This afternoon, a pair of bald eagles visited Lockehaven Farm. One of them flew from Crystal Lake to our pine tree to land and eat what looked to a squirrel or chipmunk (you can sort of make out something in a few of the pictures). I was able to take a few pictures of it before it flew away over the valley and back to the lake. We have seen an eagle here only once before, so it is exciting to think there is a mating pair living on Crystal Lake. It is also encouraging to think that Crystal Lake and the surrounding area offer enough prey and privacy for a pair of eagles. While the eagle is old enough to have the distinctive white head feathers, as it flew over I noticed it still had some white splotches on its body, making me think it is still somewhat of a juvenile. I don't know if eagles prefer to live in a single area, but hopefully this won't be the last time we see this pair.
Fall is a season for apples, and equally important, a season for apple cider. Over the past few years,
we’ve enjoyed hauling out the old Jaffrey press (see below), in the spirit of our late grandfather,
and pressing a few gallons in the crisp autumn air. However, as the orchard at Lockehaven has
grown, and our dreams and plans have grown even more quickly, we’ve been looking into ways to
increase potential cider production. Largely due to the inspiration of another part-time orchardist and
pomologist in Maine, (Five Islands Orchard) we’ve embarked on a mission to build
a hydraulic “rack & cheese” style press. We assumed that it would be built of the noblest and (what we
thought was) the strongest North American hardwood, the mighty ‘acer saccharum’, but after some
research, we decided on a laminated hickory wood construction, due to hickory’s immense strength.
It has come together, slowly but surely, over the past 6 months, and was put to the test for the first
time this past weekend. “The Old Hickory”, as it has been coined, is powered by Luke’s new Kubota
BX2360, which drives a 3” bore, 24” stroke hydraulic ram, fastened vertically at the top of the press. At
its maximum rated pressure, it should be capable of approximately 22,000 pounds of pressing force--
the weight of about 7 of your average family sedans. Walhowden Orchards, and Poverty Lane Orchards were able to provide us with two 15-bushel bins, one of Cortlands and the other of Macs (roughly 1200lbs). With our average efficiency of ~3 gallons of cider per bushel, that should give us approximately 90 gallons of cider this year. There were high hopes for the acquisition of a bin of traditional cider apples this year, but due to a short crop, they were unavailable to us from any of the local orchards.
Initial tests proved, with some assuredness, that The Old Hickory is a powerful machine—likely much
more powerful than we will ever require.Our friends at Townline Equipment wondered if the hydraulic
flow from the Kubota may be slower that we’d like, but we were perfectly satisfied. It’s not a high-speed
operation, after all, and with the incredible power potential, “slow and steady” really is the name of the
Although there are plans in the works for an equally high-powered apple grinder to complement the
press, it’s not in its production stages yet, and we’re still forced to rely on the hand-cranked Jaffrey
grinder. Although non-optimal, it has served us well so far this year. We’ve experimented with the
adaptation of a 1HP garbage disposal unit, and although the results are astonishing (apple sauce), it’s
too slow and labor-intensive to keep up with the production. We think that the coarser Jaffrey grind will
be sufficient with our massive pressing power. Stay tuned for updates on the apple grinder front.
The virgin pressing was encouraging, but not completely satisfying. Due to the late-summer flooding in
our area, our local fabric store is still out of commission, so we had to resort to a very much less than
optimal canvas material for our inaugural pressing. After several (sometimes exciting) blow-outs, and
realizing the slow flow rate, we realized that a proper cheesecloth material was going to be absolutely
necessary to successful pressing. I’ll be looking for another source for fabric, and will hopefully have
some better material for next weekend. I’ve also ordered several sheets of ¼” high density polyethylene
(HDPE) that we will use to replace the absolutely handsome, if not perfectly effective maple racks that
Jer put together. I’ll take the blame for their ineffectiveness, however, as I suggested the design—once
again based off of Ben’s design up at Five Islands.
We’ll bring the Jaffrey down with a pile of apples for Piper family Thanksgiving in Rochester, MA, and we’ll
hope to get back up to Lockehaven for some cider press refinements next weekend. Pictures and video
of the Thanksgiving pressing to follow shortly!
This morning, Jer and I drove down to Canterbury, NH for the NHTF Field Days. The North Family Farm won the "NH Tree Farm of the Year" and NHTF was hosting several tours, a BBQ, and an award ceremony for the North Family. The North Family Farm is 1,000 acres of fields, forests, and stone walls, passed down through the North family since the 1800's when the Canterbury Shakers owned the land. It was exciting for me to see a farm that has achieved what we are working towards at Lockehaven.
Jer and I took the "long tour". Led by the farm's forester, John, we started the tour in a stand of 75-90 year old white pines. John and his logger thinned this stand 4 years ago. His explanation of why they thinned and how they chose trees to keep trees to cull was very informative.
Thinning trees for space is pretty basic. If trees are too close to each other, you will not have large healthy trees. Thinning trees also changes the amount of light reaching the forest floor, and this was perhaps the most interesting part of our stop at the pine stand. The understory, though young, had almost no red maple or beech. Instead, the forest floor was covered with white pine, red oak, and black birch saplings. These three species all have good timber value, and it was encouraging to see the next generation of trees were coming in nicely. It was also interesting to note how the forester had controlled the red maple and beech propagation. Red maple and beech are shade tolerant, meaning they out compete other species when light is limited, as it is in the understory. John took away their advantage by thinning the canopy, thus ensuring healthy pines as well as a healthy and valuable understory to take their place when the pines are harvested. John was obviously proud that the next generation of foresters would inherit the benefits of the work he put into this stand, even though these benefits are only about a foot tall today.
Along the tour, we stopped in an older stand of oaks. Our guide John explained this had been one of the first sites he had worked on at the North Farm nearly 40 years ago. He had taken he cord wood out and left the red oak saplings. Standing under 80' tall oaks, surrounded by an understory of black birch, John told us all how good it made him feel to know that he would be leaving this 80 acres better than it was when he found it. It made me think about what Jer and I (and Nate) have been working on. It was encouraging to see someone at the tail end of a similar endeavor saying he was proud at what he had accomplished as we stood surrounded by tangible evidence of his work. Trees and the forest they live in are in every sense, a generational effort. I'm hopeful someday we will be able to crane our necks skywards in a 70 year old oak stand on Lockehaven and know that we're passing it on better than it was when we found it.
Last year marked the first year in which we made our own cider. We had inherited an old Jaffrey cider press from our grandfather. My brother tore the press down to its bits and refurbished it, complete with a new paint job. We bought about a dozen bushels of Macs and Cortland apples, plastic jugs, and caps from the Patch's at Walhowdon Farm (Lebanon, NH). After that, it was pretty easy.
The press has a hand cranked grinder which grinds the whole apples into a wet sawdust like consistency. This is called the pommace. The pommace falls into a cheese cloth suspended in a slatted bucket sitting below the grinder. Once we had ground up all the apples (or enough to fill our cloth), we slid the slatted bucket under the press.
The press is operated by another hand crank. This crank drives a screw press that slowly drives a thick hardwood piece of wood onto the pommace. The pommace was already "leaky" even before we had pressed it, but once we started to compress the pommace, there was a river of cider.
The cider is filtered through the cheesecloth and from there is collected in the large tray that holds the slatted bucket. The tray is slightly slanted and the freshly squeezed cider flows out hole in the tray. We had made a neat little faucet / filter device, but found that the 1 1/4" tubing and filter simply clogged up with apple bits. The amount of these bits you want in your cider is up to you; if you wanted a clearer cider, you could add something as simple as a kitchen colander underneath your hole that would work sufficiently. Either way, just hold a collection jug underneath the cider flow until its full. Cap and repeat.
We found that we got about 3 gallons of cider per bushel (about 45-48lbs). That would be a little bit more than 50% (if cider weighs about the same as milk). Industrial size cider presses do better. They average about 4.5 gallons per bushel, or about 75%.
After the pommace has been pressed, we were left with a slightly damp sawdust like mash. Professional presses will leave a dry, crumbly, cake like substance that breaks apart in your hand. We're not there yet. We fed the leftover to our pigs who were glad for the consideration.
For the second batch, Nate brought and installed a food disposal unit (what you would find under your kitchen sink). We found this makes a much finer pommace, but can get bogged down if you feed it apples too eagerly. We have plans in the works to upgrade our processing capabilities. I'm sure we'll have more to add in a separate post.
We drank most of that batch as sweet cider throughout the fall, and made some more sweet cider for Thanksgiving with the whole family. Led by Nate, we also tried our hand at making some hard cider. Typically, hard cider is not made from the same apples used to make sweet cider. Sweet cider comes from table apples, whereas table cider comes from specific cider apples found to have the correct qualities when fermented and blended. For our hard cider, we pretty much ignored any of the recipes and just went with what we had. We made about 5 gallons of hard cider which is sitting in Nate's basement. The fermentation process has since stopped and the cider is resting but should be ready shortly. We'll keep you posted with our results.
Earlier this summer, my cousin Nate brought home a 10' Red Duchess apple and planted her securely in our orchard. The tree had come from a local nursery (E.C. Browns in Thetford Center, VT) but needed pruning. Nate found advice from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension which recommended branch training (via weights) over selective pruning. I am not the trusting sort and am ambivalent towards "academia". I reached out to my good friend Jon H. (an arborist with 20+ years experience, an overall tree expert, and a trusted friend) for some hands on advice about the question of training and pruning. This is what Jon had to say:
"Training young trees using weights or bracing sticks to create 90 degree angles is ideal. I use concrete weights that were created using Dixie cups for molds and old house electrical wiring. The wire works well so you can wrap it around a branch that needs training and then easily undo it and use it else where. I have different sized weights (different sized Dixie cup molds). Bracing sticks I do not use but, years ago farmers did. They consist of 1x1" wood 4 to 8" long with double sided nails at both ends that can be placed in a branch crotch to spread the crotch.
Hang the weights on branch that you want to bring down to create the 90. When you first hang the weight make sure to check on the branch / tree the next day, you may need to move the weight back towards the trunk as the branch may be hanging to low. Another benefit of training apple trees is that the trees will bear fruit earlier (at a younger age). It tricks the tree into thinking it is older than it is. Tree limbs naturally bend down or become more horizontal as they grow in length & diameter (becoming heavier)"
With that sort of an answer from an experienced arborist, I feel much more comfortable about the idea of training a tree. I am of the opinion that pruning is still a mandatory exercise, as training a tree to grow at 90 degree angles does not wholly prevent inward facing or misbehaving shoots. It does seem however, that through training, a grower can reclaim what would have been pruned stock and in so doing, make for a healthier tree that bears fruit earlier.
Nate, well done, and carry on kind sir.