Planning to Tap: Sap to Maple Syrup

Maple syrup: forecasting temperature conditions for maple sap flow

Maple Syrup Season is Upon Us!

This is a big, big year for Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup.  As I have documented previously, we are in the midst of an almost 10 fold increase in production, which will probably be the largest increase in production we ever take on, at least in relative terms; 60 taps to 500, 15 gallons to 125 gallons of syrup.  If all goes well, we should produce the equivalent of 2,000 half pint bottles.  Every step in the process requires attention, from tapping to bottling packing and shipping.  I walk step-by-step through the process and necessary improvements in the post Planning for 2018 Maple Syrup Expansion.  Today though, the subject is Step 2: Tap Trees.  Read on for more information on how to decide when to tap your trees!

When to Tap Maples to Maximize Sap Collection – Effects of Tubing

I was recently at Sugar Bush Supplies Co. in Mason, MI, picking up the bulk of the new production equipment required to support our maple syrup production ramp-up.  When I asked what they were hearing about when folks were tapping in our neck of the woods, I was surprised to learn that some sugarers have been collecting since November of last year!  I consider the season to be February-March, perhaps a late January start, perhaps an early April end; but the bulk of the season in February and March.  These folks are using tubing, which we do not use, and have no plans to use.

Sap gravity tubing photo by Mark MacLennan

Sap gravity tubing photo by Mark MacLennan, in his blog post “Spring in the Arboretum Sugar Bush

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but we are not using tubing for at least a couple of reasons:

  • it takes the labor, i.e. people, out of the process
  • it makes the woods look like an intensive care unit (ICU), in my opinion
  • and it’s up year around, and will impact the patterns of large animals, i.e. White-tailed deer, on the property

But, tubing has its advantages, and one is that it can extend the season.  Applying vacuum to the tubing, and installing new spiles and drops every season, can reduce the build-up of bacteria and yeast in the tap hole in the late season, effectively extending the season and increasing sap flows.  To learn probably more than you want to know, you can have a look at the Tubing Notebook, published by Cornell University.

When to Tap Maples to Maximize Sap Collection – Buckets

With buckets for sap collection, I reckon the season is 4 to 6 weeks in length, before either the bacteria and yeast catch up with us, the tree seals off the wound with new wood, or a combination of the two.  So, where should we put that 4 to 6 week window on the calendar?

I have a lot of time for Les Ober over at the Ohio Maple Blog, and he published a post on this subject just yesterday, titled When to Tap?  After reading that I went to Accuweather and looked at the long range forecasts for our 49057 zip code, and from that data I produced in Excel the chart at the top of this post.

Accuweather forecast screenshot for Hartford MI

Accuweather forecast screenshot for Hartford MI

Remember, the temps need to be cycling, with daytime highs above freezing, preferably 40-ish, Fahrenheit, and overnight lows below freezing, preferably 25-ish.  From Accuweather it looks like February is expected to be a bit colder than average (YES! More time, thank you!), which means I can push the date out at least relative to last year, when I tapped February 7th.  The back-end of the window is set at 5 weeks from the front end, right in the middle of the 4-6 week window for buckets discussed above.  Between now and February 14, I’ll keep my eye on the 10-day forecast.

Wunderground 10-day forecast

Wunderground 10-day forecast

So far I’d say it is still too early to tap; not enough daily cycling above and below freezing.  If you want to see what this 10-day forecast should look like in the near perfect world, check out my post It is Tapping Time and That Means Spring! from the 2015 season.

When to Tap Maples to Maximize Sap Collection – Summary

The good news, and it’s all good news, is that it looks like I have about 3 weeks to complete preparations for the 2018 Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup season.  With the Sugar House conversion project, and a new evaporator, filter press and canning unit all requiring my attention, every bit of that 3 weeks can be used effectively.

Keep an eye on this space for more information on the preparations being made, particularly in the “new” Primal Woods Sugar House!

All the best, and kind regards,


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2 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    So your three main reasons are for not using tubing are completely false, sorry to burst your bubble.
    As a sugar producer for 33 yrs of my 45 on this planet, I have seen firsthand the increased benefits of tubing in a woods.
    First off it still requires people to put up the tubing and maintain the tubing, throughout the season. It also allows more people to be at the sugarhouse producing maple syrup and confections during the season, where if you had to go out and gather containers of sap all day, you would be short handed in the sugarhouse.
    Second, a well laid out woods will be easy to walk through, and not an eye sore as you say. It also lessens your footprint in a woods. I can go around our woods of 4500 taps to this day and still see the damage a tractor and sled or sapwagon had caused in the woods from 70 yrs ago. The old sugarhouses are gone and rotted away but the damage to the roots and soil is very prevalent today.
    Thirdly the tubing in no way shape or form hi Fred the movement, or health of any large woodland creatures. I have been using tubing in 3 different woods for 33 years, have revamped each woods once in those 33 yrs and the trails and amount of sign in each of those woods is very noticeable still. Have never seen one animal tangled or bound up in any of the wires or tubing, and have chased many a buck around the woods during hunting seasons to still have them elude me and others in the woods.
    I hate to burst your bubble but as far as environmentally friendly and better production in your sugarbush there should be no reason to not be using tubing.

    • John Newell
      John Newell says:

      To each his own I suppose. So to your first point, fewer people required in the woods, I get that. Second, we use our woods for a lot that is not sugar making. To me, tubing is an eyesore. Whether it’s firewood, hunting, snowshoeing, or whatever, I don’t want to have look at or worry about a few miles of tubing while I’m doing it. Third, I can put up 300 ft of clothes line and it totally changes the path of white-tailed deer on the property. Sure, they can jump it easily, but they don’t want to. Path of least resistance I suppose. Good point on damage to the landscape; we’re working on that. And good point on moving people to the Sugar House. What’s the lifespan of tubing; how often must it be replaced? Thanks for commenting; I appreciate it.

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