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Sapsuckers – A Community Science Program for Bigleaf Maple Sugaring

Are you tapping maples on your property?  If yes, we’re interested in learning from you!

Sapsuckers is a community-based science program that sources on-the-ground data from individuals who are actively tapping bigleaf maples in western Washington and Oregon.

We need your help!  Bigleaf maple sugaring is catching on at both the hobby and commercial scale. Data from hobbyists and syrup producers can help us gain a better understanding of how things like site, tree, and weather characteristics influence sap yield and quality over a broader geographic area.  This will guide our understanding of best practices and assist the development of a sustainable bigleaf maple syrup market in the Pacific Northwest.

Are you interested in joining the Sapsucker program?  See the steps below.

Step 1 – Learn How to Tap

Are you new to tapping?  If yes, watch this introductory webinar to get an idea of what’s involved and see if you want to try it for yourself.

Step 2 – Choose Your Setup

Are you going to be using buckets and bags to collect sap from trees individually?  Or are you going to go for a tubing system that drains all the trees into a single container?  Both have advantages and disadvantages.  Many hobbyists start with buckets and bags, which allows us to collect data on individual tree production. This data is very useful!

Step 3 – Purchase Your Equipment

There are a number of suppliers to purchase maple syrup equipment.  Nearly all of them are located in the eastern part of the U.S. and Canada. Check out our Bigleaf Maple Syrup Resources page for a list suppliers.

Note:  To collect data on sap sugar content (AKA “brix”) you will need a field refractometer or a hydrometer that reads 0-10% sugar.  Here are a few places where you can purchase a refractometer:

If you’re unable to purchase a refractometer or hydrometer, providing only yield data is acceptable.  However, please contact patrick.shults@wsu.edu about potentially gaining access to a refractometer through your local conservation district or Extension office.

Step 4 – Find and Describe Your Sugarbush

A sugarbush is the area of your forest with maples that you’re tapping for sap.  Once you’ve determined where you’ll be tapping, fill out the appropriate Sapsucker Entry Form below based on how you’re collecting sap.  This establishes basic information about your site so we don’t have to ask for it each time you report a sap flow.  If you’re using buckets and bags, you will need the trees your going to tap picked out to complete the form.

Entry Form – Buckets and/or Bags

Entry Form – Tubing Systems

When you’re finished with the form, send it to Patrick Shults at patrick.shults@wsu.edu.

Note:  Sugaring plans change all the time.  If you need to change the answers on your form, send an updated version anytime.

Step 5 – Get Tapping!

Get out there and tap your trees!  Remember that we are available to answer questions you have about tapping or the Sapsucker program.  Direct any questions to patrick.shults@wsu.edu.

Important:  For those tapping with buckets and bags, number your trees so they correspond to how they are numbered on your entry form.  This will allow us to keep track of a trees yield throughout a season and over multiple years, should you choose to keep tapping it.

Step 6 – Submit Your Sap Flow Data

Once you’re sap starts flowing, use an online form to submit your data (you’ll receive a link after your entry form is processed).  Sap flows can last one or several days.  Fill out the form each time that you collect sap.  

As you collect your sap, keep track of the amount (round to the nearest gallon).  If you have access to a refractometer or hydrometer, get readings of the sugar content as well.  For those using buckets and bags, keep track of the quantity and sugar content of sap from each tree.

Below are PDF versions of the yield surveys for keeping track in the field.  Once you have the information, remember to submit online using the link provided to you.

Field Data Form – Buckets and/or Bags

Field Data Form – Tubing Systems

Step 7 – Watch the Sapsuckers at Work

To see what you’re contributing your data to, check out the Sapsucker progress site (coming soon)!  We’ll keep this information updated and send out an end of season report so you can see what other Sapsuckers are doing.

Step 8 – Enjoy the Syrup!

The key to sugaring is having fun while doing it.  Enjoy getting outside, engaging with your forest, and savor a well-earned sweet treat at the end of it.

Questions?

If you have any questions along the way, reach out to Patrick Shults (patrick.shults@wsu.edu).

Acknowledgements

Funding for this workshop was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant #21ACERWA1003-00.  Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the USDA.