25th March 2013
You may have been hearing a lot of talk about birch tapping lately and with good reason. This time of year the sap starts to rise in the trees to feed it’s appetite for spring. Tapping is simply a way of extracting this sap from the tree for our own gains. This weekend we were also collecting the sap from the introduced Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus.
So why do this? Well you can do lots of things with sap, for example, wine, beer, syrup or simply remove any processing and drink it directly. I really enjoy the taste and found it to be a pleasant surprise with more flavour when drunk as sap in comparison to birch, although birch syrup I find divine.
Firstly identify your Sycamore and obtain the permission of the land owner to extract the sap. An offer of a bottle of sap wine at this stage goes a long way. Look for a healthy tree with lots of growth. A trunk 12” across or bigger is fine. If you have a choice of tree try to choose one in the open as these seem to produce better results.
When you have a tree to tap you’ll need a few things before you get started. Firstly a container to collect the sap in. A 2ltr pop bottle or a 5 litre water bottle from your supermarket is ideal and less than a couple of quid. A tube, in this case diameter size does not aid your yield, I used 19mm because it was available, the bonus with that size is it fits perfectly into a 2 litre drinks bottle opening. Something to make your hole in the tree, I used a Bosch cordless (other makes are available). Drill bit to match your pipe size and a section of dowel to plug your tree after sap extraction is complete.
You will need to make a very small vent hole in your pipe if using a drinks bottle and a 19mm tube, as the fit is very snug and the air needs to escape as the bottle as it fills with sap. Make sure the hole is a couple of inches up the pipe so it will be outside the bottle when it is in place.
Take these items to your tree and before you get started we need to test the tree to make sure the sap is indeed rising. Simply take a sharp point (I used the tip of the drill) and at about a meter from the ground drive it in past the bark layer, typically 6mm is fine. Give it a little wiggle up & down to loosen the fibres. Now the moment of truth, if the sap is running it will form a droplet within 30 seconds or so. If this doesn’t happen simply revisit the tree every few days at this time of year. I’ve tapped Sycamore in Oxford and Tring area in the last couple of days with great results. This may vary the further north or south you are of that line.
When you have established the sap is running drill your hole to the diameter of the pipe at a slight upward angle. Drill in 40-60mm and clear out any loose shavings from inside the hole.
Within a few seconds the drips will be free flowing. Now insert the pipe about 10mm into the hole and the other end into the bottle.
All you have to do is sit back and allow the tree to do all the hard work. Sycamores seem to flow at about half the rate of birch, but it’s important to remember that the sap flow will vary from tree to tree depending on its age, condition and at which stage it is at with its sap rising. A tree sap rising is no guarantee the one next to it will be flowing at the same rate. I harvested from one tree nearly 4 litres in 30 hours. I tend not to take more than 5 litres from any one tree to allow it to replenish what I have taken and will give it a couple of years before I revisit it again to help keep it healthy. This is purely my decision from reading what I can on the subject. Once you have finished tapping the tree taper your peg (with the bark removed) to roughly fit the hole you have drilled and tap into the tree to stop the sap continuing to leak out. You can also use clay or plasticine to do the same thing.
Then all you have to do is decide what to do with it. I’d certainly suggest trying the sap as it is. I chose to boil mine for a few hours to reduce it to syrup, which although was low in volume, was exploding with sweet maple flavour.
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Jay Jenner…….King of the sap!