Sugar maples, along with black, red and silver maples, can be harvested for their sap, which is made into maple syrup. Michigan consists of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 6, which are ideal climates for growing large sap-producing maple trees. Harvesting---also called tapping---maple trees is a Michigan tradition and many maple syrup-centered events, such as the Shepard Maple Syrup Festival, are held throughout the state. Most maple syrup events have tree-tapping demonstrations and some also offer interactive lessons.
Harvest your maple trees in Michigan before mid-February in zones 5 and 6 or before the first week of March in zones 3 and 4. USDA plant hardiness zones 5 and 6 are predominately located in the southern half of the state in the Lower Peninsula. USDA zones 3 and 4 are located in the northern half of the state, in much of the Upper Peninsula (although some of it is zone 5) and the north-central area of the Lower Peninsula.
Choose a tree to harvest. Maple trees suitable for tapping should be at least 10 inches in diameter and four feet high. Trees with wider canopies produce more sap than scrawnier trees.
Select a spot to tap. It should be around two to four feet above the ground where the wood and bark look solid and healthy. Do not tap in the same spot twice. For trees with diameters greater than 20 inches, you can tap in two different spots at the same time.
Drill a hole, usually with a 5/16 or 7/16 drill bit. The hole should match the size of your spout. Drill a two- to three-inch deep hole in a somewhat upward direction so the sap runs down for easy collection.
Hammer the spout lightly into the hole and attach a collection bucket or food-grade plastic bag to the spout. If applicable, cover an open container with a piece of plastic to avoid collecting debris, rainwater or snow. Sap spouts (which usually have bucket hooks on them), collection buckets and food-grade plastic bags are available online and at garden and home centers. Everything you need to collect maple syrup is often bundled in a kit.
Leave your collection bucket or plastic bag there and check on it every two to three days. There is no exact timetable as to how long it will take for the sap to flow and fill your container. However, sap is most likely to flow when the weather quickly warms in the morning and then dips below freezing at night. Each tap line usually results in 10 to 12 gallons of sap. For the best-quality syrup, sap should be converted within five days of harvesting.