CAN YOU BE READY TO TAP YOUR MISSOURI TREES?
How long until Missouri syrup season? Well, the trees don't turn on their sap flow on any certain date, but sap flow is coming... are you ready for it? Our family in mid-Missouri typically taps trees around January 10, and we collect sap for 4-8 weeks. Generally, trees will yield sap when night temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Your local Missouri climate and specific winter weather conditions might cause you to tap slightly earlier or later. Some Missouri syrupmakers get impatient and tap as early as Christmas. Syrupmakers in most northeastern states don't tap their trees until late February or March. Hopefully when you read this, you still have plenty of time to research syrupmaking and obtain your supplies. The text below might be helpful to you if you want to try this hobby.
I frequently get the question- how much sap will a tree yield- or how much syrup could I make? Only with some experience with your specific trees over several seasons will you be able to answer those questions. For us, in a typical 4-6 week season, lets say that we have weather conditions that will cause 5 sap "runs", and our 200 taps will yield about 1000 gallons of sap. These taps are on some trees that are truly champion producers, and others that are hardly worth the work. All taps are on trees larger than 10" diameter, measured 5' above the ground. Most of our trees are less than 15" in diameter, with moderately-sized canopies. Only a few of our trees have 2 taps. So on average, each tap will produce 5 gallons of sap in a season. When you consider the boiling ratio, (which depends on the sugar content of sap) and for us is typically 46 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup, the typical tree will yield slightly less than one pint of syrup in a season. If you can be selective and only tap trees with higher production, or with higher sugar content you can make your efforts more productive.
How many maple trees can you tap? How much time do you have during the sap flow months? Do you like being outside in the winter? How much firewood can you accumulate? (unless you use an outdoor propane burner like a turkey fryer or camp stove). Are helpers available? Syrupmaking can be a great wintertime hobby that doesn't involve a huge investment of money, but can be a lot of work, time consuming and your efforts may be frustrated by weather conditions. It is a great pastime for children; they can be a help in the woods gathering sap but caution is required near any fire and the very hot liquids.
You don't need a big grove of trees to get started. If you have a few maple trees in your yard, collecting sap could be very convenient. See the PROFILES item of this website to learn about some Missouri syrupmakers who have very few trees. Only trees that have trunk diameter about 10" or larger when measured 5' off the ground should be tapped; smaller trees could be harmed. Typically the hole drilled in a tree is only 5/16" of an inch in diameter, and only goes into the tree about an inch or an inch and a quarter past the bark. Trees with trunk diameter over 18" can accommodate two holes. A small plastic or metal fixture called a spile (available from syrupmaking suppliers) is inserted into the hole, and the spile will direct sap flow into a sap sack or a tube leading to a bucket on the ground. (Some resourceful Missourians make their own spiles out of small commercial tubing or pipe. The old-timers would make spiles out of elderberry sticks and ream out the pithy center to make a small pipe.) Tapping in this manner does not harm the trees; the hole will heal in a year or two. When your trees start producing sap, you need to store it cold (like milk) or even freeze it until you boil it, as it can spoil.
Do you have sugar maple trees? Although you can tap any maple tree of sufficient size (and even boxelder or walnut trees) the sugar maple produces sap with the highest sugar content and will require less boiling than sap from other trees. Sugar maple leaves are known for their bright orange and red colors in the fall. How to identify sugar maples with certainty: https://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Sugar-Maple-Trees
Missouri Department of Conservation has a great document for beginners called Guide to Backyard Maple Sugaring. Beginners should start their reading here. In addition to this document, the MDC conducts sugaring sessions during the sap flow season at several of its facilities throughout the state. If you have no experience syrupmaking, please read this!
The University of Minnesota has prepared a list of basic questions and answers about syrupmaking: (For question 27, disregard their response. Holes should be only 5/16” in diameter, and go into a tree only about 1.25” past the bark.) https://www.d.umn.edu/~tbates/curricularesources/MapleSyruping/MapleSugarbushFAQs.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0oJp5uvXrWoqn1czAZHunE9307iV56mnSnzIIgQcpJK5RaEEMPozJLE_o
If you don't have enough trees to tap, perhaps you can collaborate with other property owners to accumulate enough sap to justify your effort and share costs of equipment. And you don't have to find just sugar maples; you can tap silver maples (the trees with big "helicopter" seeds) or boxelders, black maples, red maples, sycamore and even walnut trees. These other trees will require more sap to yield a given amount of syrup compared to the sap from sugar maple trees and may yield sap on a different schedule.