The Ohio Maple Blog is ready to kick off its seventh season and I felt it was time we revisited some of the early posts and refreshed the information. A good place to start would be tapping. How do you tap a maple tree? This is a very deceiving question because something that appears to be easy is actually very complex. Much of the information I will present here was discussed by Dr. Tim Perkins at the recent New York Maple Conference and is the result of the research that he and others have done at the Proctor Maple Research Center. Let’s look at the process from start to finish.
Once you have identified your maples, the next question becomes what size tree should I tap? The answer is very scientific and is based on tree growth. Typically, it takes close to 50 years for a maple seedling to become a tapable tree. Depending on the woods, trees can grow fast or slow. Proper management of the woodlot will release trees to grow faster. This is done by removing the competition and selecting for the trees that are hardy and fast growing with good crowns. This is all part of developing a productive woodlot for maple production. Your local forester can help with this process. A maple tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter and here is where the science comes in. If you tap a tree every year and you move around the tree in an systematic manner when you return to the place you originally tapped, the tree should have had time to grow a new layer of sapwood over the layer that was first tapped. Research shows that this process takes roughly 10 years. Therefore a 10-inch tree will completely grow a new layer of sapwood in 10 years. Therefore a 10-inch tree is the smallest diameter tree you should consider tapping. This came from a study done at the Proctor Maple Research Center on “Tapping Guidelines”.
Where do I tap a tree and is it better to tap a tree on the sunny side to get more sap earlier. Let’s put that one to rest. There is absolutely no advantage to tap a tree on the south side as opposed to the northside. From personal experience with buckets, the south side will run quicker but the north side will run longer. What happens when you tap a tree? When you tap a tree, you create an area of dead wood. This area can be a half to three quarters inch wide and 10 inches long extending up and down from the tap. This is part of a natural process called compartmentalization. It is part of the trees defense system against wounding. The tree seals off the wounded area so infection does not spread form the wound to the rest of the tree. The process of tapping and creating a dead area does not harm the tree unless you put multiple taps into the same area (belt Tapping). Here is where you must be very careful when you tap. You do not want to tap into areas of dead wood. Tapping into deadwood will reduce the productivity of the tap. Every year try to locate fresh wood that is not close to a previous tap. This mean you may have to go higher or lower. With vacuum tubing use longer drops. On older trees you may want to consider tapping below the lateral time if you are running a high vacuum system.
How many tapholes should I drill in a tree? Trees with a 10 inch to twenty-four-inch diameter get one tap. Larger trees can take 2 taps but never place more than two taps per tree. If you are running high vacuum, even trees 24 inch or more, will produce 80% of the sap obtained from two taps on one tap. Many producers today only put one tap per tree. One of the easiest ways to determine the diameter of a tree is use a chain 32 inches long. Put the chain around the tree if the ends touch the tree is to small to tap and if the ends do not touch you have the right size tree to tap. Trust me you cannot accurately eyeball tree diameter.
What equipment do I need to tap a tree? Use a commercial 5/16 maple spout. Use a maple tapping bit. This bit is designed to cut clean and drill fast. The cutting edge is a 90-degree angle as opposed to a 118 degree angle on a machine drill bit. The flutes are narrow sharp, and they cut and clean the hole very fast. You will want to use a battery powered drill. You will also need a light hammer to set the spouts.
Now comes the tapping part which is the most important thing you will do all season. Take your time walking up to the tree. Study the area to be drilled. Looking for dead areas and old tap holes. Look at the crown. Tapping below dead branches can result in tapping into dead wood. Once you decide where you want to place the hole, steady your drill hand with your opposite hand and drill in and out quickly. Do not move up or down or side to side, doing so might oblong the hole creating a leak. Drill straight into the tree, angling down is not necessary. The hole should be 1.5 inches but no more than 2 inches deep. Look at the wood shavings. If they are white you have a good hole. If they are brown you have hit deadwood. Now you are ready to set the spout. With a light hammer, tap the spout in snugly but do not over drive the spout. Over driving will result in a reduction of sap flow and possibly a leaky split in the wood above and below the tap. If you are using a commercial tapping hammer you will notice a change in tone as you tap on the spout. That change in tone indicates that you have properly installed the spout. Also take care when tapping into frozen wood.
That covers the art of tapping a maple tree. Remember tapping is the most important thing you will do all season. You only have one chance to do it right. The UVM Proctor Maple Research Center has now produced a series of you tube videos available online. Several cover the process of tapping. Well worth the time before you head to the woods.