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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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)
December 23, 2013
Reuben asked in a comment about how I pitch yeast, and since the process has never failed us I thought I’d make a post of it.
Usually I add 1/2tsp of potassium metabisulfite to each 5-7 gal carboy the morning after we press (I think sometimes I do it in the evening). This year we actually added it to the carboys ahead of time, so the rush of cider from the bulk tank did a good job of mixing it in. That starts the clock, and I aim to pitch between 24 and 36 hours after sulfiting. I am not at all an expert on sulfite, and would appreciate a link to detailed info on what the chemistry is, how long it is active, etc. We lug the jugs down to the root cellar (which is probably in the fifties or low sixties that time of year) and that’s where they stay.
Anyway, our goal is usually to pitch on 5-6 carboys. I mix a half-gallon of sugar solution with 5-7% potential alcohol in a stainless pot. I used to use dextrose, but then I ran out, so I’ve been using plain cane sugar ever since. I throw in a few crumbs of nutrient, probably around 1/4 tsp. (I’m also not an expert on yeast nutrient, but again, I stick with what’s worked.) I let it boil briefly, then cover and let it cool. Meanwhile I’ve sanitized a 1 gallon glass jug and a funnel, and when the sugar water is lukewarm I pour it in the jug and pitch 1 packet of Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast (the packet is yellow, not red). I shake it gently to dissolve, then let it sit until it starts ticking (in a few hours). Meanwhile, I bring a quart or more of cider to a simmering boil, cool it covered, and when cool I add it to the (already working) gallon jug of starter. My theory is that this gets the yeast accustomed to the acid environment and characteristics of the cider before it is set loose at much lower concentration in the carboys, but again I don’t really know what I’m doing, other than that it works.
At that point I usually have to go back to work, and my mom pitches the yeast sometime on Monday or Tuesday. She uses a sharpie to divide the liquid contents of the jug into roughly equal volumes, pours a measure into each carboy, and recaps with an airlock. That’s all there is to it – we’ve never taken pains to keep the carboys at a certain temperature, to aerate, or any other tricks. I think this will basically always work as long as the starter is actively working when you dump it in the carboy.
December 7, 2013
Over Thanksgiving I made it up to Five Islands and racked the carboys in the root cellar. I think this year’s stuff is pretty good. The strong ‘fresh apple’ scent of the young cider always surprises me, given how completely the taste has changed in a few weeks. We still have a couple of carboys at Stroudwater yet to rack – might get to that later today. In place of our usual two-step starter process, the Stroudwater carboys just got a packet each of dry Red Star champagne yeast, and they seemed to kick off fine, so if these jugs taste good, maybe we ease the protocol a bit.