2014 apple wrangling

October 22, 2014

This weekend Alexis, Dave, and I made the annual pilgrimage to Poverty Lane Orchard.  It was a wet day, but we dodged rain showers, and had the place to ourselves.  Proprietor Steve Wood kindly sold us a mixed bin of bittersweets that he had, rather than the usual single-variety bin – thanks to Steve, Brenda, and all the folks at Poverty Lane, well worth the trip.  We also picked a few hundred pounds in their 2 Below apple menagerie, which was a bit sparse this late in the season but we got some bittersharps and yellow newton pippins, plus some yarlingtons for old time’s sake.

poverty lane 2014

Then we hung out with Andy, Emily, and Elsie, and checked out the CSA where he works, Sunrise Farm in White River.  In addition to vegetables they do sheep, pigs, meat hens and layers, and maple syrup – a beautiful and well-tended operation:

sunrise farm

I was tempted to have Andy and Alexis pose with chickens in the classic hipster manner that I so despise, but nobody was wearing skinny jeans, so I had to settle for this:

sunrise chickens

Finally I made a run to Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, MA, where the owner, Ann Harris, set us up with two bins of a very nice mix.  Holly met me there, and together we topped up with some Greenings and Golden Delicious.  He was sporting his classic wooden shoes plus newly-handmade woolen trousers, and looked fabulous:

hg eating an apple

Being a country boy I was not aware of the indignities that city folks routinely endure in order to pick apples (a brief tour of eastern MA orchards in Yelp portends hayrides, candy, petting zoo, popcorn machines) but Ann and Autumn hills are the real deal – just a couple of barns and acres and acres of apples.    I returned heavily loaded and ready to rock this weekend:

truck and apples truckload of apples

Pedal-Powered Cider in Cascadia

October 22, 2014

A fellow named Steve Haeseker in Vancouver WA sent me a note mentioning his very cool experiments with pedal cider equipment, and sending a link to his video:

The craftsmanship looks really nice. They use a small wood chipper coupled to a bike to grind the apples, and a pedal-hydraulic press made from a log splitter to do the pressing.  Then they feed the pomace to some cows.  The chipper is a neat idea, though the grind looks a little coarse (similar to our first-year results with the antique cast iron press).  I bet it could be modified to make a finer grind by grinding down the cutters and then tightening up the gap. But, given that a lot of apple grinding equipment (including ours) isn’t self-feeding, he may be on to something with the wood chipper concept, and I can see how fabricating a flat disk and mounting cutters to it could be a lot simpler than the multi-step machining process we used to make our cutter drum.

The press is made out of thick hard maple recovered from a bowling alley – major style points for that.  Unlike our press, they count on the wooden uprights to take the full tension of the press; it looks like they use a smaller cylinder (maybe 2.5″?) so the load will be less, but they still get good pressure by using a smaller cheese.  In watching the video it’s not clear why they need their cheese frame, since they aren’t really packing the cheeses full.  We have some instability in our cheeses that sometimes requires re-stacking the press; I wonder if we could do better by cutting the cheese frame down to 3″ from 3.5″ thick.  Alternatively we could make some shims that enforce a certain minimum cheese thickness until the stack is down to ~1/2 thickness; by that point the viscosity of the pulp will be much higher, and I’d think the stack would be less squirrelly.

Anyway, hats off to Steve for joining the ranks of pedal-cider enthusiasts!

Fruit pics 2014

October 11, 2014

Just 2 weeks until the big event!  Meanwhile, Emily sent me some great pictures she took in the orchard:

Peaches (not sure which kind) – we got a great crop this year.  Lars Anderson, then Reliance, and finally Madison.  It was a cool summer, but even so I think I favor the early ones; seems like peaches should ripen in summer, not fall.

peaches

Dabinet (I think):

dabinet

Virginia Crab (I think):virginia crab

Pail of apples from orchard – poor pollination this year (despite two active hives of bees) – not sure what’s up with that.  But we get more apples every year, and hopefully soon we will be awash in fruit.

bucket o apples 2014

Going to the country, going to eat a lot of peaches

August 24, 2014

Eight years on, the orchard plan is finally edging towards ‘fruition’.  The apple trees are starting to fruit, fitfully, but since I planted on standard rootstocks it will probably take a couple of years before they produce in quantity.  But knowing it was going to take a long time, we interspersed peach trees with the apples, since they grow quickly but are generally short-lived (at least in Maine).  The largest tree is a Lars Anderson, and it set a good crop this year; maybe 30 pounds on a 12′ tall tree.

peach harvest

Alexis, Weezy, and I picked them this morning, since a good number were ripe, and the birds and bugs were starting to get at them.  The ones in the trencher in the photo above were the ripe ones, and we blanched, sliced, and froze about 4 quarts.  We gave some to the neighbors, left some in Georgetown, and brought a tray home to process as they ripen.

So far I like the Lars Anderson variety (purchased from Fedco).  This particular tree got badly mauled by a porcupine a couple years back, and I cut it back as best I could, but I was afraid it would die of fungal infection given all the broken wood.  But it has grown over nicely and came through for us this year.  There are a handful of peaches on several other trees, but the Lars seems to be the earliest, and plenty tasty.  A couple weeks back I budded a handful of different peach varieties onto about 10 plum rootstocks that I have nurseried in the orchard rows; in another year I’ll plant them out to fill in more gaps, and hopefully we get larger and larger peach crops.  If anybody has advice on how to prevent peach trees from dying unexpectedly (often with oozing rubbery clear sap), I would love to hear it.

 

Stroudwater Roots Festival

August 24, 2014

The garden is in full swing, and with the usual busy lives we can’t keep up.  I roasted up a giant tray of potatoes, carrots, and beets – everything’s from here except the salt and oil.

stroudwater roots festival veggies

Fresh potatoes are amazing.  Good garlic harvest, so I put in a couple of heads.  Learned the trick to rapidly de-skinning the cloves from Max Davis – put them in a deep covered pot, and shake the pot vigorously up and down so the cloves bang against top and bottom. 15-20 seconds like that and the skins are knocked clean off.

The beets this year are lighter in color, really beautiful. Flavor might be a bit lighter than the usual dark red kind.  Kelsey ordered a mix pack of carrots this year, and the yellow ones seem to outcompete the traditional orange ones for real estate (though not for flavor).

Another reason we need wind, solar, electric vehicles, and heat pumps

June 15, 2014

A semi hauling diesel and kerosene tipped over in a rotary less than a mile upriver from us on Wednesday.  The image below is from the Portland Press Herald:

gorham stroudwater fuel truck crash

The article said that 6000 gallons were recovered and “Emergency crews were able to prevent the spill from entering the Stroudwater River”.  However the crash was only 1/2 mile north of the river, and  it rained heavily on Friday.  By Saturday morning the river smelled strongly of petroleum.

Modern life requires energy to power our transportation and heat our homes, but we can (and must) do better than dirty, unsustainable, de-stabilizing liquid fossil fuels.  We need to accelerate the development of efficient technology that uses less energy to get things done, and cost-effective renewable sources to meet the remaining demand.

 

2014 pruning

March 30, 2014

Despite crummy weather and the press of work, I ran up to Five Islands on Saturday to prune the trees in the main orchard.  After a summer’s growth, the trees typically look like this:

 

pruning example before

 

There is a lot of advice available in books and online about pruning, and I took an afternoon class a few years back, put on by MOFGA and taught by a professional orchardist, located at one of his customers’ orchards in Waterboro ME.  Some basic principles include:

  • Start with the big picture, looking at the structure of the whole tree, so you don’t end up snipping a bunch of twigs only to remove that entire branch.
  • Eliminate watersprouts (vertical branches that leap off the branches and the trunk), crossovers (i.e. conflicts between two branches vying for the same space) and anything that points back toward the center of the tree.
  • Aim for an open structure that lets sunlight into all parts of the tree; the old timers say you want to be able to throw a cat through the tree.  In a healthy tree that’s growing fast, you might remove half of the new wood or more in the spring.
  • For standard apple trees I aim for central-leader form, with scaffolds of 3-5 branches evenly distributed around the points of the compass, at 1.5-2′ vertical intervals.
  • The scaffold branches should be approximately horizontal, since that induces the tree to produce fruit.
  • You want the angle between the trunk and the scaffold branches to be close to 90 degrees, since shallow angles cause inclusion of bark that leads to weakness and breakage as the tree grows.  I use string (usually) and weights (occasionally) to tie branches down.
  • Different varieties have different habits.  Some shoot straight up and need to be tied down extensively to form a good structure; others spray out aimlessly and need all the help you can give them just to throw up an identifiable leader.

That same tree above, after I attacked it with the felcos:

 

pruning example after

Polar vortex

March 1, 2014

Normally March first would have me thinking about pruning apple trees.  But it was minus four F this morning,  there’s over a foot of snow on the ground, and the forecast calls for highs in the 20s all week.  

 

Nana Polito’s gnocchi

February 28, 2014

Captured here so I don’t have to call my mom again if I lose this little scrap of paper.

  • 2lb potatoes
  • 1/2lb flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1oz butter
  • salt and pepper

boil potatoes, puree.

mix in the other stuff.

knead a bit then roll into finger-sized strands on  a floured counter.

cut into chunks maybe 2cm long.

use your thumb to press a radial divot into each one (seems to add surface area and make them hold sauce better)

dump a handful at a time in boiling water; fish them out when they float.

Blueberry coffeecake

January 30, 2014

Per request, here’s a simple but very serviceable blueberry coffeecake recipe I got from my mom.

Preheat oven to 375F. The batter (mix dry, then mix in wet):

  • 2c flour (I use half whole wheat pastry, and half white)
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 2.5t baking powder
  • 0.75t salt
  • 0.25c shortening/oil (esp coconut oil)
  • 0.75c milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2c wild blueberries (frozen or fresh; mix in last)

The result will be a thick paste that’s slightly annoying to spread, thinly, into a rectangular pan (I use a pyrex lasagna pan that’s probably 9×13).

Mix up the following and spread evenly on top:

  • 0.5c brown sugar
  • 0.33c whole wheat flour
  • 0.5t cinnamon
  • 1/4c soft butter

Bake till it’s done (maybe 45 mins? varies based on whether berries are fresh or frozen)

 


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