RG 2006 December

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8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant

December , 2006



Vigo 1500 mill

In case the recent discussion here caused doubt in the minds of other 1500 users, I emailed Vigo to ascertain the correct direction of rotation of these mills. They phoned me back today to confirm that the 1500 should indeed rotate anti clock wise. ( This relates to the cutter when viewed looking into the milling chamber with the hopper removed ).

Should anyone have a mill of this type that is not working properly, it is worth checking that the cutter is fitted correctly as it is possible to instal it upside down. Check that the sharp edges of the blade are facing in the anti clockwise direction. Performance is greatly enhanced if the blade edges are kept sharp.

My Millie has been marvelous since her makeover! Yesterday I picked the last of my Ashmead's Kernels. Some of these were huge, about 4 inches or so, in diameter. Millie just gobbled them up whole and turned them into a fine mince that had an exquisite aroma. Ashmead aroma seemed to me even better than the Yarly perfume, more delicate and refined, deliciously appley. Just as one might expect. Ashmeads are very nice to eat as well as being good for juice and cider.

It is good not to have to cut large apples into halves or quarters as I had to with my old scratter. The 1500 is a very good mill.


Porters Perfection

Having posted a blow by blow account of the Kingston Black keeving I felt that it would be tiresome to continue in this vein. I thought it would be kinder to you all if I summarised the rest of the keeving when I reached the end. Before I do this however, I must relate a pleasant experience that has very much driven my cider making in the last two weeks.

Marshwood Vale

Perhaps you remember my new friend Oliver who had bought the 14 acre cider orchard near Bridport. (This orchard was the paradise that I had been drooling over when it came up for sale in July ). Well Oliver invited me to go and see it, perhaps advise on this and that and best of all, to bring my trailer! After winding through some miles of narrow lanes and being ever so thankful that I had not met anything that required me to reverse, I arrived in Dorset's finest apple growing area, the Marshwood Vale. Here the soil is chocolate brown and the orchards are just bursting with vigorous growth; a complete contrast to my own poor little trees, struggling to poke their heads out of the chalk downland.


This is real apple country and my main worry was whether I could find the right orchard amongst the many. I turned into one that seemed to fit the directions I'd been given and was relieved to see Oliver driving his harvester along the rows of trees.


It often happens that one's wild imaginings are shattered by reality. This was a case in point. The orchard shown in the pretty advertisement picture, full of blossom and wild flowers, had become an old neglected orchard in my mind. Surely Oliver would have to painstakingly restore it, rather like the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I immediately realised how wrong I had been. Here was an immaculately kept, organically managed, commercial orchard in full production. Mercifully it lacked those nasty herbicide strips. A fine green sward with hardly a weed to be seen, covered the whole orchard floor. The trees were half standards, pyramidally trained, quite closely spaced within their rows, but with wide inter row spacing for ease of harvesting. They were still fully leafed and my abiding impression was one of the health and vigour that becomes well managed trees on good soil.

Tree trunk cavities

The only problem noticeable was that a few of the trees had cavities in the lower part of their trunks. Each was about about 3 inches wide and surrounded by a ring of callus. They were full of water and mucky goo. It looked to me as though the person who did the formative pruning had cut the lower branches off too close to the trunk so that the wounds had been unable to callus over. Oliver was concerned that the trees were rotting from the inside but I, having not seen this problem before, was at a loss to suggest a remedy. I said that I would ask the tree experts of ukcider. Over to you good people, please.

Oliver was harvesting the last of his 500 Dabinett trees. I've never seen such wonderful Dabinetts. They were huge and highly flushed and as faultless and beautiful as Tesco's grade 1 Coxs in appearance. I bit into one to sample the rich tannin and there of course, the similarity ended! It was a wonder that such a crop could be obtained without artificial fertiliser. The secret apparently, was a mid summer spraying with seaweed manure. Foliar feeding I suppose.

Enormous Porters


As the hopper of the harvester became filled, Oliver emptied it time and time again into a huge roadside hopper from which the apples were to be collected by lorry to go to Gaymers in Shepton Mallet. ( If they are getting apples like this they should be able to produce something really tasty next year!) Being late in the season most of the apples had already gone off to the mill. But then how lovely to see my old friends, the Porter's Perfection, still rejoicing in the sun due to their own extra lateness of season. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the size of them. The week before I'd been pleased to bring back 5 bags of Porters from the single tree of them that is in the orchard I buy from in Somerset. These had been their usual little one inch selves and I'd thought that all Porters were like that, (an impression confirmed by Liz's Pomona). There are 90 Porters trees in Oliver's orchard and they were heavily laden with the most enormous, 2 to 3 inch diameter apples. It was an incredible sight, all beautifully red with their prominent yellow flecks. The strange tendency of this variety to produce fused apples meant that there were some bizarre examples of the fruit that were shaped like large knobby baking potatoes.


I was pleased to have the opportunity of obtaining a good quantity of PP. Last year the Somerset tree had none, but the year before I had managed to make a few gallons from it that had turned out rather well. The harvester's hopper holds half a ton but Oliver could not empty it into my trailer which is one of the covered type intended for cattle. Necessity is the mother of invention so we found an old piece of hardboard and bent it U shaped. We wedged this into the rectangular opening above the tail board to act as a chute. This flimsy affair was not self supporting so I had to get inside the trailer and hang on to it, whilst Oliver opened the hopper of the harvester and allowed the apples to cascade in from outside. I've never felt quite so close to apples before, at times I was almost buried in them! However this makeshift idea worked so well that I did not want to risk spoiling things by climbing out. I stayed in the trailer whilst another 3 loads were collected and subsequently hurled at me down the chute. As I sat there amongst the apples awaiting the next avalanche I resolved to get one of those 2 ton tipper trailers with mesh sides for next year! On the way back and climbing the steep hills between Bridport and Dorchester I could detect the unmistakable smell of clutch. Perhaps the time has come to change my 11 year old Land Rover as well! It was quite a relief to get my two tons of PP safely home.

Buoyed up by the unexpected success with the keeving of Kingston Black followed by Ball's Bitter Sweet, I decided to 'think big' and keeve all of the PP. I made 1000 litres of PP juice in 3 batches. Having run out of calcium chloride, I used calcium carbonate by mixing a tablespoonful of the powder into the pomace of each layer in the cheese. Surprisingly, for I could not bear the idea of adding table salt to my cider, the first vat of PP keeved wonderfully well with just the enzyme and the carbonate. This is so easy, I thought, as I pumped the lovely keeved juice from below the brown cap. You've really got this sussed now, Rose!

Unseasonable weather

Ah, how pride goeth before a fall! Vats 2 and 3 were hopeless, even though by then the real chloride had arrived from Easybrew. The big difference was the weather. From being seasonably cold when I did the first batch, when I got on to batches 2 and 3 the weather had become mild with daytime temperatures reaching 15 degrees. In both cases, when the cap was starting to form, the fermentation was already underway. This was in spite of having doubled the sulphite. The PP was just rearing to go!

I am not dismayed however. There is more than enough keeved juice in just one vat, for me to get bored with bottling. ( 300 litres fills 400 bottles!)


End of term

I've had a nice end of term feeling over the last few days. After almost three months of cider making I have reached my goal of 7000 litres. The radio in the ciderhouse has started playing Christmas carols, the last batch of juice has been pumped into the tank room and all the pieces of equipment are getting their final clean up before storage. It does so remind me of my schooldays and that lovely feeling of winding down at the end of term with Christmas to look forward to.

7000 litres

I felt sure that the 1000 litres of Porter's Perfection would take me up to the limit. Then I had a reckoning and found that I still needed 200 litres to get to 7000. Having used all my own apples there was only one thing I could do. I popped down the road to see if I could glean some more windfalls from Venetia's little orchard.


It was a fortnight since I was last there. The trees had become skeletal and all of the apples that I had not managed to shake off or pick were now on the ground. The last sprinkling of Tremletts were all going bad but there were lots of Yarlingtons and Ball's Bitter Sweet that were still fine. The afternoon was therefore spent on my knees gratefully collecting my final crop. Half way through I sat on the apple boxes to eat my bacon sandwiches and drink some very welcome hot coffee from the thermos. I looked through the bare branches and realised how much things had changed. The whole of the orchard could now be seen for the first time. It seemed strange that only a few weeks before I'd sat in the same place and could only see the Yarlingtons and Dabinetts. I recalled how I had then also noticed for the first time that the leaves of Yarlington are blue-green, whereas those of Dabinett are a more of a yellowish green. I do tend to muse on things when I'm having coffee!

Moonlit picking

Another difference now is that it gets dark even sooner. The bitter sweets were becoming lost in the grass with the increasing gloom. I worked fast and furiously and managed to clear all the Yarlingtons and the Balls before it became too dark to see them. Then a providential thing happened. The black clouds cleared allowing the moon to illuminate the orchard. Suddenly I could see all the fallen Brown Snouts under the next tree along. They shone like golden nuggets in the grass. It was an easy thing to go on picking and add these to my final collection. I drove home with more than a quarter ton of sweetly smelling apples in the back of the Landrover, feeling very pleased with myself.

That did the trick. There were not enough apples to bother St. Em so I did a final 4 pressings on the little press and wistfully enjoyed the Yarly perfume for the last time. I added the tasty extra to the tanks and they are now full. There are 5, 1000 litre IBCs in the tank room holding the main blend. The other 2000 litres of single varieties is contained in the sputniks and variable capacity vats. Merry bubblings and ploppings can be heard from an assortment of airlocks. Next Sunday I'm going to collect another IBC to put in the tank room. I need an extra empty one so that I can rack the others.


I've pressed eleven and a half tons of apples after wheel barrowing them to the ciderhouse, lifting about 1100, 10kg boxes of them into the mill and of course scooping the same weight in pomace from the mill to the press. I can honestly say that I've never worked so hard in my whole life. It's been good fun and I've reached my goal, but I do need to further my industrial revolution before it is time to do it all again!


Tree Holes

Rose found it necessary to repeat the question above RG_2006_December#Tree_trunk_cavities

See also Cider_makers_FAQ#Tree_damage


Forget this silly dating spam dear people and tell me what poor Oliver can do about the little cesspit like holes in his apple tree tree trunks. At the very least I've been expecting Stephen to advocate surgery to relieve the wounds of their septic contents!

How about using the surgical silky fox saw to cut into the bottom of the hole to let the gunk out. Then after scraping out the rotten wood perhaps a liberal coat of Arbrex could be applied. Is there some sort of 'tree friendly' cement that could then be used to plug the holes to prevent them filling up with water again?

The gunk seems to be like muddy water and dark brown. The solids in this suspension are granular and look like old Arbrex which made me wonder it the previous owner of the orchard had tried using it to solve the problem.

Oliver's trees appear to be perfectly healthy. He's just worried that these water filled holes will lead to their premature demise. I belong to the RHS so I think I will ask their experts if there is anything that can be done about this problem.

Sorry to have put you on the spot. I'm a bit naughty like that, as I'm sure Andrew would readily agree! However I have learnt a lot in this university of cider by asking questions. It is a most valuable forum.


  • mature trees suffering a large wound may not ever be able to close the wound themselves and thus suffer fungal infections and decay. I'm not aware of a compound which could be used to plug the hole. I don't think a wound paint is recommended as you would likely trap the infection.
  • I don't believe that tree wound dressings are of much use in an orchard, and are more for the comfort of the person applying them than the comfort of the tree. However, saying this does not provide any type of a solution to your problem. Also, as trees get old, some can get heart rot, and continue to live what seems like an unaffected life for a long time (perhaps hundreds of years in the case of some species) while some can die quite soon. It probably has to do with the fungal species affecting the tree as much as the tree itself.
  • Is this link any use?
Tree Defects: A Photo Guide
Scroll down a bit. Lots of pictures of trees with holes, what to do and what not to do, but not necessarily applicable to fruit trees.
Main page index
Tree Defects: A Photo Guide
Alex L. Shigo
US Forest Service General Tech. Report NE-82; 1983; 167 pages
  • "Clean out the cavity from the top and find out how far it goes down. Drill a hole from the side of the trunk diagonally upwards to the bottom of the cavity aprox 1 inch diameter. when it has drained clean the sludge out and keep an eye on the drain hole that it doesn't get blocked up. I would not paint with anything at all, the tree is fully equipped to protect itself with Tannin and suberin naturally produced by the stem. You may like to cover the top of the cavity with chicken wire or such thing to prevent birds from nesting in it."
  • It's worth trying to help these trees. I have successfully treated old trees with this sort of problem using similar principles to those used in human surgery of abscesses. In a word, drainage. Use sharp steel, saw and/or knife, to remove dead and rotten material and allow it to flow out downwards. Remember to sterilise the equipment afterwards to avoid contaminating other trees
I agree that Arbrex may not be wise as it may trap infected /dead material beneath it, certainly only if you can cut right down to clean wood. A healthy tree has considerable powers to heal itself, cutting dead and sick material away down to healthy live wood can be very successful. It this treatment kills the tree, it would have died anyway.
The bottom line is that trees do have a natural life, depending on rootstock, soil, disease and general care. Sometimes the only answer is to dig up and replant. Another answer is to saw the tree down below the level of the disease and graft on to any regrowth.
There is a very useful section on restoring a neglected fruit garden in ht excellent RHS book 'The Fruit Garden Displayed' sadly out of print but plenty of copies in circulation
There are some pictures and text in R R Williams 'Cider and Juice apples: growing and processing' which illustrate this problem caused by pruning cuts too close to the trunk. There is only one way to make these large pruning cuts and that is 'dead right'. Basically, about a millimeter from the bark ridge. There is a photo on page 41 of R R Williams which shows this. Better a little more than less. Also, a really good saw is necessary. The Silky Fox Gomtaro Apple with graduated teeth is expensive but worth it.


Thank you Con, Andy, Vicky and Stephen for your useful replies about the tree hole problem. I have passed the info to Oliver. The RHS also replied to my enquiry but declined from giving any advice until I had sent them samples of the liquid in the holes and photographs! I can see where they are coming from but feel that this is somewhat OTT. There is a good common sense thread in what has been posted here concerning drainage and that severe cutting back, (as one does to treat canker), is not a good idea.

I was interested to see from Andy's forestry link that, as I had suspected, bad pruning is the usual cause of these holes. I thought that the pruning diagrams were very good. They clearly showed why leaving a stub or pruning flush with the trunk are such bad things to do.


Intermediate Bulk Containers - IBCs

I was fascinated to see all the various types of barrel with their antiquated names and peculiar volumes that were unearthed by Colin and James. It occurs to me that a useful rule of thumb does emerge from this plethora of barrel sizes. The 'barrel' that I make the most use of is the 1000 litre IBC ( Intermediate Bulk Container ) which is 220 gallons. This is almost the same as the Tun, which is 2 pipes, or 4 hogsheads. It is interesting to imagine my 5 IBC s in the tank room being replaced by 20 hogsheads and the continual topping up this would entail. I used to use a few hogsheads and it amazed me how quickly the level in them dropped due to evaporation through the staves. They were a fine sight though!


This brings me back to the IBC, as I would like to sing its praises. Ideally, it would be great to have stainless steel vats throughout the ciderhouse, but they are so expensive and would take a lot of cider making to pay for. Most small producers that I know, settle for the 1500 litre Rotoplas black plastic juice containers. These can be obtained fairly cheaply and can pack a lot of cider into a small area as they are about 6 ft tall. I also considered these but found that IBC tanks were more readily available. They are always plentiful on Ebay at about £40 each. Their only disadvantage against the Rotoplas is that they require more floor space for a given volume of storage.


Now here are the advantages:

Being translucent, you can see when they are clean. I use a pressure washer to blast the insides via the generously sized screw cap hole on the top of the tank. I've bent the lance so that the washer can be brought to bear on the underside of the tank top.

There is a nice big tap that drains the bottom of the tank via a central sloping gully moulded into the plastic. This is useful for removing the lees after racking. After a good squirt all around the insides with the pressure washer, I blast the lees off the bottom into the accumulated wash water and then just open the tap. Out it all comes!

It is easy to drill a hole in the plastic cap that will allow one of Vigo's large airlocks to be push fitted. The airlocks have a tapered tube which allows a good seal to be achieved.


It is easy to see how much cider is in the tank. This is helpful when filling and saves messy overfilling accidents. There is a useful measurement guide embossed on one side of the tank. One thing that did worry me is that the lumpy shape of the tank top means that the tank cannot be filled completely without some air space remaining. I've overcome this by fitting schrader valves into the top of the tanks. When fermentation is completed I maintain CO2 in the spaces above the cider by injecting through the valves with a food grade CO2 Sparklet gun.

A further use of the IBC is that it can easily be cut in half to make two useful washing tanks. It has got be the cheapest way of obtaining a 500 litre sink!


IBCs are used for transporting all manner of things liquid. It goes without saying that if they are to be used for storing cider, it is important to know what they have previously been used for. Mine were first used to supply hypochlorite to a local cheese factory, so they arrive here already sterilised! A good wash out is all that is needed to remove the bleachy smell.


Press Racks

I've been wondering for ages what it is that's so special about Acacia wood for press racks. Does anyone know? I'm of the same opinion as Ni that Ash would be fine, since it is used for the handles of most tools. Perhaps beech or oak would be OK too.

I've noticed with St Em, that sometimes at full pressure the racks can become curved. This is the point when inequalities in pomace loading become noticeable and there is obviously quite a strain on the lathes and the pins or rivets that hold them together.

St Em's racks are old and made of softwood. They look as though they were probably made from the lathes that were once used for keying plaster to internal walls. Even so they have survived rather well with only 2 or 3 broken lathes in the whole set. This is not actually a problem because the wood on either side of the breaks is still firmly held by the many pins that hold the racks together. However during the pressing this year I saw another problem with the softwood. The racks were splintering under pressure and the splinters then had the annoying habit of catching in the press cloths when the cheese layers were being unloaded. I got a bit fed up with this.

Having gone to the trouble of having a new juice tray and former made for St Em I would really like to obtain a new set of racks for next year. The problem is that Vigo's biggest ones are 31.7 inches and would cost £863 for the set of 14. Wow! Acacia does not come cheaply, but even so they are not big enough for St Em. Hers are 33 inches so it means looking around for suitable hard wood lath material and then getting them locally made, or doing it myself (and I do know what a long job that would be!)

As far as the design is concerned, I'm sure that it is not at all critical. The width of the lathes can be anything between 1 to 2.5 inches and the space between them between 1/4 and 1/2 inch. After all they are just a means of letting the juice get out from the inside of the stack. Ideally though, the lathes should not be too thick, (about 1/4 inch is fine), otherwise their accumulated thickness takes up too much of the pomace space that is available between the upper and lower beams of the press.