Saturday morning, eight of us went out to install the tubing and tap the trees on our south-hill. We have to re-install the tubing every year. Over a hundred Sugar Maples on this hill are tagged, starting with L1 T1 and ending with L13 T15. The tags tell us where to go with the the tubing that we rolled up so neatly at the end of last years season. The L stands for lateral line; thirteen of them snake up the hill from tree to tree. The lines are stretched tight between the Maples. The T stands for tree. At every tree there is a T-connector installed in the tubing and this connector has to end up close to the Maple tree trunk. All the lateral lines are going down the hill, and at the bottom, they are connected to a bigger line called a mainline. At the south-hill we have four short mainlines and all four of them end up at a three hundred gallon collection tank.
When all the tubing is installed, we are ready to tap the trees. We usually work our way up the lateral lines in teams of two. At every Sugar Maple, we inspect the tree and look for a good spot to install a spile. We want to stay six inches horizontally and twelve inches vertically away from old tap-holes. When we find a good spot we take our cordless drill and drill a slightly upward hole that is about two inches deep into the trunk of the tree. We use a 5/16 drill bit for our newer 5/16 spiles. We clean the hole with water to remove little pieces of wood that could clog the line. A drop-line with a spile is attached to the T-connector in the lateral line, and the spile is gently tapped into the tap hole with a hammer. The last tap of the hammer makes a distinctly different sound and you know the spile is seated correctly. If you don’t tap enough, the spile could fall out If you tap too hard you can crack the wood. In both instances the tap will leak and you lose sap.
After all the trees are tapped, we quickly check all the lines and make sure we did everything right. Now we have to wait for the right weather pattern so the tree can build up pressure andgive us some of its sweet Maple sap. The sap will flow through the tubing system, down the hill and into the collection tank at the bottom of the hill.
A nice bonus of Saturday’s work was seeing a Barred Owl sitting in a hollow tree in the Wildflower Garden next to where we were working.