BY CAROLYN HURST
n late winter and early spring, as daytime
temperatures in the northeastern United
States and southeastern Canada begin
to climb above freezing, the sap in
maple trees begins to flow. During that time,
professionals and hobbyists alike follow a
practice first perfected by the native peoples of
this region hundreds of years ago, tapping this
sap and boiling it down to make maple syrup.
The sap for making maple syrup can be
collected from any native species of maple
tree. Black maples and sugar maples are the
most coveted trees for this practice, however,
because their sap has the highest sugar
content. Sap flows through the trunks of
maple trees throughout the dormant season
(when the leaves are off the trees), but it is
typically in February and early March that it
begins to flow in earnest. This rite of spring
begins as daylight temperatures begin to
climb above freezing but nights continue to
dip below 32 degrees Farenheit. It is during
this time of the year that the sap contains its
highest concentration of sugar.
When properly done, tapping a tree for its
syrup does no permanent damage to the tree.
Modern tapping guidelines recommend that
only healthy trees with a trunk diameter of at
least 19 inches be tapped for their sap. These
guidelines go on to state that trees with trunks
measuring 19 to 25 inches in diameter can
support one tap; trees measuring 26 inches
or more can support two taps. The taps can be
located anywhere on the tree’s trunk, but most
are found between 2 to 4 feet above the ground,
because this is the most convenient height for
the people who install and monitor the taps.
As with any endeavor, collecting sap
from maple trees and converting it into maple
syrup requires its own collection of tools and
techniques. First, a small hole is drilled into
the trunk of the tree. Once the hole is drilled,
a collecting spout, called a spile, is “tapped”
or pounded into the tree trunk. A collecting
Teaching Tip — Light and Perspective
on this side of
the trees casts
the other side
of the trees.
bucket, which is covered to keep out rain and
debris, is then hung on the spile to gather the
sap. The rate that the sap flows depends totally
on the weather. On some days, very little to
virtually no sap will be collected. On others, up
to a gallon may be collected from a single spile.
Over the course of the season, a single spile
will typically produce 6 to 10 gallons of sap.
Once the sap is collected, it is transferred
to a container and boiled so that the water
evaporates. As the water evaporates, the sugar
content increases and the syrup turns brown
and develops its distinctive maple flavor.
Generally, it takes 10 gallons of sap with an
initial sugar content of 2% to produce a quart
of maple syrup.
smaller as they
them at an
angle helps the
eye to see them
receding in the
As the publisher of the award-winning
Draw•Write•Now® series and the president of
Barker Creek Publishing, Inc., Carolyn Hurst
has spent the past fifteen years researching
how children learn to draw and the benefits of
teaching directed drawing. Visit Barker Creek’s
website at www.barkercreek.com, or email
Carolyn at email@example.com.