methodology could be perfected, there may be a better way to maximize yields.

Hobby farm capturing Off-peak sales with lower competition

Since most producers are not tapping their trees in the fall, it does present an opportunity for the industrial producer to capture a portion of the market while there is low competition. Fall harvests can extend the selling season too–and lower competition often creates an environment conducive to supporting slightly higher prices.

can you tap a maple tree in the fall

Will I tap my maple trees in the fall?

To close the loop with you on this topic, I do want to be transparent with you that my plan is currently to NOT tap my two maple trees in the Fall. My tap drilling finger is itching right now, but I’m going to hold off.

For now, the fall season is for watching the beautiful color changing of the leaves.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming Spring thaw so much. Since I only have two trees to tap, I don’t want to risk any negative impact on the true season. But if you do, please leave a comment and let us know how you did.

What to read next

References

Koelling, Melvin R. “Sap Yields from Fall and Spring Tappings of Sugar Maple”. U.S. Forestry research service. 1968.

Wilmot, Timothy. “SUGARING IN THE FALL”. Journal of Northeast Agriculture. September 2009. Retrieved: https://mapleresearch.org/pub/wilmot_fall-2/

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