This blog was started by Ben Polito in late 2006 to track the progress of a new apple orchard in Five Islands, Maine, and to document the annual cider-making tradition.  In the years since, the orchard has grown in size to about 1/2 acre, and along the way other agricultural and food-related topics have snuck in, along with musings about the role of energy and technology in society, and reports of pedal-powered contraption hacking.

Contact firstinitiallastname at gmail.

16 Responses to “About”

  1. Rick Minott Says:

    ben –

    been thinking about you, wind generators, black and white photos, and that awesome retreat from craziness where you grew up lately. i was going through some boxes the other day and found a bunch of pictures we took around your grandparent’s house one day. good times. hope everything is going well for you and your family. maybe we can get together sometime and chat or if you ever need any help with your orchard there let me know. i am often in need of some mind cleansing brought on by hard manual labor. 🙂

    take care my friend.

    rick minott.

  2. Ben Watson Says:

    Ben — I greatly enjoy your cider entries, as well as other stuff on the blog, which I got turned on to by my friends at Poverty Lane Orchards.

    I wrote the book, “Cider, Hard and Sweet” for Countryman Press back in 1999, and I’m finishing up a revised edition which will be out in September. Any chance I could include two or three of your excellent photos in it? I’m most interested in the group use one of the pedal-powered apple grinder, the one of the countertop bottling line, and the one of your new handscrew home press. I think they would add to the new book and show an innovative touch.

    If you could respond as soon as possible, that would be great, since I’m trying to get photos shipped up to Countryman for design, and as usual am a day late and a dollar short.

    I would credit you or another photographer, of course, but might also be able to pay you a small use fee if that’s helpful. Though I would rather pay you off with say 3 copies of the book, or in heirloom apple trees — I am a Slow Food member and have been grafting old and rare apples down here in the Monadnock Region for a couple years.

    Anyway, let’s chat off line when you get a chance. Thanks a lot! — Ben Watson

    P.S. I’m also an editor for Chelsea Green Publishing in White River Jct. — we should talk about doing a “pedal-powered” book!

  3. Cornelia Says:

    Hi Ben,
    Vance Edwards-Orr provided me with a link to your blog, and I’m so happy he did! I actually grew up in the Upper Valley and I’ve enjoyed reading your perspective on the area. I often hike the trails in Etna and Hanover Center, marveling at the unique beauty of the area.
    I am the HOMEGROWN Shepherdess at Farm Aid – our offices are in Boston. We are launching a social network that celebrates people like you who are living in creative and pioneering ways. I would love it if you could join the conversation. Check it out at http://homegrownorg.ning.com/

  4. Ryan Says:


    In my own endeavors to brew hard cider I came across your blog during my preparations. I can see that you have wide breath of experience in making hard cider so I am contacting you to see if you can offer me any suggestions as I have run into a problem with my own batch.

    I am making one 5 gallon batch of cider from a variety of freshly picked apples. I pasteurized the juice on my kitchen stove with a big pot. After the juice cooled I added 2 packs of wine yeast from my local homebrew store. Fermentation occurred.

    I am now ready to add corn sugar to carbonate and bottle but I have a problem. The cider is alcoholic but it has a distict lemon taste and does not have hardley any apple flavor.

    1) Do you know why I might be having this lemon taste problem?

    2) Do you have any suggestions on how to fix the lemon flavor before bottling?

    I would really hate to see this 5 gallons of fresh cider that I pressed myself go to waste.

    Thanks for your help.


  5. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    Hi Ryan:

    I am not sure what has happened to your batch. It is not the standard practice to pasteurize juice before fermentation; people I have read suggest that this will alter the taste though I don’t know in what way. The usual method is to add metabisulfite (campden tablets or metabisulfite powder), mix, wait a day, then pitch yeast. This year we pitched our usual starter on one batch of fresh juice without sulfite, and it was the same as the usual stuff – apparently the addition of a large population of yeast overwhelms the pre-existing natural populations.

    I also don’t know your level of experience with traditional hard cider. If you are accustomed to Woodchuck and other commercial ciders, you may be surprised by the tart flavor of fully fermented homebrew cider – there will be no sweetness, and depending on the apples it may be quite tart, but I wouldn’t have described it as “lemony”. What I think of as fresh apple-y taste is almost entirely gone after complete fermentation, though cider fresh off primary fermentation will usually have a powerful fresh apple aroma in contrast to the taste which is crisp, tart, mildly alcoholic, and if you have used traditional bitter cider fruit it will have a distinct tannic (astringent, dry mouth) kind of flavor. This can take some getting used to – have you tried dry traditional ciders such as those that Steve Wood makes at Farnum Hill?

    Sometimes if a lot of oxygen gets into your fermentation cider will go to vinegar, but if you used an airlock to keep oxygen out during fermentation you shouldn’t have produced vinegar, which is definitely “vinegary” (acetic) rather than lemony.

    Good luck, I’d be curious to hear what happens. Generally, I’d advise the following:

    Wash the fruit before grinding; clean the press, cloths, and containers (we don’t sanitize them since the fruit itself is anything but sterile, but you could to be safe)

    Don’t boil the cider, rather add around a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite per carboy, mix, and wait a day before pitching yeast.

    Pitch a strong starter – we make a starter by boiling about a pint of water with enough corn sugar to match the gravity of the cider, adding a fraction of a tsp of yeast nutrient, cooling it to body temperature, and pitching one packet of red star champagne yeast. Put an airlock in it and let it go for about a day in a warmish place – it will foam and the lock will blurp steadily. If I have time I boil a cup or two of fresh cider and add it to the starter after 12 hours or so, this seems to help but isn’t necessary. By using a starter I’ve never had a batch fail to start fermenting.

    Make sure oxygen doesn’t get in – use an airlock or blowoff tube submerged in water.

    Rack the cider when the fermentation just starts to slow down. Avoid splashing it into the secondary carboy when siphoning, to limit the amount of oxygen that gets in.

    We carbonate directly with bottled gas rather than using priming sugar, though plenty of people get by with natural secondary carbonation.



  6. Ryan Says:

    Hey Ben,

    Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. This is my very first batch of hard cider. I homebrew (made around ten 5 gallon batches) and am learning that hard cider has some differences.

    I thought I would try making cider b/c my in-laws had a huge crop of apples this year and an old press handy.

    From the last time I wrote to you, I have just left it alone. It was on the primary fermentor for 10 days and it has been on the secondary for 2 months. The primary fermentation was strong and I was sure to use a blow off tube for both fermentations. I have not tasted the cider in a month (hoping it will mellow) and am wanting to bottle carbonate soon. I was thinking of adding another packet of yeast for carbonation but don’t know if that is needed.

    Any other suggestions?



  7. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    Hi Ryan:

    I am pretty sure you don’t need to add more yeast, and I would be afraid it would affect the flavor – as long as you haven’t filtered or pasteurized there should be enough life in the cider to gradually carbonate.

    Since we use pressurized CO2 gas I don’t have specific experience with bottle carbonation of cider; I remember long ago when I made some beer I think the procedure was to boil the calculated qty of corn sugar with a bit of water to make a heavy syrup, cool to room temperature, and mix into the carboy of finished beer, then bottle. But I think some people just put a measured amt (on the order of teaspoons I think) of dry sugar in each bottle and go that way. Anyway, if you make beer you probably have a better idea than me of how to bottle carbonate.

    I would also say that some people bottle their cider still and enjoy it that way – it’s a matter of preference. If you are into homebrewing it’s not too big an investment to get a CO2 setup. You basically need a cornelius keg, a small CO2 tank, a regulator, and some tubing – we use quarter inch polyurethane tubing and instant fittings (available from mcmaster.com) to make it easy to take apart and clean. The kegs have special fittings; the mating parts are available at a homebrew store or from a place like morebeer.com. To bottle the cider you need a counterpressure filler; crummy ones are available for sale online or can be made per instructions found online: http://hbd.org/mtippin/cpfiller.html – if you are handy you can make one. Holly and I have a nice design I’ve been meaning to publish on this site one of these days.

    Best of luck,


  8. Josi and Will Brune Says:

    Dear Ben,

    We live in Georgetown as well and have a place on the Bay Point Road that has a beautiful old orchard that we are slowly very slowly restoring. When you are in Georgetown next we’d love to have you over to look at it and hear what you think about the trees. Thanks- Josi

  9. jacob eisman Says:

    Hey Ben,
    I’m very intrigued by your spring harrow/ chisel plow…do you know who makes that model and where you got it? It s been exactly what I’ve been looking for but cannot locate one anywhere. Also, can u adjust the shank width on those? or remove shanks all together?

  10. Steve Says:

    Hi Ben,

    I just wanted to say “thanks” for sharing your cider equipment photos and descriptions. They were both inspiring and instrumental in building my own bicycle-powered apple grinder and hydraulic press. Last weekend was the inaugural/beta testing of the equipment, and with the exception of my mistake of choosing an Ikea table (I found out it was partially hollow-core the hard way), the system worked really well and everyone was impressed. We cranked out 81 gallons! I put together a little YouTube video of the operation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs2DcvCuS0k). Anyway, thanks again for your willingness to share your ideas and creativity!


  11. Soleil Says:

    Hi, I am doing a project build a cider press and I was wondering how you have the bikes hooked up, do they facilitate the grinder or the press and I was wondering if would be able to share your method of building the cider press incorporating the bikes.

  12. Nate Piper Says:

    Hi Ben,
    Thanks for your quick response a while back when I asked about the tie rods for your hydraulic cylinder– I’ve since put together a rack & cheese press inspired by your design, and it’s inaugural pressing is documented on the Lockehaven Farm blog (with some photos) here: http://www.lockehavenfarm.com/blog.html. Thanks for your inspiring thoughts and ideas, and for being so willing to share your plans and progress. I hope that we’re not too far behind!

  13. Harry Hopcroft Says:

    I’m researching tide mills in Georgetown and surrounds for the Tide Mill Institute, and I have found your excellent article on the Trafton Mill that appeared in Nov, 2009. Can you point me to any additional information you might have on that, or other mills, or is there a way to do a word search on the entire archive? I do also have some of Billie Todd’s information, and have access to Georgetown Historical, so will be looking there as well.

    Many Thanks!

  14. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    Hi Harry, good to hear from you. I’m sorry I don’t have any further knowledge of the tide mills on Robinhood Cove beyond what I researched for that article. The guy to talk to would probably have been Wil Ansel, a historian and boatbuilder who kept a shop just north of the old dam, and was a good friend of my grandparents. Will actually enlisted me and my father in an educational project to build a demonstration floating tide mill with the kids at the nearby K-6 school I attended, using some scrounged Hobie hulls. Sadly he died a couple years ago: https://heartheboatsing.com/2019/05/06/willits-d-ansel-a-true-renaissance-man-dies/

    If you’re talking with the GHS and are aware of BIllie Todd’s writing in the Georgetown Tide, you’re on the right track.

  15. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    I see now I actually wrote up a snippet about Will’s tide mill demo:

    GCS Tide Mill Demonstration Concept

    • harryhopcroft Says:

      Many Thanks for your quick and informative response! I was aware of the school project to build a floating generator on the tide mill principles, and saw many photos of the project at GHS. I think it’s a wonderful way to handle the questions of how and why it all works. The earlier article in the Five Islands Orchard is clearly referenced in the database at the Tide Mill Institute (going public in October).

      I plan to visit the site on the West Branch, the one on the East Branch, and possible one in West Georgetown next week, when the tide is low at the proper time. I’m finding the folks at GHS are at once very helpful, and also very knowledgeable.

      Please keep up your great work! I also Chair the Public Information subcommittee of the Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee, and write a weekly column for the Times Record about recycling, including organics. I’m always on the lookout for new sources to cite, and I see lots of excellent ideas in the Orchard.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: