Usually you hear about people tapping maple trees, but there are several other trees you can tap as well including walnut and birch trees. Although I have birch trees, I decided to tap a walnut tree. (Teri at Homestead Honey wrote a post about walnut tapping which fascinated me.) My inner child cartwheeled with glee all around the walnut trees. So I want to teach you how to tap a walnut tree as well.
It is only my first time, so next year I will be better prepared.
Timing is Everything!
Timing is everything. You want a freeze thaw type of temperature. For example, you need a freezing temperature at night and then temperatures in at least the forties and fifties degrees during the day. Given, this crazy winter, I should have been more mindful of the temperatures.
Michael Farrell, Ph.D. , the Director of The Uihlein Forest, Cornell University Department of Natural Resources explains as follows:
“Freezing temperatures in early spring cause the tree to go into negative pressure and brings water up from the ground into the tree’s cambium layer. Warming temperatures during the day cause the tree to thaw again which releases the water, now in the form of sap, back down through the cambium. It’s the freezing and thawing events that cause sap to flow back and forth in late March and early April.”
Typically, you tap walnut trees the same time as maple trees. I am zone 6 (New Jersey) so Maple trees are usually tapped in mid February to March, weather permitting. (Birch trees are tapped later. To learn about birch tree tapping, read HERE.)
Prerequisite to Tapping a Tree:
Before you tap a tree, you need to make sure it is healthy and the right diameter. Generally, walnut trees can be tapped when they are about 10 to 15 years old and 10 to 12 inches in diameter. (Maple trees must be 25 years old.)
However Dr. Farrell states during our email interview that an exact diameter for tapping is up for debate.
“It depends not just on the size but also the growth rate of the trees. For fast growing walnut trees, they may be tapped when they are less than 10 inches, perhaps as small as 5 or 6” in diameter.”
So here are some other prerequisites:
- Tap on the south side of the tree, two to three feet from the base.
- Walnut trees have ridges, so you want to tap into the ridge part of the tree. (This is the sapwood of the tree.)
- Have patience. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
- If your trees are large, you can put in more than one tap.
How to Tap a Walnut Tree:
Tools you need:
- a drill with the appropriate drill bit based upon your spout size to make a two inch hole.
- A hammer to tap the spout into the tree.
- A bucket of some sort. You can use any type of bucket. We used old plastic vinegar containers and drilled a hole in the middle.
- A spout. We used a 5/16th stainless steel spout in following Teri’s post. It has a little lip so you can hang the bucket or container on it.
- A top to cover the buckets to keep out the rain and snow. Since we used a plastic vinegar container with a stopper we didn’t need a top.
- Rope, twine, or bungee cords. We live in a wind area and you want to secure the bottles. One did fall off when we had a terrible wind storm one weekend. (I think it wasn’t properly tightened.)
- Shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. You will need to check every day or so if you have sap.
- A camera or your cell phone! You will want to shoot pictures of it and share with friends when you see a clear liquid in the container. (I was jumping like a little kid.)
Watch Dr. Farrell as he taps a walnut tree.
Just in case you don’t want to watch the above video, here are written instructions:
- Drill a two inch hole into the south side of the tree about two to three foot from the bottom of the tree. (We drilled at four feet. Another mistake.) If you are tapping more than one hole, Theresa of Tiny Homestead suggests keeping the taps one foot apart. She also suggests for every additional 6 to 8 inches in diameter, you can add another tap. Before you get tap happy, remember you have to boil down the syrup which is very time consuming.
- You need to drill on the ridge to tap into the sapwood of the tree. (We made this mistake.) According to Dr. Farrell, sap flows best through the sapwood. When you take out the drill from the tree, the wood shavings should be white.
- Insert a spout. We purchases an aluminium 5/16th one from HERE. You can buy a variety of spouts from Lead Evaporator or Tap My Trees which have hooks, buckets, etc. We chose an aluminium spout because I wanted something strong. Plus this spout had the smallest diameter I could find so as not to hurt the tree.
- Use a hammer to gently tap in the spout.
- We cleared away some of the bark to make sure the plastic bottles were flush with the tree. (However, you can follow this method which doesn’t remove any bark.)
6. As I mentioned above, we live in a windy area, so we used 2 bungee cords for each tree to secure the containers.
7. If you use vinegar bottles, be sure to tip quickly or get the liquid to the side of the non-holed side before tipping. Otherwise, the liquid will come out the tapping hole and you will lose the liquid. (This happened to us.)
8. Collect every day. It is possible you might need to collect twice a day. This is one of the reason I only tapped each tree once because I knew I didn’t have the patience to render that much sap.
How much liquid did we get? About a spaghetti jar. I think we were a tad too late to tap the trees.
The liquid can only stay in the refrigerator for a few days. Some people render the sap right away because you might get a lot of syrup. I put mine in the freezer since I didn’t have time to render it. Dr. Farrell told me it should be fine. (You know I love to preserve food in my freezer.)
Just in case, if you are wondering what did the sap taste like, I think it tastes like water from the tree. In fact it looks like water too!
Dr. Farrell states it tastes like a “lighter maple syrup, with nutty butterscotch overtones” when it is rendered into syrup.
Next Year Tapping:
As for next year, I will probably tap in January. Dr Farrell advised, “You should use a new spout each year or do the best job you can to sterilize an older spout if you will be using old spouts.”
Catch my next post as I render the syrup. Wish me luck.