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Maple Sugaring

Environmental Education Center, 190 Lord Stirling Rd, Basking Ridge, NJ • 908 722-1200 Ext. 5002

Maple Sugaring
Maple Sugaring
MaSampling the Maple Syrup
The Tap Hole

The Native Americans made a “tap hole” by gashing an opening in the tree with a sharp stone. The pioneers first drilled with a hand bit and brace with which they could drill about 800 holes a day. Today a 35 to 40 pound gas powered drill is used, enabling a person to tap approximately 2000 holes in a day’s time. The heat produced by the drill may cause the hole to cauterize inhibiting sap flow.

Stone Drill
hand bit and brace

It takes approximately forty years to grow a maple tree large enough to tap. A rule almost universally accepted is never to tap a tree less than 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The old farmer’s rule had it just right: “Never tap a tree smaller than the bucket you’re putting on it.” For each 5 inches growth in tree diameter, another tap hole may be made (10”-12” = 1 bucket, 15”-17” = 2 buckets, etc.). Generally there is a four-bucket limit placed on tap holes, as tree growth (annual rings) is extremely slowed beyond 25 inches in trunk diameter. There is considerable debate about the so-called tapping guidelines. Some foresters suggest that no more than two tap holes per tree as a guideline as opposed to the old guideline of “put out enough spouts to make a living.”

The diameter of the tap hole is 7/16 inch. The hole is drilled at a slightly upward angle to a depth of 3 inches. This area is the living part of the tree or sapwood and is where the sap flows. The inner part of the tree, the heartwood, is non-conducting dead cells. The height of the tap hole is generally 3 to 4 feet above ground or chest height, primarily for convenience in emptying containers and clearing root knobs. A tap hole will “dry up” in 3 to 4 weeks due to growth of microorganisms that feed on the sap in the opening not to the air-drying of the wood tissue. Tap holes should be allowed to “scar over” or heal and not be used again. Future tap holes should be placed 4 to 6 inches away in any direction from old tap holes.

Please click on the following links for more information on maple sugaring:

Maple Sugaring Home
Boiling Down
Gathering The Sap
History of Maple Sugaring
Is It Syrup Yet?
Maple Activities
Maple Recipes
Sugar Bush
Word Search (pdf file)
Word Search Answer Key (pdf file)
Multiple Choice Questions

E-mail the EEC any questions or comments.