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Survival Skills: How To Get Water And Syrup From Trees

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February 11, 2013
Survival Skills: How To Get Water And Syrup From Trees - 2

Throughout much of North America, tree sugaring time is near or already underway. Depending on the weather and your latitude, you will have trees with running sap between January and early March. Some of these trees can be sources of water if you get caught without anything to drink. Other trees can provide live-saving calories at one of the roughest times of the year for survival.

The ubiquitous and familiar maples (the genus Acer) have a watery sap that is used for water and to make maple syrup. The sap flows in late winter and early spring when night time temperatures are below freezing and the days are above freezing. The sap is slightly sweet and can be tapped by boring a hole in any maple tree (except the introduced Norway maple , Acer platanoides, which has milky sap). Drill the hole through the bark, about an inch and a half into the sapwood, angling the hole upward. Any reasonable sized drill bit can work, but many folks go with a 7/16-inch hole, which matches commercial sized metal tubes. Insert a tube (a.k.a. spile) and allow the sap to drip into a container. In the photo, I am using a naturally hollow Knotweed stalk. Use what you have. Bamboo, PVC pipe, and copper tubing all work. If you have trouble finding anything in the shed that will work as a spile, check out the Lehman’s company.

They sell sugaring equipment and a host of non-electric household and farm goods.

The sap flows best on the south side of the tree, which has the most sun exposure. You can insert one tap for each foot of the tree’s diameter. If you’re using the sap for drinking water, know that it doesn’t keep long before souring, so use it soon. If you’re looking for something sweeter, boil the sap in an open pot until you have a viscous syrup, which should keep for months. Maple syrup has about 100 calories per ounce.

Sap from sugar maple trees has the highest sugar percentage; other maples and different tree species only have about half as much sugar. Sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis), birches (the genus Betula), and hickories (the genus Carya) can also be tapped for drinking water that can be boiled for syrup. Black birch sap is particularly delicious. Walnuts (the genus Juglans) can be tapped for drinking water, too; however walnut is not particularly tasty like maple, and you’ll want to skip that one for syrup production.

Do you harvest syrup from local trees? Tell us about your winter sugaring process in the comments.

 

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from huntfishtrap 2/12/2013 at 11:05am

We've made maple syrup every year for over 20 years, but this year we're not going to tap because of the drought. Most of our sugar bush is located on rocky hillsides that don't hold moisture well, and we're afraid of hurting the trees if we have another dry summer. The quality of the syrup wouldn't be good anyway, the one previous drought year during which we tapped produced cloudy, bitter-tasting syrup that produced complaints from some of our customers.
This article is pretty accurate except for a couple of minor points. "The sap flows best on the south side of the tree..." - Not necessarily true, it's best to tap directly above the biggest roots coming up out of the ground. Tapping on the south side will produce sap earlier in the year, and tapping on the north side will continue to run later, all else being equal.
"You can insert one tap for each foot of the tree’s diameter." That's a bit conservative, the general rule of thumb is that you can put two taps in trees 16 inches in diameter and larger.
Other than those quibbles, good article Mr. MacWelch.

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from Bob Hansen 2/11/2013 at 06:09pm

Hi...

Yes, around here in the lower Catskill Mountains, it was harvested by almost all (if not all) of the numerous dairy farms which dotted the the area many years ago.

Now it is still harvested locally, but by larger, and fewer producers.

When I read your post, I was thinking more of the potential survival use for the sap...an idea to keep in the back of one's mind...just in case...!!

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from Bob Hansen 2/11/2013 at 06:09pm

Hi...

Yes, around here in the lower Catskill Mountains, it was harvested by almost all (if not all) of the numerous dairy farms which dotted the the area many years ago.

Now it is still harvested locally, but by larger, and fewer producers.

When I read your post, I was thinking more of the potential survival use for the sap...an idea to keep in the back of one's mind...just in case...!!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap 2/12/2013 at 11:05am

We've made maple syrup every year for over 20 years, but this year we're not going to tap because of the drought. Most of our sugar bush is located on rocky hillsides that don't hold moisture well, and we're afraid of hurting the trees if we have another dry summer. The quality of the syrup wouldn't be good anyway, the one previous drought year during which we tapped produced cloudy, bitter-tasting syrup that produced complaints from some of our customers.
This article is pretty accurate except for a couple of minor points. "The sap flows best on the south side of the tree..." - Not necessarily true, it's best to tap directly above the biggest roots coming up out of the ground. Tapping on the south side will produce sap earlier in the year, and tapping on the north side will continue to run later, all else being equal.
"You can insert one tap for each foot of the tree’s diameter." That's a bit conservative, the general rule of thumb is that you can put two taps in trees 16 inches in diameter and larger.
Other than those quibbles, good article Mr. MacWelch.

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