Monday, November 28, 2011

Cider Making 2011

We've been making cider for the last two weeks. Most of the cider-making has been helping friends make their apples into cider.

We pressed in the garage this year because most of the families ended up coming in the evening (after dar) to press. The garage has lights and we can shut the door to keep it a little warmer. We helped 6 families press cider this year, and did 6 or 7 bushel of our own.

Here are a few of the good ideas we came up with this year.
Free apples! Another 8 bushel came after I took this photo. We pressed about 30 bushels of apples Saturday afternoon.
Hubby cut a hole in his work bench so that the grinder would sit on top. It was a great height for anyone about 6' tall. Some of us that are a little shorter had to stand on paint cans. 
The garbage bag was placed under the grinder to provide a chute for the apple pieces. It worked very well and we'll be doing it again the next time we press. The plastic tote wasn't the best idea, we ended up using one of the green oval tubs (you can see the tub in one of the later photos) instead. The one in the photo above ended up breaking at the handle because it wasn't flexible and it wasn't strong enough to hold a bushel of ground apples. 
Another shot of the grinder set-up this year. We also put some old towels under the grinder area to make clean up easier. An old tarp would have been better, but we didn't have one handy. 
"I wanna try!" Yup! They all want to try the grinder! At least for a few minutes. It's hard work and Vet2Be lasted the longest.
We borrowed Sheepy's press, too (that's the one on the left). Both presses were set up on opened feed bags to help with the clean up. The red bucket between the two presses is filled with hot water to rinse the bottles off after they are filled. Both presses have a vinyl hose attached so that the bottles can be filled easier. They also have a stainless steel food service pan to put the bottles in and catch any spills. That not only helps with clean up, it helps save cider! We also put the presses up on old 4"x4" posts to raise them up just a bit. It makes it much easier to fill the bottles.
Prion on the left and Spunky on the right. Both here for Thanksgiving! The green tub in this photo is what we used to catch the apple pieces in after the clear tub handle broke. In this photo the green tub is full of hot water, some food safe disinfectant, and lots of apples. We soak the apples before they go through the grinder. The hot water saves our hands from getting too cold (no one wanted to use plastic gloves!) and I think it makes the apples release more juice. But that could be my imagination!
A screen added to the base caught any apple pieces that fell while we were filling the wooden pressing tubs. The tubs have a mesh bag in them, but sometimes when we are filling the bag apple pieces fall out. The screen keeps the apples from plugging the drain hole.
In this photo I've pulled the screen up and you can see the cider heading down the drain.
Yeay! Empty boxes from Saturday's pressing! Not all of them are in the photo, some are already gone. It was alot of work!
On Saturday we filled every 2-liter bottle I had saved (3 garbage bags full), every 1/2 gallon jar I had (12), every extra gallon and 1/2 gallon plastic pitcher I had (15 or 16), every empty 1/2 gallon jar my friend had (???) and a soup pot!

We kept a few, but my friend took everything else home and is going to process it this week. I have no idea how she is going to process so much cider! We usually freeze what we can and drink (or sell) the rest. I processed 14 quart jars on Saturday night because I had sent all my freezable containers with my friend. We've never processed it before, so it will be a good experiment to find out how it tastes.

A view of part of the garden where we dumped rotting apples and all the peelings after pressing.
Over the last two weeks we helped 6 families press cider, plus make our own. I estimate that we pressed over 100 bushels of apples this year. We also ruined two car jacks (over zealous help!) and bent a truck jack.

Our List of Equipment for Cider Making

  • Good friends who don't mind working beside you
  • Cider press (Whiz-bang style)
  • tarps or old feed bags for under the press(es) (unless you are making cider outside, then an old pallet is better)
  • hydraulic jack (that's what we'll be using next year) or a truck jack
  • mesh laundry bags (for putting into the pressing tub)
  • new window screen (for under the pressing tubs)
  • apple grinder (we borrow a Happy Valley Ranch grinder from our friends)
  • tarp under the grinder area for easier clean up (unless you are doing it outside, then an old pallet works better
  • a tub for soaking the apples in before grinding
  • a tub for catching the apple pieces after they are ground
  • plastic garbage bag to act as a chute for ground apples
  • lots of 2-liter soda bottles (or glass jars if you are going to process the cider)
  • bucket of hot water to rinse off the filled bottles
  • towels to dry off cold, wet hands and/or plastic gloves for working with the apples
  • garden wagon lined with an old feedbag or extra tubs to haul the dry pulp (pumace) to the garden after pressing
  • Frozen pizza or other fast food--you aren't going to want to cook when you are so tired and there is still an hours worth of clean-up to do
Why to avoid compact car jacks on the cider press
The 'totaled' jacks. The one on the left has stripped threads, the one on the right is bent. We ended up using some big truck jacks, but next year we will use hydraulic jacks. And maybe encourage helpers to be less zealous when they are working the press!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fall Planting in the Greenhouse

We wanted to see how some cool weather crops would do in the greenhouse this winter.

Here's how we set things up.
The original idea was to fill the entire bottom of the greenhouse with 4-gallon square buckets filled with water. We had quite a few square buckets that a friend picked up for us for 50¢ each. They were used and needed to be clean. And ours didn't come with handles. It was a great deal--even without handles!

Dumb mistake #1: I was asked to give up quite a few of the buckets I had purchased for someone else.  My friend was giving them to another friend who lives out of town, she didn't have any to spare and asked if I had used all mine yet. She promised to get me more since they were so easy to pick up. I think I gave her 15 or so.

She never got them replaced.

Dumb mistake #2: She also asked if I had any extra lids, she would replace them when she got me more buckets. So I gave her some of my lids.

Nope. Never they never got replaced, either.

I've called the place she got the buckets from.... they NEVER answer their phone. Not in the morning, not in the afternoon, not in the evening. So no more buckets for me unless I can find another supplier.

I ended up with 13 buckets and I'm am praying I can get my hands on another 19 sometime.

There were two reasons we wanted to fill the bottom of the greenhouse with buckets of water. The first is that we hoped it would be a heat sink for the greenhouse in the winter. The second is that if we have a problem with water, we have water stored for the animals that would last a week or so.

Thirteen buckets means we have about 3 days of water for the animals if we are careful with it.

 I filled the 13 buckets I have. Two are without lids so they are covered with plastic bags and duct tape.

Here is the board I laid over the top of the 5 buckets in the previous picture. 

Here are the other eight buckets. I've packed some of the extra space in the greenhouse with bags of dirt we had stored. Hopefully that will provide a little more heat capacity.
What I planted.

These trays have spinach in them. If I can find some lettuce seeds, I'll plant another tray with lettuce in it. I covered the buckets of water with black plastic hoping that would help the water heat up.

The planter on the left has kale, the planter on the right has spinach.

All closed up! 
The thermometer in the greenhouse reads 46˚F, the outside temperature is 45˚F. Not a big temperature difference, but only I closed the greenhouse about 20 minutes ago and the sky is full of clouds.

We might have to insulate the back of the greenhouse with some foam insulation to help with heat retention. We'll keep an eye on the temperature and if it consistently stays below 45˚, then we'll see if we can scrounge some insulation from someone.

This is our first year with a little greenhouse and we're not sure what we're doing. We have our reasons for doing things a specific way, but that doesn't mean it is the best way. It only means that is the best we can come up with right now. If you've got hints, tips, or ideas please feel free to comment and let me know!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New England Visit

Vet2Be and I were in New England last week. One of our daughters (and Vet2Be's sister) lives there, and so does all of my extended family. We had a great visit in Massachusetts!

We walked the Freedom Trail. I wish someone had told me that the Freedom Trail was marked in the sidewalks! We didn't realize we should follow the red bricks until halfway through our walk. Sheesh!

This little squirrel came running across the grass in the Boston Common. It must have said to itself, "Look! Tourists! They will FEED ME!" And we did!

Same brave squirrel!

Make Way for Ducklings! I have always wanted to see this statue in the Boston Public Gardens. 

Ducks in the Lagoon. 
 The Nor'easter hit while we were there. We were without power for only 3 hours. As of today, my two sisters still don't have power. One owns a restaurant and this is the second time it has been without power due to storms since August. Kinda cuts into business!

We spent Halloween afternoon in Salem MA.

We didn't go into the museum, but the building was so fun to look at from the outside!
We also visited the Concord Museum, Haystack Observatory, the New England Aquarium, and the American Textile Museum.

There were a few other places we wanted to visit (especially the Fruitlands Museum, but they were without power and closed.

We'll save them for next time!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Log Carrier

I had seen log carriers on the internet and in the Northline Express Catalog but didn't want to pay that much for one. Some are fairly inexpensive ($15 plus shipping) and some get more expensive ($58.00 plus shipping).

Vet2Be said, "Leave it to a farmer to get what they need by thinking creatively!"

I thought a log carrier was a great idea, but thought I could do something similar from a recycled canvas or heavy fabric bag. It would cost less and I would have the satisfaction of recycling and re-purposing something!

Since I had just given all my extra bags to the thrift store a few months ago, I headed back to the thrift store to see what I could find.

I looked for a bag that:
  • was made of the same fabric that backpacks are made of
  • had straps that went under the bottom of the bag
  • had one seam on each side

This should work perfectly and it was only $2!
Here's how I recycled it to make a log carrier.

Since this bag had corner seams, I took those seams out.

The fabric is really thick so it was easy to use a utility knife to take the stitches out.

This is what it looks like after taking the corner stitches out.

Next I turned the bag inside out so I could take out the side seams. I could have cut the side seams off, but it was really easy to rip the stitches out of the fabric, so that's what I did.

Here's the bag with the side seams opened.

These straps were sewn into the hem at the top of the bag.  I needed to take out the stitches near the top so I could slip a support into the top hem. I only took out the stitches attaching the handle to the top hem. Then I sewed from left to right along the bottom of stitching on the hem (below the knife in the photo).

I happened to have a dowel on hand for the top support. This is my favorite way to cut a dowel--a pair of rose pruners!

One support dowel for each side.

I slipped the support dowel inside the top hem and folded over the raw edge at the side seam. Then I used a zig-zag stitch (with a heavy duty needle on my sewing machine) to hem the sides and keep them from fraying. I didn't double the hem--just folded it over once and used a zig-zag stitch.

I doubled the handles a little bit (about 10") because most log carriers have shorter handles.

Then I sent Vet2Be out to get wood for the fire.

He likes it much better than carrying the wood into the house in his arms!
It took me about 45 minutes to recycle the bag and turn it into a log carrier. 

I love to figure out ways to change something a little bit and use it for something else! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


One of my friends wanted to see how I make Chevre, so even though this cheese is soooo easy to make, I told her I would post a tutorial.

There are quite a few recipes for Chevre, the easiest one is to buy a packet of Chevre starter from New England Cheesemaking Supply. Be sure to check out the recipe tab on that page! Yum! This is the easiest method because the prep time is as long as it takes you to heat the milk to 86 degrees and add a packet of starter. This is absolutely the recipe to use if you cannot have cow milk.

New England Cheesemaking sells the Chevre starter packages of 5.

Fias Co Farm has a Chevre recipe here.

Fankhauser's Cheese Page has a recipe using ingredients you can buy from the grocery store here.

I use a recipe that I modified from Goat Cheese Plus (a yahoo group).

1 gallon goat milk
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon rennet disolved in 1/4 cup unchlorinated (or distilled) water.


Heat 1-gallon of goat milk to 86 degrees.

Add 1/4 cup buttermilk. Let rest for 30-60 minutes. 30 minutes is minimum, but if it goes longer that's okay.

1/4 teaspoon rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated (or distilled) water.

Pour the dissolved rennet through a spoon with holes so the rennet doesn't get poured all into one spot. Doing it this way spreads out the rennet and starts the mixing process. 

Mix with an up and down motion for 1-minute to thoroughly mix rennet into the milk. 

Cover and let the milk set for 10-12 hours (overnight or all day). If your house is cool (under 72 degrees) cover the pot with a towel or put it in the oven. You can also put it in a Wonder Box.
After 10-12 hours the milk should be set. It will be thick like yogurt, but may not give a clean break. Gently pour or scoop the curds into cheesecloth, a cheese bag, Chevre cups, or plastic cups with holes.

Sometimes you can see the whey separating from the curds, like this time. But sometimes it looks just like yogurt. 
You can hang the curds in  cheesecloth, a cheese bag, put the curds in special chevre cups, or in plastic cups that have holes punched in the sides and bottoms. Punch the holes from the inside of the cup to the outside so that there aren't any little 'pokies' sticking into the cheese.

Traditional Chevre is a shaped cheese, Farmer's cheese is hung in a bag (also called 'Bag Cheese').

Here are the Chevre cups I bought from New England Cheesemaking supply. I use the canning funnel that my friend gave me so that when I scoop out the curds they slide easily into the cups without shleping over the cup rims.

The whey will drain out the small holes. It will take about 10-12 hours (overnight or all day) to drain enough for the cheese to be ready.

You can also drain the curds in a cheese bag or butter muslin (which is much better than cheesecloth). I use the arm from my cheese press to hold the bag. You can hang the bag from a kitchen cabinet knob. Don't be surprised if the house cat or dog decides that the drained whey is sitting in the bowl just for them!

If I drain it from the kitchen cabinet, this is what it looks like.
12 hours later, this is how much whey has drained from the cheese.

This is what it looks like when it comes out of the cups.
My favorite recipe is really the New England Cheesemaking Chevre starter. I like the flavor a bit better than the buttermilk recipe, but if I don't have any commercial starter, I use buttermilk. You can also use less rennet if you want to since this is really an acid ripened cheese, not a rennet cheese. (Instead of using  1/2 teaspoon of rennet you can add 2 drops of rennet to 1/4 cup uncholorinated water.)

We don't eat our Chevre plain very often, we usually add basil, onion granules, garlic granules, and salt to taste. (look here.) Here's a link to another post that has a list of different flavors you can add to chevre.

This Thanksgiving we will serve it with pepper jelly on top! Yum!

Update 10/5/11:
The name of the great canning funnel that my friend gave me is Bottle Mate Canning Funnel. You can google it and/or find it here.