The last of harvest and the first of fall planting

The apple bins are emptying, the juice is in the cider house fermenting, and with only one more small pressing to do we are wrapping up the harvest season and moving on to other tasks around the farm and cidery. With the help of family and friends we picked, received and pressed over 32,000 lbs of apples beginning in late August and finishing this week, which equals over 8000 litres of juice. About three months of harvesting! Many of the varieties were early and many we left on the trees as long as possible, even past leaf fall, to reach maximum flavour and sugars (top right photo). We were rewarded with some juice coming out of the press at 1.060 specific gravity—that’s getting close to an 8% abv cider if fermented to dryness.   

Blending our dozens of apple varieties has been an interesting challenge, as we did not have enough quantities of one specific variety to ferment each separately and blend after, as some bigger cideries might do. So this process looked like Matthew and I rummaging through apple bins, tasting each variety to judge its acidity (or lack of), flavour, and tannins, testing each variety’s sg (sugar levels), and numbering the bins on pressing day in a way that best balanced and complemented each variety. Readings and taste-testings of the fermenting cider in these first few weeks has reaffirmed our blending decisions, although in a few batches we’ll blend the small amount of Okanagan apples we had pressed last month, as some of the varieties we sourced in the Okanagan have more tannins and acidity than our heritage Gulf Islands apples.

There’s still a lot of work to do from rock-picking to weeding, planting and mulching, but it’s certainly a big relief to have the cider bubbling away happily in the cider house. Once it finishes initial fermentation we’ll rack it (pump it off of the lees/dead yeast) into new vessels where it will have a nice slow, cool temperature finish. Good cider can’t be rushed.

As we finish up this season, our work is shifting from harvesting to planting-out our new cider variety orchard. The leaves are starting to drop from the baby apple trees (below left), so we’ll begin constructing 10’ foot, 3-wire trellises for each row at the new planting site. As soon as the trees enter dormancy we plan to transplant about half of them to the orchard site. The rest will go on living in the nursery until we have another planting site prepared.

On a side note, a few people around the island have asked where our goats disappeared to. We moved them to a piece of farmland owned by Sandra and Noel just across the road (bottom right photo)—they were in need of a drier, warmer space for the winter and there happens to be an old barn up there. They were also in need of more weeds and roughage, as they pretty near ate themselves out of house and home down at the cidery! But with four stomachs each, I suppose that’s not surprising.