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.