Check out Holly’s delightful blog for more action shots from cider year 9:
Archive for the ‘cider equipment’ Category
After nine years, thanks to the accumulated contributions of ideas, time, and equipment-building effort, and especially to the wonderfully useful and flexible barn that my folks built, the cider operation is getting to where it runs in a well-worn groove. And it’s a good thing, since the great majority of my attention has been devoted to Pika Energy, and building affordable, high-quality home wind turbines.
Two weeks ago I visited Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, MA, and picked up two 600lb bins of mixed cider apples – Kendall, Spencer, and Cox Orange among them. The owner, Ann Harris, also kindly let me do some sanitation and gather a few hundred pounds of RI Greening drops, so the truck was quite heavily loaded down with apples for the ride home. The going rate for cider apples this year is apparently $50/bin – illustrating the importance of top-quality fruit and value-added products to the economics of small orchard operations. That same weekend I also needed to build and test a new wind turbine tower, as well as moving some cidering equipment up to Five Islands, so by the time I was fully loaded with dogs and bikes etc., the rig looked like some kind of Tom Joad/Johnny Appleseed chimera:
The tower test was successful, and my folks and I unloaded the bins using a four-fall block-and-tackle that my dad inherited from a local gentleman, Don Spurr. Don lives on in our memories every time one of his carefully-maintained tools proves to be just the ticket for solving some mechanical challenge:
The following Wednesday afternoon, Dave, Alexis, and I made the annual pilgrimage to Poverty Lane Orchard/Farnum Hill for cider apples. I called ahead a couple of weeks, but for the first time in several years, we were disappointed that they couldn’t sell us a bin of bittersweets – they were too booked up with demand for cider fruit from as far away as Michigan and Oregon. Brenda made it up to us by giving us a nice discount on the ~700lb or so of mixed cider fruit we collected. We hauled the load with Alexis’ little Suzuki wagon, and it really drank the gas on the way home, but still burned far less than it would have taken to drive the big red monster all the way to the other side of NH. When we got home, Fern got right into the action:
I managed to get up to Five Islands by mid-day on Friday, and on the way up I picked up the only big innovation in on the equipment front this year. I bought a 100 gallon HDPE bulk tank from US Plastics, together with a hand-operated diaphragm pump rated for 15gpm. Together, these made a huge difference in the management of finished cider during the big event. Dave whipped up a wooden stand for the metal stand that I bought to go with the tank, so we could gravity feed into bottles and carboys. Working the pump was a big hit with the kids:
Compared to commercial operations, we keep a very high standard for fruit quality going into the grinder; since we have plenty of labor and it’s a sociable activity, each apple is washed and inspected by hand, and any brown spots or other flaws are cut out. But washing has always been an afterthought from a process standpoint, and in past years (especially when it’s cold) the washing itself hasn’t always been super-pleasant. This year I grabbed some plastic bristle brushes at the Despot, and Holly and Ben whipped up a much more ergonomic washing station using an old washtub my dad found at the Georgetown Mall:
We started the festivities Friday evening with pot-luck Mexican at the shore cabin, followed by a black-powder demonstration (no bullets) by Jake, and revival of an old tradition, Viking Funeral Ships – in which small barges made of wood planks piled high with birch bark, pinecones, and kindling are set afloat after dark, and rocks are thrown from on shore at a sporting distance to smash them – if anybody has a photo of this, I’d love to post it.
Breakfast Saturday was amazing as usual, with with Kelsey and Beth’s breakfast burritos and assorted pastry. Cidering got fired up between 9 and 10AM, and continued on with a brief intermission for lunch, which was headlined by my folks with ‘Nebraska Cream Can Dinner’, a tradition they picked up out west. As usual, we also fired up the bottling operation, kegging, carbonating, and bottling about 5 kegs worth of cider (minus ‘operational losses’ in the bottling step). Here Tony and Rita prepare Cornelius kegs for transfer:
Holly, Becky, and Heli took the lead on dinner, producing soups and amazing fresh baguettes. Here’s Holly working the dough:
Dinner for 30-40 people was served in the barn this year, followed by Holly’s usual transcendent apple pies. MomJones couldn’t make it to cider this year, but she sent us four large folding tables that made for a very convivial setup. All told we produced approximately 207 gallons of cider, per the tally sheet, with an estimated yield of 69-70%:
Thanks again to everyone who participated this year. Next year is the 10th anniversary – I don’t know what we’re going to do, but it’s going to be big!
I’ve needed a hydraulic press on a couple of occasions recently, and haven’t felt like buying one of those clanky steel-frame jobs with a bottle jack – so on the last trip to Five Islands I brought back the cider press and bike-hydraulic setup, and we’ve been using it in the woodshed as a 20-ton press. While it doesn’t have the adjustability of the steel presses, it does have a 24″ stroke, which goes a long way. Here we have just finished broaching a Lovejoy coupling to accept a key:
I have a notion to upgrade the pedal-hydraulic power unit to make it less janky and more portable, making it better suited to other applications, such as operating a worm-drive winch to raise and lower wind turbine towers. But in the meanwhile we might as well keep it well exercised…
I am sad to report that the Jari mower bit the dust this weekend. I purchased it about two years ago from a guy upcountry, and put several hours into getting it running well. I sorted out most of the issues, including the frozen-up cutter bar and rotted gas tank, but the replacement tank never quite fit right – there was a slight intermittent gas leak between the top of the tank and the carb, and I never could figure out why. However, on Saturday it finally caught up with me. The mower ran out of gas so I shut it off, filled the tank, and as soon as I cranked it up a small flame started on the surface of the carburetor. I tried to bat it out with a mat of fresh-cut green grass, and it almost worked, but the flames persisted. I ran over to the neighbor’s and grabbed two fire extinguishers, and exhausted them on it, but by that time the metal was hot enough that it re-ignited after the powder stopped flowing.
I didn’t think it would explode, since the gas seemed to be escaping from the tank – at first through the leak, and subsequently through the zinc carburetor, which melted into a puddle on the ground. Still, I ran down the hill for some hoses, to tap the neighbor’s water. At peak the flames reached 6-8 feet high, but by the time we had the hoses up there the gas had burned itself out, and the fire was reduced to burning the rubber tire, belts, and the thermoformed plastic fairing on the front. Ben Wilkins tossed a couple of pails of water on the smoldering heap and the excitement was over.
Once it cooled off, Bodhi and Kieran rolled the machine down the hill and I took stock of the damage. The engine was pretty well baked (as I mentioned the carb had completely melted), the left tire and shroud were shot, and the belts were burned down to the fiber cores. But the frame was intact, and even most of the paint was still in good shape – I tipped the machine over on its side when it caught fire so the tank was up, and there wasn’t much to burn up forward. One of the idler pulleys looks pretty baked, so it would probably need to be replaced. Joshua and I toyed with the idea of doing an electric retrofit, since sickle mowers don’t use a lot of power compared to rotary machines, and using two separate motors would significantly simplify the mechanicals. Unfortunately, I haven’t got time to do a major rebuild (or an electric conversion), so today I bought another used sickle mower (Troy-Bilt make) from a nice retired couple in Cornish – I’ll tune it up next weekend and see how I like it.
Holly wrote a much nicer writeup of this year’s cidering than mine: http://tooling-up.blogspot.com/2012/10/8th-annual-cidering.html
Thanks to everyone who pitched in to make the 8th annual Cider Weekend run remarkably smoothly. The weather was downright damp on Friday and Friday night, so my folks dragged the cider equipment into the big new barn they’ve been building, while I made the annual run to Poverty Lane. Work prevented me from making the usual improvements to the pedal-powered equipment; I barely had time to assemble everything and make sure it still ran. Joshua and Kelsey got things kicked off right on Saturday AM with delicious breakfast burritos and chocolate pastries, and then we set to work. We set up a nice little process flow, with washing, grinding, pressing, and bottling running counter-clockwise in the first two bays of the barn. We pressed sweet cider first, then the bin of Yarlington Mill I brought back from Lebanon. Thanks to Brenda, Steve, and the crew at Poverty Lane for finding us a bin of bittersweet despite the weird spring weather.
MomJones made a big pot of mac and cheese for lunch, which was washed down with copious quantities of cider. More and more folks kept arriving, and taking turns at each station, and the jugs filled quickly. We bottled four kegs of 2011 cider in parallel with the pressing, using the dual counterpressure rig. We were cleaning up by 4PM, and the total production was approximately 200 gallons, with approximately 73% yield (plus however much went straight into peoples’ mugs right off the press). Holly led an epic production of wood-fired pizza and delicious apple pie for Saturday dinner at #70, and Jake ran an extended tomahawk training session and contest, which was won promptly by Narath, who carried off the prize, a brand new ‘hawk hot from the forge. The kids got their turn at the tomahawks, and when the crowd thinned out a bit we played some old time music.
Sunday morning saw apple pancakes at #5, then more cleanup and some folks paddled around in Robinhood Cove. Heli made a nice lentil soup to go with leftover pizza for lunch, and folks departed laden with cider. I sulfited the newly filled carboys, transferred them to the root cellar, and made a starter for Emily to pitch the following evening.
Thanks again to my folks, grandparents, and Joanna and Jake for hosting, to the folks who made all the delicious food, and to everyone who pitched in to make this year’s Cider Weekend the biggest yet.
A day or two ago I heard a piece on NPR about a guy named Marcin Jakubowski who is on a mission to design and build the Global Village Construction Set, “a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.” As described in a short TED talk, Jakubowski explains that he was a theoretical physics student, started farming when he felt that he lacked practical skills, and had bad experiences with old farm equipment that motivated him to design simple, practical open-source tools. This evening I checked out the website of his organization, opensourceecology.org, which has a work-in-progress wiki-based compendium of concepts, specifications, designs, fabrication videos, and test images. The group is big on modularity, hydraulics, and structural steel, and they’ve done a pretty impressive amount of development on a few of their concepts, including a skid-steer tractor and an automated press for making rammed-earth blocks. They are based at Factor e Farm in Missouri, which reminds me a lot of stuff I’ve read about the New Alchemy Institute.
Some folks up in our old neighborhood have taken up the homebrew cider equipment torch, and produced a very attractive hydraulic tie-bar press made of hickory:
They then proceeded to make two bins(!) worth of cider using a hand-crank grinder – that is serious work! These folks obviously have the skills to build stuff, so I would imagine they’re thinking about new grinding equipment for next year.
They were powering the hydraulic press From a small tractor, and from their blog entry it sounds like they had some trouble with the fabric, and with the racks they used. I’m just speculating, but I suspect that these could be related. They started out using canvas, which sounds like it blew out, so then they switched to jersey (which is much weaker I think) – maybe they can clarify in the comments. Based on our experience, canvas should work OK if you’re careful. We use the heaviest muslin we could buy at the fabric store in West Lebanon, just north of I89 – it sounds like that same fabric store was flooded out by Irene. I think the material is sometimes called ‘drill’, but it feels just like a fine canvas. It occurs to me that Home Despot used to sell natural canvas drop cloths that might do in a pinch, though I doubt the material is very good quality, and I’d wash it a couple times in hot water, since it’s surely not food grade.
Anyway, even with the heaviest cotton fabric we could find, we have had blowouts when we applied pressure too quickly. The trick is to bring the ram down VERY slowly once the pressure starts to build. The hydraulic presses are capable of delivering between 50 and 100 PSI to the stack itself, and if the pomace is still liquid-y when you get up to pressure, or if the radius of curvature of the fabric isn’t good and tight, it will burst right through. This makes perfect sense from a mechanical engineering perspective in terms of hoop stress in pressure vessels, but it makes intuitive sense once you’ve seen the pomace streaming out through a bulging hernia in the fabric. You need to gradually ramp up the pressure so the partially-exhausted pomace helps form bridges between the gaps in the grates; then you can really hit it with pressure – we go up to ~2500psi on the 4″ cylinder, but not until the stack is nicely consolidated. Even then, our fabric has been in use several years and we’ve had a few ruptures, so now we use 2 layers just to be safe – the yield is not noticeably affected.
It sounds like the Lockehaven folks are going to try making grates with 1/4″ plastic next year; I would caution that the fabric is pretty good at poofing out and filling shallow gaps. Our grates are made of 3/4″ by 1.375″ slats with gaps about 5/8″ wide between them, and I wouldn’t want much less than the 3/4″ for cider to flow through. Some of our grates are made of basswood (much softer than hard maple) and others are red maple (also somewhat softer) and we’ve used them a few years now, so I suspect the issues they were having might have been related to too much speed.
Anyway, I’m glad to see other folks home-building serious cider equipment – nice work, guys!
PS. it looked like they might have been aiming to ferment some of the mac/cortland cider. I suspect that a lot of folks get into the situation where they want to make hard cider but can’t get decent tart or bittersweet apples. We had the issue last year where we bought a bin of Dabinet from Poverty Lane, but we couldn’t get any tart apples (due to the widespread frost), so we ended up with several tanks of seriously unbalanced cider. Steve Wood would probably swoon if he heard we were adulterating our brew, but Holly discovered that 3g of malic acid from the brew store took our cider from way-overbitter to pleasantly tart. 1.5g per liter was more to my taste, so that’s how we bottled some of our 2010 stuff. Better Living Through Chemistry, as Jillian Cooke would say – not everybody has the luxury of 100 acres of fruit to pick from in blending their cider. This year, Steve couldn’t sell us any bittersweets – the brew store also sells tannin; we haven’t tried that though.
The two bins of drops we bought from Brackett’s had set in the shade for a week, and required some picking through. The washing crew requests a pedal-powered apple washer for next year.
Um and Pops surveyed the scene while tub after tub of apples met their fate:
The post-crushers eject finely shaved and mashed apple guts. Except for a few loose set screws, the grinder worked well this year – note for next year: LOCTITE!
Rhonda and Nelle load apple pulp into the press. The overwhelming power of the hydraulic press resulted in some ruptured herniations last year, so we double-bagged this year and didn’t have any further blowout problems.
Holly and buster pedal the press:
Joshua and Jo run the press:
New this year was a bottling/drinking station. We bottled about 20 gallons of hard cider (minus some for the operators and assembled crowd) using the twin counterpressure bottling setup:
There were more kids than ever. There was a play tent set up in the middle of the field with a brand new air mattress for jumping on, which was promptly popped. 3/5 of the Gates family:
Just got back from Five Islands; a full report will follow when I can get some pictures, but Cider Weekend was fantastic. The weather was great, light overcast and still on Saturday with just a few sprinkles in the afternoon, then beautifully sunny today. Things were a bit chaotic, but as best we can tell we made about 183 gallons of cider on Saturday. The equipment ran smoothly for the most part; we got the upgrade to the hydraulic return line done, the kids pedaled the press (till they got tired of it), and the only issues with the grinder were when set screws came loose or a key fell out. We also bottled four tanks of 2010 cider which had been sitting in carboys in the root cellar all year, ate like royalty thanks to the efforts of the entire crew – especially Stroudwater South (homemade puff pastry, breakfast burritos, coffee cake) and Summer Street (wood-fired pizza in the Glenwood C) – and the and the increasing large flock of kids ran around like banshees. Our cups, jugs, and carboys runneth over. Thanks to everyone for making it the best cidering ever!