Tree Sap

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Farside
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Tree Sap

#1 Post by Farside » Wed Apr 10, 2019 12:56 pm

I've come to the realization that when the climate turns cold, tree sap from various tree species might just save your life.

I say this because in cold climates, there is a long period of time where nothing grows. And when it comes time to plant, there is a period of a few months while things are growing when there is nothing to eat. That traditional time of starvation is that transition time of spring where winter supplies are depleted, and new food hasn't yet become available.

Another thing I have realized is that during the spring thaw and for some time afterwards there is water everywhere but it is nasty stuff that will make you sick in a heartbeat.

This is where tree sap makes its entrance. There are some species of deciduous tree (not just maple) that release large amounts of edible tree sap from their roots. And different species release this sap at different times which means the supply of clean, nutritious liquid is available for a surprisingly long period.

I created this topic so we can have a store of information on which trees produce what, and when.

Farside
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Re: Tree Sap

#2 Post by Farside » Wed Apr 10, 2019 1:22 pm

Before we launch into actual tree species, it probably makes sense to talk about harvesting. Many of you will think of quaint metal buckets hanging from taps that have been inserted into the trunk of the tree. This is traditionally how sap is collected but it has some significant drawbacks, and modern sap harvesting is a completely different method.
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The bucket system is very labor intensive and costly to install. for example, when maple sap is running, there can be deep snow still on the ground, and once per day every pail has to be checked. As things warm up, the bugs come out and they just love the sap. Keeping them out of the pail along with woodland "bits", snow, rain, and everything else you can possibly think of is a challenge.

As a hobby, the traditional pail system works, but it doesn't scale especially if you happen to be starving.

The modern approach essentially installs an IV line into the tree similar to how blood is harvested from people. On a small scale, this IV line goes down into a pail which sits on the ground. You still have to check each pail every day, but they are much easier to seal from all the unwanted stuff and the risk of the tap being pulled out under the weight of the pail is eliminated.
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This is the method I use and it works fine for tapping a few trees.

The professionals take this to a whole different level. Since they collect sap every year from the same trees they have the challenge of ensuring that the tree remains healthy which means they can't just make a new hole every year. Eventually something will infect one of the old wound sites. They address this by using a permanent insert that can be sealed off when not in use. It's brilliant. They then connect the trees via a network of tubes to lines of increasing diameter until there is just one central line feeding into a building where the sap is converted to syrup (sap spoils, syrup does not). This method takes some setting up each season, but once it is operational, there is no walking required. There is also no heavy lifting and no bits getting into the sap.
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Farside
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Tree Sap - Tapping

#3 Post by Farside » Thu Apr 11, 2019 5:20 pm

Tapping a tree requires drilling a hole into the trunk. The sap runs up the trunk just under the bark, so the trick here is to not drill too deep but deep enough to get into the active layer.

Naturally this depth will vary depending on how big the tree is (at least 18 inches diameter). And you want to select a tree that is big enough so that it recovers from your harvest without issue.

As a general guide, the hole is usually somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch (6.5mm to 12.5mm) and the actual size you use will depend a lot on the size of the taps (spiles) you use since you need a tight fit.

My setup uses a 9mm drill bit with some electrical tape wrapped around partway up the bit which acts as a guide so I drill a consistently deep hole. I drill the hole slightly pointing up (so the sap drains out) and then install the tap by lightly hammering it into the hole with a hammer.

It turns out that sap doesn't rise evenly around the trunk. So you want to position the hole on the sunny side of the tree if you can. Height isn't too critical, so choose a height that makes installation and removal convenient.

Here is a guide:


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Re: Tree Sap

#4 Post by Farside » Wed Apr 17, 2019 5:11 pm

Just thought I'd drop in and give a quick update on my maple syrup collection this year. I tapped 3 trees and the amount of sap I started collecting was so low I thought I had done something wrong in how I tapped them (I haven't tapped manitoba maples before). I retapped them and production went up a bit but nothing close to what I expected.

So far this season I've had 2 days where production was what I was expecting which proves to me nothing is wrong with my setup. I'm figuring it's climatic - just a bad year. I was just watching the latest update on the IAF channel and indeed I appear to be correct. This year is a bust for maple syrup. Go Aunt Jemima!

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