How To Tap Birch Trees

For quite some time now, each spring as we drive past stands of birch trees, I proclaim, “I am going to try tapping these for birch sap next spring!” And as the best laid plans go, the following year I would have forgotten to order tapping supplies, and another season would pass without attempting to tap birch trees. This year, despite still not having the supplies on hand, I decided I would go for it, handmade spile and all – the weather has been perfect for tapping!

How to tap birch trees. Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.
Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.

When To Tap Birch Trees

While spring is tapping season, the actual window of opportunity can vary greatly depending on the year. Here in northern BC, some Aprils can be brutally cold – but in years such as this, we have already seen most of our snow disappear.

You ideally want to tap trees several weeks before the leaves appear, when daytime temperatures are warm and nighttime lows hover around freezing/just above freezing.

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How Do I Know What Tree To Tap?

Pick a healthy tree at least 10 inches in diametre. Picking southern exposure might get your season started a bit earlier and working around to the northern side may extend the season. If the tree has been tapped previously, try to stay at least half a foot away from the old hole. When drilling the hole, you want to see light shavings (darker ones may mean you are drilling in a decaying part of the tree).

What Supplies Do You Need To Tap A Birch Tree?

You don’t need much to get tapping! You will need a clean bucket or jug of some sort to collect the sap, a spile, drill and bit (7/16-inch is a common size, but check that the bit matches the size of the spile/tap).

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How To Tap Birch Trees

Using a drill and sanitized bit, make a hole in the tree approximately two inches deep. Drill at a slightly upward angle to encourage the sap to run down the spile. Make sure the hole is clear of shavings, and gently tap the spile into the hole – it should be a snug fit. Hang the jug so that the sap can run into it. We went for a short walk after tapping the first tree and came back to almost a quart of sap already collected!

How to tap birch trees. Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.
Credit: Raeanne O’Meara.

How To Store Birch Sap

Store collected sap in the fridge for up to a few days. It can be consumed fresh from the tree (we tried it before even getting home), made into birch sap wine or other fermented beverages, or boiled down into birch syrup. I found the taste of fresh sap refreshing, similar to a slightly sweetened water, but can’t wait to collect enough sap to do some experimenting with!