In the winter of 2016-17 we ran about 10 taps on bigleaf maple trees. This was our first venture. We ended up with a couple of pints of syrup, although we had a lot of mishaps. Hint: if you burn the syrup while boiling it down, use it as a flavoring to make ice cream! Here’s an article about us and our maple-tapping: Maple Syrup.
The hardware you put in the tree is called the spile (although I met an old-timer who called it a “spoil” and I’ve seen it referred to in the literature as a spoil, too. We ordered metal ones from a supplier in the East (there are many), but this summer, after seeing an article on elderberry spiles, we made some from branches of blue elderberries. The commercial ones are L shaped, so the tubing goes downward, but the ones we made from elderberries are linear. I would think you could use PVC or lots of materials. Elderberries have huge pith (the material that feels like styrofoam) in the center of the stem. We chose 2-year old stems that had outer diameter similar to the spiles we bought, trimmed them to 2-4″ long, and then reamed the pith out of them with a stiff wire (with a rusty pinflag, to be more exact). After that we let them air-dry. But…they got soggy, some cracked when we put the hoses on them, they leaked if they didn’t seat quite right in the tap-holes. The commercial ones were a lot easier to deal with.
In 2017-18, we were a little more experienced, and we ended up with somewhere between 1 and 2 gallons of syrup. And we learned a lot. Some trees give so much sap (well, perhaps 3 gallons in 3 or 4 days) that it isn’t worth using the ones that give a cup or two in that same period. We still don’t know if those low producers will suddenly start giving sap though. We think the opposite happened a few times–good producers stopped, even when we re-drilled. We’re still mystified about why some trees are produce more than others; they can be adjacent, or at least on the same slope. We will keep working on that mystery.
I also decided I want to buy a lot of the same jug for collecting and transporting. The first two years we have used a motley collection of old jugs–from fruit juice, water; and carboys and other sorts of recipients. Most of them don’t have interchangeable lids. I will buy a lot of jugs, and twice as many lids, and then drill holes in only half of the lids, so I can pull a jug off a tube, put a lid on it, and carry it away, and replace it with a clean jug. Clean–operative word here: we had more spoiled sap this year than last. We got all sorts of smells and small biological items, in spite of what we thought was good hygiene. So changing out the jugs and tubing more often will be a new goal.
We hosted an Oregon State University Extension event in November, with 15 or 20 participants. I explained the mechanism of sap exudation as best I understood it. I have continued to read about the physiology, and to interrogate my work colleagues from around the world. I think the current model (which I will eventually blog on) explains much, but it leaves out a lot, too.
In the 2018-19 season, we are still going at it. So far, we haven’t had the great series of freeze-thaw cycles we had in 2017-18 that are so good for sap production. We have ten or twelve trees tapped at time. We have bought two dozen 2.5-gallon jugs and a lot of lids, which helps a lot. Now we don’t have to worry about matching lids and bottoms, and it makes it much easier to keep the operation clean.
We are noticing that the trees that have sapsucker damage are the ones that tend to get white materials growing in the sap if we don’t harvest fast enough–and in some cases, no matter what we do, it grows in a slick down the tubes. Now we are wondering if we may be drilling too deep. If we drill into the heartwood, then perhaps the infection can enter our sap pathway. We will be experimenting with hole depths in the next few weeks.
Facebook group: “Bigleaf Maple Tapping in the Pacific Northwest”
An OSU Extension Circular, Oregon State University Nontimber Forest Products for Small Woodland Owners: “Bigleaf Maple Syrup”
A book I recommend: Bigleaf Sugaring: Tapping the western maple. By Gary and Katherine Backlund. 2012. Published by Backwoods Forest Management, Ladysmith, BC. (Was $15 + shipping) Helpful book. In 96 pages, tells about equipment to get started, choosing trees, drilling, sap collection and handling, and making syrup.
An informative MS thesis, called “Production and quality of sap from the bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum Marsh) on Vancouver Island, British Columbia,” by Deirdre Bruce, 2003 (Maple Syrup Thesis, MS University of Victoria)
In late July and early August 2017, we harvested about six bundles of thirty-six nettle stems for fiber. We then harvested more. We retted them several different ways–in the creek (submerged), on the grass in the dew for various periods), skutched them, carded them, wished we’d retted them more (although we were getting black splotches as it was), wished we’d skutched them more carefully (because a lot of wood was still there) … and I spun them with a drop spindle, then started to weave on a hand loom. My goal is to make a small cloth.
However, I quickly re-discovered some flax in the basement that I had never spun, but had carted around with me since high school. I decided, given how long the nettles took to prepare, to use some of the perfectly-clean, ordered flax, as well. It spun so easily compared to the nettles! The project awaits another round on it. The early story about our nettle adventures is in my first blog post ever, here. I will post a photo once the project is done.
We designed a riparian restoration project with several other landowners with the goal of improving habitat for chinook salmon and other species. In summer 2017 people submitted grant proposals, which were approved. People have been working doggedly to get permits to begin the restoration in summer 2018. I will update as the projects move forward.