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Drop lines & Sap Buckets

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Now that hunting season is over, we’re blogging again and excited to welcome everyone back to Grey Dog Maple Farm. This week we’re going to talk about what’s needed to tap trees using the drop line / bucket collection method. This is the most common collection method used by small producers and a great way for beginners to get involved.

Bucket collection is a simple method that uses three main pieces and few tools. Here at Grey Dog Maple Farm, we use Leader + H2O Innovation products, but others are available. We choose the Leader brand because of their commitment to quality and their excellent customer service. Up first, is the spout.

The tree spout is what gets the sap out of the tree. There are many options, each serving specific functions. Today, we’re going concentrate on the most common size and style, the 5/16” plastic spile. Leader provides three main offerings for these. They are the disposable, check valve, and the tree savor. We’ve used the tree savor for years and tried the disposable last year. We’ll be trying the check valves this coming season.

If you’re just getting started, the clear 5/16” disposable spile is a great option. Depending on where you purchase them, they run between 20¢ and 30¢ a piece, making them very affordable. As their name suggests though, these spouts are only recommended for one season and should be replaced yearly. If you try sugaring and decide to stick with it, upgrading to the check valve or tree savor spile for the next season makes sense. Those spiles typically cost twice as much as the disposable version.

To get sap from the spile to the bucket, you’re going to need tubing. Like spouts, there are many different options. Color, size, and rigidness can all vary. For bucket collection, I recommend using Leaders Uni 50 5/16” tubing. This tubing is the most cost effective and is designed for all around use. A 500’ roll costs around $50. For bucket collection, you’ll need to cut the tubing into sections. A good length to use is 36”. A common issue with buying your tubing by the roll is its tendency to curl back after being cut. To address this, you can now purchase pre-cut, straight 36” drop lines. These are around 60¢ each and we’re excited to try these this coming season.

To connect your spile to the tubing, make sure your desired length of tubing is cut, and then push one end of the tubing onto the barbed end of your chosen spile. This step can be difficult. There are custom tools available to make it easier, but with a little old fashioned elbow grease and some farm muscle, you can save money and still get the job done. After you have all of your spiles and tubing connected, it’s time to move to your buckets.

The two most important parts of selecting your buckets are making sure they’re food grade and that they have a lid. If you wouldn’t eat what was in your bucket before, you don’t’ want to use it for your sap. New, food grade buckets are available at most farm and homestead supply stores. If you’re frugal like me though, used buckets are a great option. Many restaurants and bakeries buy food supplies by the 5 gallon bucket. Used frosting buckets are some of my favorite.

Having a lid for your bucket is mandatory. Without a lid, all sorts of debris will get into your collected sap and some may even spoil it. To get your tubing through the lid, you’ll have to drill a hole. You want this to be a snug fit, so choose your drill bit accordingly. Another trick I’ve picked up over the years is to drill your hole near the edge of the lid instead of the center. After your holes are drilled, make sure the burs are cleaned up and your buckets are free from shavings.

The reason I drill holes near the edge of the lid and not the center is because I don’t push the lids down tight when I use them. Keep in mind that many times during syrup season, you’ll be dealing with freezing temperatures. Along with the possibility of your lids freezing in place, you’ll also be working in heavy gloves, making it difficult to pry open the lids. Instead of pushing your lids down tight, set them on top of your buckets and use a clean rock or something similar to hold them down. Tree branches or logs are not recommended as bark or wood can come off and work its way down through your tubing hole. Using a rock to hold the lid down instead of locking it in place will make it much easier to remove the lids when you’re collecting sap.

Now that your spiles, tubing, and buckets are ready to collect sap, you’re ready to tap your trees. We’ll be covering that process in one of our future blogs so be sure to sign up on our website for updates and while you’re there, check out the store for great gifts. Everything has free shipping within the continental U.S. If you’ve enjoyed this blog or others, please consider sharing them. We thank you for your support and can’t wait to connect via Facebook or Pinterest.

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