Cider Plans 2018

It’s that time of year once more, when thoughts turn to apples dropping on heads and littering the orchard floor, and the 2018 cider mixes. Indeed, it’s been a rather strange year – amazingly cold until quite late, we were thankful when the sun finally made an appearance. Three months later with hardly any rain, desperation set in as the June drop continued into the July drop as trees shed their fruity loads to conserve moisture. Along with the glut of rotting apples on the ground came one of the worst years for wasps we’ve had in a while – I won’t forget the task of picking Devonshire Quarrendens from the grass with litter pickers, placing them gingerly into a barrow, and leaving them until midnight when most of the wasps were either too dozy or drunk to attack. Only then was I brave enough to cart the barrow to the middle of a field to dump the apples as fertliser!

Still, the trees continue onwards and upwards, and there is plenty of fruit to press. There are even varieties this year that didn’t happen last year, and some from last year that have failed to dignify us with their presence this year. With the seasons being as erratic as they are, I’m rather glad we planted such a varied group of trees – at least something fruits from one year to the next.

Walking the orchard, trying to get some measure on quantities and varieties and then measuring them against the attributes each variety will give a cider, I’ve come up with the following ciders for this year.

Cider No.1 – September Pressing

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Yellow IngestrieSweet30%
Worcester PearmainSweet20%
RivalSubacid20%
Lord DerbyAcid20%
QueenSubacid10%

Without reliable sugar, malic acid or tannin data, I’ve resorted to the good old 30% culinary to 70% dessert mix from the South East counties.

Cider No.2 – October Pressing

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
Slack ma GirdleSweet14%
CatsheadSharp14%
Tremlett's BitterBittersweet14%
Wyken PippinSweet14%
Rosemary RussetSweetsharp7%
Marriage MakerSweet14%
BramleySharp9%
Barnack OrangeSweet7%
Ashmeads KernelSweet7%

Again, without reliable data, I’m using the same 30% to 70% acid/sweet mix, but this time, as we have Bramleys in the mix and they have a high malic acid level, I’ve brought it back down to a 25% to 65% mix. There’s also the added benefit of a bittersweet variety in there, which will add more body to No.2, but the option to add more bitterness is missing, which hopefully the newly planted Major variety will make up in a few years.

Cider No.3 – November Pressing

VarietyAttributePercentage Mix
DabinettBittersweet30%
Medaille d'OrBittersweet15%
Newton WonderSubacid30%
SanspareilSweet15%
ForfarSweetsharp10%

I was in two minds with this. We have data for all but the last variety, and whilst I can get a good mix using the top four varieties, it was still slightly heavy on the malic acid and tannin side, and short on sugar. To try and compensate for this, I’ve added in some Forfar, which are an early October variety but good storers. Leaving them to sweat a while will hopefully pull as much starch out and raise the sugar levels. Naturally they’re a sweet sharp apple (dessert/culinary) so I’ve lowered the number of Sanspareil, which are very sharp, and managed to get more respectable numbers.

So No.3 is a bit of a risk, but very similar to last year’s No.3, which has gone down well, albeit a tad too strong at 9.2%! I’m hoping for something more in the region of 7.5%, but we’ll see.

Normandy Cider Apples

I’m just sticking this up here as an aide-mémoire from our trip to Normany three years ago. Stumbling across one of the many cider makers, I got to chatting with the son of the owner and asked him what varieties of apple they used. I lost my scribblings, but found them at the bottom of a bag, so here they are in case I lose them once more!

  • Douce Moën
  • Rouge Duret
  • Tête de Brebis
  • Douce Coët-ligne

There is one more, but I can’t make the writing out. It looks something like Marie-besrord/besrard but I cant’ find any information on the internet about anything sounding similar.

Busy Sunday

The spring weather continues to be glorious, and as the earth warms up, more seeds can be sown and indoor growers transplanted to outdoors.

Today we began with the task of potting on. Vegetable growing is a continuous production line; plants needing a long growing season, such as aubergine, begin inside in a warm place in the house. They then shift to a greenhouse as the weather picks up, and some stay in the greenhouse. Hardier species will move outside, and some just like being outside from the start of their little productive lives.

Brassicas are one of our hardiest. This year we have cheated and bought plugs from a market garden friend we know (big shout out to Martin at Sharps Growers in Kings Newton). Sharps produce them by the thousands, and when we only need 2 to 7 of a vegetable type, it isn’t even cost-effective to buy the seed packets! Another job is to keep the pesky pigeons from our luscious baby leaves, and so I delved into ‘the barn’ (a shed), and pulled out pieces of the fruit cage we lost to a heavy snow drop a few years ago. Someone stupidly left the top mesh in place and the snow can do quite a bit of damage with its weight! I salvaged enough straight uprights and beams to make a 10ft square walk-in netted cage – possibly the poshest cabbage patch in all of South Derbyshire! In there we have seven spring pointy cabbage, five brussels sprouts, two winter savoy cabbage, three round summer cabbage, six calabrese and six cauliflowers. Rather than staggered planting, we harvest things like the cauliflower at the same time and freeze in bulk.

The it was on to the second sowing of carrots, thirty feet of Robila, and a block of Velvet Queen sunflowers. This variety of sunflower are stunning, with a deep crimson petal – they should look stunning!

Nearer the house, an old belfast sink was requisitioned and repurposed as a pick-and-come-again mixed salad planter, just outside the kitchen doors.

Then the greenhouses were emptied of the winter-crud and refilled with 6 Ruthje tomato plants – a great eating variety apparently, 7 San Marzano plum-type cooking tomatoes, and 6 Arola cucumbers.

All in all, quite a productive day!

Beetroot & Sweetcorn

Asides from lots of mowing and general tidying up, the beetroot (Boltardy) and sweetcorn (Ashworth) were the only things that went into the ground today! Mind you – it *is* looking a lot tidier isn’t it!

Another Odd-Job Day…

…I love those days where there’s no pressure to anything in particular, because you know full well that there’s always a list of things to complete.

As the weather’s warming up, it seemed like an opportune time to get the good old squash going, so in we popped the squash, to start in the house, and eventually move to the greenhouse, then outside under cloche until we’re so very sure that Jack Frost won’t visit.

Our squash choices consist of:

  • Tonda Padana – our favourite, great for Suz’s Lemon Yellow Squash Pie.
  • Butternut Waltham – we do like a roasted butternut soup.
  • Green Kuri – never tried it before, but keen to give it a whirl!

And then we have some Cocozelle von Tripolis courgette, Boltardy beetroot, and Tall Utah celery. I suspect I won’t get around to the beetroot as that will be sown directly in to the allotment, whereas the rest we’re starting from seed.

Next up is the cucumbers – nicely potted on and in to their final position in a greenhouse. We keep them separate to the tomato greenhouse as they like a slightly humid atmosphere, as do aubergines.

Whilst the tomatoes are looking a little leggy, we’ll try and check their growth by hardening them off to greenhouse temperatures. Soon they’ll be potted on into their own greenhouse.

Then on to mulching the currant bushes – we have two of each colour – black, red and white. Any berries that fall off can pop up as new plants, so we mulch to help prevent that, to keep the weeds in check, and to preserve soil moisture.

And finally, the Marsh Daisy chicks are four weeks old and feathering up nicely! This is their first trip outside, where we’ve moved them to a new Green Frog Design coop which will be their home for a while. Indeed, for those that stay with us, their home forever!

Things are Popping Up After the Late Start to Spring!

Blauwschokkers Pole Peas

Blauwschokkers Pole Peas

After the late start to spring, with the ground finally un-soggified, Suz and I took the day off to make use of the sunshine and get the patch into some sort of order. There’s a list of post-winter jobs that still need doing – the grass had its first cut on Saturday, electric fence lines were strimmed, grassless soil was rotovated, seeded and rollered, and Colin the Light Sussex cock was popped in with his nieces to do his job. Coops were shuffled,

De-weeding strawberry runners

De-weeding strawberry runners

Eddie the cock was moved from his into his aunts’ paddock, which leaves a coop spare for the Marsh Daisy chicks that are currently just under two weeks old. Sunday continued the work, and the bantams were moved onto fresh grass.

Today, whilst I had the easy job of sowing the seed in the raised bed, Suz had the unenviable task of weeding errant strawberry runners from under the current bushes, then weeding the future beds of the sunflowers and sweet corn. Horrendous job!

Raised bed

Raised bed

Continuing to use our organic seed from the Seed Co-operative, we sowed in the raised bed the following:

  • Butterflay (spinach)
  • Greens and Salads (lettuce leaves mix)
  • Wild Rocket
  • Merveille des Quatre Saisons (butter head lettuce)
  • French Breakfast 2 (radish)
  • Miranda (carrot)
Red Sun shallots

Red Sun shallots

Witkiem broad beans

Witkiem broad beans

The sowings from a few weeks ago have broken the ground after the last few days of sun, and the weeds are still tiny and easily hoed, too easy! Spring has definitely sprung into action 🙂

Second Day of Decent Sun

Light Sussex

Following on from yesterday’s start on getting some sort of order into the outside, today was spent mowing and strimming, to make sure the electric fence surrounding the orchard and poultry was running at full capacity.

 

Marsh Daisies

The Marsh Daisy parent flock are happy in their current home, but the difference keeping chickens makes to the grass height is amazing! I know they eat grass, but the their paddock hardly needed cutting, whereas the one left fallow (where their children will eventually live) is over a foot in length!

Pilgrim geese – Dwt & Barty

Barty and Dwt have settled into couple-dom better than hoped. After Barty lost his soul mate last year, it seemed as though Dwt would never replace him. But this year she seems to finally have won him over and they’ve been doing the dirty. About once every two days she’s been leaving an egg in her nest, which she decided wouldn’t be in their house, but rather sandwiched behind a pallet we’d erected as a makeshift wind-shelter for them!

 

pear blossom

The mild air has come just in the nick of time for the pear trees, which had been holding out to blossom. All we can hope for now is a lack of frosts over the next few weeks, and if we’re lucky in that regard we should end up with a bumper pear crop. Look at this tree, that’s an incredible amount of blossom!

2018 spring patch panorama

There’s really nothing better than sitting back at the shed and admiring the end result of hard work. Aching back and limbs feel so more worthwhile when you can take a view in like this.

2-spot ladybird (Adalia 2-punctata)

Ladybirds & Strimming

Electric fenceToday I made use of some spare time to strim under the electric fencing I installed over winter. With the sheep netting acting as the earth, it was a relatively simple task to string four strands of positive cable along the front of the fencing. The lower strand is solid steel, mitigating and strimming accidents.

After strimming, a quick walk through the orchard saw me noticing the ladybirds below on one tree – all within around 20cm of each other! It’s fantastic to see the ladybird army awake and ready for the greenfly, which will undoubtedly follow. There’s a mix of native and imposter harlequin below, an all too familiar sight today.

Forced rhubarb

Rhubarb & Potatoes

Organic potatoes

Organic potatoes

The ground is dry! We can dig it without danger of becoming mired, stranded with only one welly intact! So in went the potatoes – all organic from Bridgend Garden Centre.

Varieties are:

  • Colleen (first earlies)
  • Milva (second earlies)
  • Ambo (main crop)
  • Sante (main crop)
  • Linda (main crop)

This is the first year we haven’t planted our favourite main crops – Valor (a good all rounder) and King Edwards (our favourite roaster). We’ll have to test the three main crops above to see if any come close!

Forced rhubarb

Forced rhubarb

Another great result was our forced rhubarb. After watching it being constantly nobbled by the odd frost, we popped a couple of spare compost bins over them, leaving the lids off. Then we dropped straw from the ducks inside, through the open tops, to help keep some warmth in. The results were amazing, as you can see – four feet high rhubarb stalks!

Cube Run Halved

Destroying the Eglu Cubes!

I lied. Well…kind of. We’d be stupid to do anything drastic to the Eglu Cubes, but things needed to change.

Way back, when we had chickens surrounded by a sheep-netting fence, we thought that the Eglu Cub’s fox-proof run would be a great way to keep our hens safe if we weren’t around at dusk putting away time. We extended the runs to six square metres, enough for six hens, and if we were going out at any time of day we popped some corn in the run, shut the doors after the last hen in so they would be safe and could go to bed at their leisure.

We could still, just about, move the Eglu Cubes on to fresh grass when needed, but it was awkward.

But then the horrible thing happened – we had a fox attack during the day, and lost our wonderful Light Sussex cock, Ethelred the Unready (or just ‘Red’ for simplicity). It was decided then to electrify the entire orchard, a job which began with poultry netting, and this winter progressed to new chestnut stake fencing with electrified strands over chicken wire, to make it goose-suitable.

Eglu Cubes Run Halved

Eglu Cubes Run Halved

This has meant that the long runs are a bit redundant – we can leave the chickens out in the day and the electrified perimeter fence keeps them safe, and the runs are just a double whammy safety feature that gets used when dusk is due. Therefore, the six square metres isn’t needed, and we’re dragging around long runs for no real reason – a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the orchard trees are so much larger and more difficult to navigate between.

The solution? We’ve removed two metre sections from all three Eglu Cubes, and we’re going to make two three metre long fox-proof runs. These we can use for new chicks that are fully feathered, rabbits or guineapigs, knowing that they’ll be safe from Mr Fox.