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8 months in 8 minutes!

Posted 23/3/2013

Ok, I confess, I'm probably not the worlds best blogger. Strangely I quite enjoy the act of blogging, time however always seems to get the better of me, and what seemed like just a few weeks between blogs actually became months. In this case 8 months! So here we go, a catch up of the past 8 months in an 8 minute read.

In my last blog I announced that I had 'jacked-in' the day job to become full-time cider maker and, believe me, the next few months were full on cider making. With my new, and bigger, hydropress (120L) I was managing to process 1500kg of apples in a day to make 1000 litres of wonderful juice. Getting the fruit however was proving a challenge. Spring 2012, with its low temperatures and strong winds gave little opportunity for the bees to drag themselves from their winter slumber to do their deed. As such, fruit outside of our bigger orchards was in short supply. Luckily, additional orchards, some with such provenance as belonging to Katherine Parr, enabled me to at least produce a similar quantity of Hard Core to 2011.  

Working with the commercial orchard was great. Orchard Manager Andy proved to be a fantastic contact and by moving the pressing operation to his farm allowed us to ensure that not a single apple went to waste, and all the pomace went straight to his cattle. Another bonus was being able to press whole batches of single varieties offering up wonderful opportunities for 2013. By mid-October the juices were flowing and 10,000 litres were already in the bag and attention moved over to our cider apple orchard in Milton Keynes.

One acre, two hundred and eighty nine trees, and a window of around 6 weeks to maximise the harvest. Ensuring we got as much fruit as possible from Woughton orchard was always going to be a challenge, especially as all the fruit is harvested from the ground! Luckily I had some willing helpers (thank you Hannah and Carol), and also some volunteers from the Parks Trust. Together we managed to harvest 6 tonnes of apples. Annoyingly though we missed the final 1.5 tonnes due to some rather crap weather toward the end of November. All in all though, this was a great result and much more than we had ever harvested from this orchard previously. This year however I will be better prepared.

Attention now returning to our commercial partners at Nether Heyford we continued to press throughout November and well into late December. The final press came in the week before Christmas and, I have to say, I wasn't sorry to see the last apple crushed and pressed. The season had proved long at over 4 months and Christmas arrived not a moment too soon. The thing to remember here is that for every apple pressed it has to be moved 4 times: firstly it is picked, then it is moved to the crusher, crushed fruit is moved to the press, then the juice is moved to the vats and the pomace to a bin which is taken to the cattle. So whilst we processed 40 tonnes of fruit, we actually manually shifted 160 tonnes by hand over four months. A Christmas indulgence was to be well deserved.

So what did we learn in 2012. Well, we learned that leaving IT and going full time cider was a good thing. If nothing else I was now far fitter and enjoying life in the outdoors. I met some wonderful and interesting people and realised that perhaps I really could make a living, albeit modest, out of making cider. Oh, and did I mention the apple brandy? Lol, ok this might need its own blog entry but needless to say we are now also the proud parents of our very own English Apple Brandy...

Ok, I'll wind up this entry with a summary that 2012 was a fascinating year: Lots of great new people met and relationships formed; Well over 20,000 litres of cider in progress, and 2013 promising to be a challenging, interesting and exciting year ahead.

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