A few years ago, I set out to make my own maple syrup from scratch, using the sap collected from a silver maple tree in my yard. I’m still figuring things out, but here is what I’ve learned about the maple syrup harvest season.
The maple syrup harvest season will vary based on the climate where you call home, but it generally starts in late Winter and ends in the early Spring, when the conditions are perfect to send that naturally sweet sap up the tree, out the tap, and into your bucket. For the maple syrup harvest season to start, we need maple sap freely flowing up the trunk of the tree–and that only happens when the weather conditions are perfect.
Sap flows when temperatures drop below freezing at night (but not too far below) and rise, during the day, to several degrees above freezing. The freezing temperatures cause the sap to freeze and expand in the roots–and when the icy sap thaws during the day, it creates the pressure required for the sap to run up the tree.
How long does the season last?
The maple syrup harvesting season typically lasts around 8 to 10 weeks, depending on the weather. In 2019, I started collecting sap on January 19, and the last day sap ran was March 15, for a total of 55 days–just under 8 weeks. In 2020, I started harvesting sap on February 14th and the last day sap ran was March 21st, which was a total of 66 days, or 9.4 weeks.
Does harvesting maple syrup hurt the tree?
Harvesting maple syrup (actually the sap is what is harvested, the syrup is then made from that sap) from a tree is sustainable year-after-year and does not hurt the tree, as long as you only:
- Tap a tree that is larger than 12 inches around the trunk (diameter)
- Use a single tap for any tree less than 25 inches around the trunk (diameter)
- Use a maximum of 2 taps for a tree that is between 20 and 25 inches in diameter
- Never use more than 3 taps for any tree above 25 inches in diameter
Can you eat maple syrup straight from the tree?
The slightly sweet liquid that you get when you tap a maple tree is technically considered sap, not syrup, but it is a great question. Yes, you can eat or drink it right from the tree. When the sap comes straight out of the tree, it is about 98% water (or more!). It will be perfectly clear, cool, taste very slightly sweet, and be a little…taste a little woody. It is certainly pleasant, but not exactly to die for–yet. Once you’ve collected enough, you will turn that pleasant liquid into homemade maple syrup, maple candy maple taffy and it will be exquisite.
How much can you harvest from a tree?
The amount of sap you produce from each tap and each tree will vary from maple syrup harvesting season to season based on the weather conditions, size, and health of the tree. As a planning assumption, you could estimate a range of about 5-15 gallons, per tap. That is a general rule of thumb. I can back it up with data.
In 2019, I tapped 2 maple trees in my backyard, with 3 taps, in total, and collected 38 gallons of sap–almost enough to make a full gallon of syrup! That year the sap was flowing a gallon or more at a time.
In late 2019, 100+ mile per hour ‘straight-line winds’ from a severe store destroyed ~30% of my larger maple tree-suffice it to say, I gave the tree the year off in 2020. This is a big bummer because if there was ever a time I needed to be out of the house making syrup or eating delicious syrup, it was 2020!
In 2021, I had much less success. Just about 5 gallons of sap, in total. Enough to make about a pint of syrup, total (if I had turned it all into syrup).
You can read my detailed entries here:
Can you harvest maple sap in the fall?
The traditional season for harvesting maple sap is in the Spring, but you can also collect sap in the Fall, when the temperature drops below freezing at night and rises into the 40s during the day.
Learn more about tapping maple trees in the fall here.
Maple syrup harvesting equipment
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to harvest maple syrup. You may decide to upgrade your harvesting equipment once you realize what a fun and addictive hobby this is, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started. The maple syrup harvesting equipment I started out with was a kit I bought on Amazon. Check out prices here
All you need is a drill bit (specifically sized to bore a hole the exact size of your taps), several tree taps, and drop lines, which are plastic tubes that direct the flow of sap out the tap and down into your bucket.
Of course, this assumes you already have a drill, hammer, and clean plastic bucket around the house. If not, be sure to add those to your list.
If you want to learn more about how to pick the best maple tree tapping kit for harvesting maple syrup, check out this article here.
How to harvest maple syrup
Basic steps how to harvest maple syrup (sap) from a maple tree
- Step 1: When maple syrup harvesting season starts, drill a hole straight into the trunk of the tree
- Step 2: Use a hammer or mallet to gently tap your tree tap into the hole
- Step 3: Connect your drop line to the tap, if not already connected, and place the drop line into a bucket on the ground. I like to be sure to use a bucket with a lid, passing the drop line through a hole drilled into the lid. If you’re using the classical-style buckets, simply hang the bucket on the spile/tap hook.
- Step 4: Check your bucket each day for sap. You might collect a gallon or more of sap on a good day!
Check out this article for more in-depth information about how to make maple syrup at home.
Maple syrup harvesting supplies
In a section above, I listed the basic equipment that you will need and a link to learn more about some of the sophisticated equipment. Depending on the equipment you selected, you may need some additional maple harvesting supplies, like:
- Collection bags
Maple syrup harvest collection bags
If you’re looking for a zero cleanup alternative to collecting your sap in a reusable bucket, you might want to consider one of the maple syrup harvesting kits that rely on collection bags instead of buckets. You read that right. Bags. Check out the price for this model on Amazon.
If you have that type of harvesting equipment, you’ll need a supply of sap collection bags like these:If you’re interested in these, you can learn more about the price here.
Maple syrup harvest filters
I didn’t use a filter, the first few times I made syrup and as a result, my syrup crystallized, after a few weeks, because the boiling process concentrates the sugars, as well as the naturally occurring minerals in the sap, and any particulates. I experimented with using coffee filters to filter particles out of the raw sap, but your best option is to use a heavy-duty maple syrup harvest filter to finish off and purify your syrup after you’ve made it, but before you bottle it up.
Maple syrup harvest jars
And once your friends and family catch on and know that they can count on you for delicious, sweet, natural maple syrup each and every Spring, you’re going to want to class your game up a little with some special maple syrup harvest jars. Sure, a mason jar will get you by in a pinch, but it creates a less-than-desired pouring experience for the person eating the syrup, and let’s face it, it doesn’t look anywhere near as cool.
As I mentioned above, the most important triggers for the start of the maple syrup harvest season are the temperature at night and during the day. Look up the historical high and low temperatures for your area here, to help create a game plan for the best time to start.
At this part of the article, you’ve pretty much learned all I’ve learned so far about the ins and outs of the maple syrup harvest season. If you have a maple tree on your property that is at least 12-inches in diameter, you should definitely give this a try. It is so much fun and breakfast will never be the same again. Think about that–how many things could you do this winter to transform the way you experience breakfasts, from now on? What are you waiting for?
What to read next
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