Archive for the ‘cyclery’ Category

Cider Weekend 11 – Mast Year

October 31, 2015

 

Last weekend marked the 11th year we have made cider with Holly, Becky, and an ever-expanding group of pedal-powered cider enthusiasts.  We’ll remember this year for the record cider production and the massive apple crop that fueled it.  With help from Holly, Andy, and Emily we gathered the usual two bins of mixed sweet apples from Autumn Hills, plus a bin of Dabinet and mixed sharp and bittersweet apples from Poverty Lane, totaling a bit over 2000 lb. And the orchard finally started to kick into gear, producing perhaps 3 bushels from a number of the trees. But what made this year special was the massive influx of semi-cultivated and wild apples harvested all over Georgetown by my parents, and all over southern Maine by the folks who came to help us make the cider.  I’m told this was what the botanists call a ‘mast year’ – a year when trees deliver fruit in reckless profusion, and we took full advantage. (Thanks to Eerik Hantsoo for the photos in this post – if you have good pics please send along or post on your own site.)

buckets of apples

I managed to get up to Five Islands the weekend before the big event, and with Dave’s help I got the equipment down from the loft of the barn, hooked it up, and got the basic functionality tested.  Already by then he had dozens of buckets full of apples from around the property and around the island – at least a bin’s worth (about 600lb).  The gear came together smoothly, and I attribute this to our liberal use in recent years of ‘Fluid Film’ aerosol lubricant, a WD-40-like product that goes on with a satisfying fizz of bubbles and leaves a cosmoline-like film on everything to prevent rust.

The big event started early afternoon Friday when I arrived with a truckload of apples and a trailer of random gear; I cleaned and provisioned the cabins, set up the water system, and organized apples.  Holly and Becky, Holly’s mom, and the kids arrived well before dark and set up camp in the lower cabin, then he, Dave, and Ben Wilkins worked to assemble the latest addition to the pedal equipment collection, a cast aluminum hand-cranked grain mill adapted for pedal power.  Holly and I had coordinated beforehand, and we had pulleys, 5/8″ shaft and pillowblocks, bike chain, and adapters that go from shaft to the fine-pitch thread that accepts a bike freewheel.  With these parts they soon had the rig set up and working smoothly.

pedal-power grain mill

A cold front had come through and a cold wind was blowing straight off the water, so we elected not to do dinner at the shore, but rather serve out of the barn, and we refried a big bucket of black beans and folks made burritos followed by Emily’s chocolate chip cookies and smores around a campfire.

In the morning we ate delicious baked goods and breakfast wraps provided by the Kaufman/Wilkins/Kneen clan, then we got to work.  We set up the usual wash station to clean the apples going into the process, but many of the feral apples in the mix were really small, so for expedience we set up a parallel processing step to clean them using a pressure washer.  Even the ones that got pressure washed got individually inspected and bad spots cut out – I think this attention to detail is an important part of why the cider ends up tasting so good.

The grinder worked smoothly all day with the exception of the chain coming off the starboard bike once, and the derailleur on that same bike lost a sprocket once, but we were able to pilfer the missing part from another derailleur and get back online within a couple of minutes.  The press ran smoothly, thanks in part to new press cloths that were properly cut to size and thick enough to do the job (mostly) with a single layer.  Now that Holly has discovered the joy of sewing pants from used press cloth, we are going to cycle new canvas and muslin through the process each year to keep him and his family in trousers, since he refuses to buy pants.  All through the weekend he was wearing the first pair he made, which look awesome, and the construction process is detailed on his blog.

violet runs the press

holly and millie peel apples

Meanwhile we set up the carbonation and bottling system, washed 750ml glass bottles, and set to work bottling the 2014 vintage.  We ended up bottling 7.5 tanks of cider; there was half a tank left over when the capper broke just before dinner, so we left the remaining cider in the root cellar.  The bottling rig could definitely use some streamlining; the janky linear guides I made out of copper pipe and scrap mahogany don’t work that smoothly, and a foot-actuated spring- or gravity-balanced system using 80-20 linear guides could make a big difference.  And the failure of the capper was a wake-up call; now that we are processing this much cider it makes sense to keep some redundant equipment around.

cider and baby on back

My folks made up the usual Nebraska Cream Can Dinner for lunch, along with random tasty food that folks brought.  We paused the process briefly to eat, then got back to grinding and pressing.  We filled the 100 gallon bulk tank with sweet cider, washed and filled plastic jugs, then started on the hard cider mix, using a combination of Dabinet, Bramtot, Wickson, etc. from Povlane, mixed sweets from Autumn Hills, and a wide variety of feral apples.  We filled the tank again with hard cider mix, filled all the carboys from it, and still the cider kept flowing – and more people kept showing up with more apples.  By the end we were searching everywhere for clean jugs, and even resorted to using a few of the 2.5 gallon jugs that my folks use to collect maple sap.

Holly brought some whole kernel corn and wheat to grind for cornbread for dinner, and it went through the grinder fine in two passes (even though we didn’t have the special large-grains auger for the mill). In the afternoon we experimented with grinding the buckwheat that we grew this summer between two rows of trees in the orchard.  We succeeded in winnowing and sifting the grain, but it still had thin black hulls on the groats.  After some experimentation we determined that we could grind the grain extremely coarsely, which would crack off most of the hulls while leaving the groats mostly intact.  We then winnowed a couple of times using a box fan, which drove off most of the hulls, then we ground finer and passed through a mesh strainer which pulled out still more hulls. Finally we ran the material through with the grinding plates quite close together, yielding a satisfyingly fine flour. There was still a fair amount of dark hull material in the flour, but we figured this would be good for our digestion.  Later someone looked online and read that the trick is to size the grain using a series of graduated sieves, then crack the hulls off each size of grain separately, so as to get more of them off without breaking up the grain too fine.  If we grow buckwheat again next year maybe we’ll get some better sieves, instead of just using the hardware-cloth versions I made for this year.

Dinner was served just as we finished the last of the pressing, and it was delicious as we have come to expect, with chili, cornbread, and apple crisp made entirely with apples from the orchard.  Then more sitting around the campfire, and more cleanup as light rain was predicted in the morning.  All day and all evening the ragtag tribe of kids ran around with spears and bicycles; Bodhi faceplanted at one point and banged up his face a little, but it’s a miracle there wasn’t more carnage.  We got most of the equipment put away and a rough squeegee-ing of the floor, then folks retired to the cabins.

shifting carboys

Saturday night was warmer, and a light drizzle set in around breakfast time.  We made pancakes with 100% Five Islands buckwheat flour topped with Five Islands maple syrup, and some had Five Islands blueberries as well. Plus home-fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, etc.  We did some more cleanup, including breaking down the water system and pressure-washing the barn, then said goodbye to most of the crew who headed home mid-morning. We transferred 9 carboys of cider to the root cellar, sulfited, and set 2 gallons of starter going to pitch on Monday. Holly and family stayed through leftovers for lunch, then got on the road in a zipcar minivan heavily-laden with cider.

All in all we produced a massive 292 gallons of cider from 3448 pounds of apples on Saturday, with a calculated 71% yield.  This smashes the 2014 record of about 230 gallons, and it was such a prodigious amount of cider that I don’t feel the need to exceed it next year; rather we can make however much comes natural from year to year depending on the crew and the crop.  Thanks to everyone who pitched in and made Cider Year 11 such an amazing success!  Here is the final tally sheet:

IMG_20151025_095152

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Cider year 10: 232 gallons in a day

November 2, 2014

Last weekend marked the 10th successive year when Alexis and I have made cider with Holly, Becky, and a steadily growing crew of enthusiastic friends.  I am amazed by how this tradition has taken root, and how ever-increasing quantities of cider are produced and just as rapidly disappear.  Below you will find the annual report; thanks to everyone who sent photos; please send more if you have them, and I’ll link to other peoples’ blog posts if they make them.

Late in the week the weather was cranky, so I borrowed a friend’s box trailer, which was very handy for hauling the large number of cardboard boxes of glass bottles and open tubs of miscellany which always accumulate before cider. Between that and two bins of apples I was heavily laden for the trip to Five Islands.

truck and apples

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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!

Cider year nine – roundup

October 26, 2013

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.  

truckload of apples

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:

2013 big load of turbines and tower parts

 

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:

emily lowers apples

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:

fern munches an apple

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:

Kate pumps the cider

 

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:

washing station

 

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:

sanitizing kegs

 

Holly, Becky, and Heli took the lead on dinner, producing soups and amazing fresh baguettes. Here’s Holly working the dough:

holly makes bread

 

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%:

2013 cider tally

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!

 

 

Pedal cider press does off-season duty as a broach

June 21, 2013

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:

press used as broach

 

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…

Cider Weekend, year 8: in the big barn

October 22, 2012

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.

The potential of pedal power

June 4, 2011

There have been some visitors here from an interesting article in a series on pedal power by Kris de Decker in Spain. It turns out that a significant amount of work on pedal-drive human-powered implements was done in the few decades between the invention of the bicycle and the widespread implementation of internal combustion and grid power, with another small bump during the 1970’s oil crises, and interesting demonstration projects here and there since.

We built our first pedal-powered apple grinder more or less on a lark, and we thought it was a good idea, but despite our expectations it was a real epiphany for me to see just how effective it was, and how pleasant it was to use. We went from operating a 3/4 horsepower electric garbage disposal right at the edge of its thermal limit, and cooling it (albeit in a grossly inefficient manner) with a 1 horsepower electric compressor, to a system powered by one pedaler that was much quieter, much faster, and produced nearly as fine a grind.

I think the real lesson here is less about pedal power than about the way that the availability of cheap energy and cheap goods leads to thoughtless waste, even among the well-intentioned. In cider year two, we had a pile of apples that would soon go soft, a brand new garbage disposal was 75 bucks, and the electricity to run it and the compressor cost a few pennies per hour – so we ended up using over 10x the energy we needed to do the job. The aesthetic attractiveness of pedal power mostly serves as a counter-incentive to cheap energy – ‘That would be so cool – let’s see if we can make this process efficient enough that we can power it with 100W…’ It took some engineering skill and some R&D time to figure out the right way to do it – over the next two years we fine-tuned the geometry of the grinding drum, added custom-machined post-crushers, etc. And the improvements we made are independent of the source of motive power – the same grinder assembly could easily be driven with a good quality electric motor with an efficiency of around 90%.

So once we started thinking that way, all sorts of possibilities came to mind. Right away we realized that the pressing half of the cider operation was another perfect case, where efficient application of well under 100W could do an impressive amount of practical work. Again, it took some engineering to select a suitable hydraulic pump, connect it appropriately to a bicycle drivetrain, and work out the picky details that only matter when you’re trying to be really efficient. For instance, we learned that a standard hydraulic check valve has a metal-to-metal seat, which leaks a tiny amount of oil when there’s significant back-pressure. We realized that we needed to get a check valve with a soft (o ring) seat, so that the press would hold pressure after the pedaler stopped pedaling. Normally this would not be an issue, since an engine-powered hydraulic system the engine is always running, so the pump is always working. Also, the pump would only make full pressure at a relatively high RPM, which was hard for pedalers to sustain for a long time, but with the check valve, a flywheel, and an accumulator we built out of an old dive tank, we could easily put in a short burst of vigorous pedaling and drive the system up to full pressure. The actual amount of mechanical work needed to press the cider is so modest that next year we’re going to demonstrate by hooking the press up to a junior-size bike, and let the growing crowd of kids press all 200 gallons.

Since then a whole list of promising practical applications have come to mind. High on the list is log splitting, where typically a large, loud single-cylinder gas engine runs at full-bore continuously, even though the full horsepower is only needed a tiny fraction of the time. I have a suspicion that our pedal-hydraulic power system could be hitched up almost unmodified to a log splitter with good effect, and there are probably other high force, low speed hydraulic applications as well. At the extreme end, it would be pretty sweet to see a mini excavator operating on the combined hydraulic power of five or six pedalers. Food preparation is another obvious area where a reasonable amount of work has been done, especially focused on the developing world. I’m interested to try a low-head pedal-powered irrigation pump, and possibly even a four-wheel, two station pedal-powered cultivation tractor, though the odds of any of these making it to the top of my engineering to-do-list are slim.

I guess the most obvious demonstration of the point I’m trying to make is those setups with a stationary bike where the pedaler attempts to make one or more incandescent light bulbs glow. Kris seems to go out of his way to point out that converting pedal power to electricity isn’t always the best approach; I think the discussion above should make it clear that his point is well taken here. But the futility of the pedal-light bulb demo isn’t really so much a demonstration of the limits of pedal power as it is of the lameness of incandescent bulbs – it would be interesting to do a demo with single pedaler, a well-engineered drive and generator, and an array of LEDs or compact fluorescents. I have a similar sense that a single pedaler could produce an impressive amount of audio, again given an efficient drive and a class D amplifier. And with the dramatic progress in low-power processors for mobile applications, and the availability of low-power electronic ink screens (developed by my former roommates, and used in e.g. the Kindle), pedaling could power an impressive amount of computation as well.

Halloween pedal-power smoothie mayhem

November 17, 2010

Not exactly fiddle tunes, but inspiring none the less – kids at a charter school in Hoboken trade in their halloween candy for smoothies that are made on a pedal-powered blender. Check it out.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsP7IncdKv8
(gotta pay to embed videos on wordpress)

Cider year 6: technical equipment notes

October 31, 2010


Um and pops inspect the grinder

Due to work-related time pressure, grinder and press development were limited this year, but a few important advances were made, primarily to the grinder. Readers will recall that in previous years, as the efficiency of the accompanying systems improved, the limited power output of the single rider powering the apple grinder became a limiting factor, both to output and to the quality of the experience. Accordingly, last year we borrowed a tandem bike and hooked it to the grinder. This made a dramatic difference in terms of grinding speed; the two pedalers working together could easily keep the system going at top speed no matter how fast the apples were fed. However, the user experience left something to be desired, as the mounting of the tandem bike was not perfectly rigid, leading to something of a precarious feeling. This was not helped by the fact that in a typical tandem setup the two cranks are locked exactly in phase by the timing chain, leading to significant surging, especially with platform pedals. At the close of the 2009 cidering it became obvious that the right way to do tandem power would be two single bikes, side by side.
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Cider year 6: 155 gallons in 6 hours; 75% yield

October 25, 2010

The sixth annual Five Islands Orchard Cider Weekend was held this last weekend, with about 40 in attendance, including an increasingly large and energetic contingent of kids. Despite the poor apple harvest, the cider output and yield broke all previous records. Approximately three bins of apples were processed on Saturday into 155 gallons of cider in about six hours by entirely pedal-powered equipment, and the yield was an unprecedented 75% – not including cider consumed directly.

The weather was beautiful, the pot-luck grub was fantastic (among other things, Kelsey brought homemade croissants made from scratch), and the kids ran around like banshees. The side-by-side tandem drive was much more stable than the tandem bike, and Beth took her role as User Experience Officer seriously, suggesting a very effective plexiglass spray guard to protect the pedalers from flying apple bits. There were some minor technical glitches, but compared to previous years the hardware performance was very good – a more detailed report with proposed modifications for next year will follow. Here are some photos:

Trailer load of apples, infested with kids:

Apple washing crew – one of the things that contributes to the quality of our cider is that we have plenty of people available to inspect apples, and carve out nasty spots:

Kauf and Kelsey pedal the grinder:

Um and Pops pedal the grinder:

Dabinet cider apples disappear into the grinder:

A fine apple mist emerges from the crusher drums:

Loading up the press:

Roz and Eric run the bike-hydraulic press:

A waterfall of cider:

lots of cider:

urchins on the tractor: