Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Planting an Apple Orchard and Making a Cider Press.

Everything loves apples on our smallholding.  We eat them ourselves and the sheep, geese and chickens devour them.  We also throw some out for the blackbirds in winter - and at night different creatures come in to finish up the leftovers.  So it seemed obvious that we should plant some apple trees - both cookers and eaters - somewhere on the smallholding and it wasn't long before we got involved in planting an apple orchard. 

We didn't plant the orchard all at once; instead, we've planted trees over a number of years  (sometimes maybe two or three a winter).  We also decided early on that we wanted to have a go at producing cider, so we bought a variety of trees for a cider blend.  These included some traditional cider apple trees called Sweet Alford (I believe this variety originates from Devon in the 18th century).  To be honest, these trees aren't doing as well as some of the other trees; so our real blend will come not from cider apples, but from general cookers and eaters.

We searched for a cider press, but decided to save money by making one instead out of scrap. The press we made is in the photo below, and we've used it for two years now.  The main section of the press has been made from old oak fence posts, cut and planed into battens and two bands have been cut and bent from scrap metal.

Home made cider press (centre) and home made shaving horse (left)

The frame was built from some seasoned beech which was cut and planed.  The three large threaded rods and large nuts (which were left over from building the barn) apply pressure on the apples - and so squeeze out the juice.

We started to drink last year's cider this summer, and it's good, but we've decided we'd like it sweeter this year (David and I prefer sweeter drinks).  So I'm going to make it differently this autumn.  I also hope to make more apple juice (which was perfect last year - but there just wasn't enough of it).  Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it will be a good apple year, but hopefully, in addition to our own crop, we can beg and barter enough apples from neighbours (in return for bottles of drink) to have a decent harvest.

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