Reader Question: Untapping Trees

by Tig Tillinghast

Reader Question: This was our first year making maple syrup with our 3 children, 3 and younger. We started late in the season but successfully made 2 gallons from two 100 ft sugar maple trees on our property. I tapped the trees with plastic spiles, 7 in total. Now that the season is finishing, do I leave them in the trees or remove them and plug them somehow to prevent disease? Thanks.

The quick answer: you do remove them. Despite a period a few decades ago when it was thought that best practice was to plug the holes, we now have a lot of data to show that the least rot and disease vectoring occurs when we leave the holes open. It appears that the trees’ natural defense mechanisms work pretty well on small wounds like a tap hole, while a plugged tap hole tends to be a collection point for moisture, which makes it a nice home for fungus and rot. (Just to be paranoid, I drill my tap holes at an upward angle, so that when they’re left open after the season, they won’t act as little reservoirs.)

By the way, making two gallons of maple syrup off of two trees is fantastic. A single bucket tree typically makes roughly a quart of maple syrup. Multi-bucket trees do not get proportionately higher amounts of maple syrup, although they do get more syrup. To get a full gallon per tree is quite a thing. Just in case that maple syrup is a little thinner than 67 or 68 percent solids, you might want to be careful about letting it sit too long where it might turn. Maple syrup of even slightly lower concentration can go to vinegar if left out of the fridge.