RG 2006 March

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

March, 2006



Installing the new cider press

Early this year I mentioned the steps that I'm taking to improve my production facility. You may remember that I had large lumps of cider press and elevator sections in need of tender care and refurbishment.


I decided to make the cider press my first priority and took it all to pieces in the garage so that it could be cleaned and painted. The press had previously sat on an earth floor in an open barn on a farm in Gloucestershire. The effects of the weather and the mud sloshing up from the floor during cider making meant that a good clean up job was much needed. A big incentive for me was that it gave me a good excuse to repaint it a nicer colour. I was not too taken by what could still be seen of the original battleship grey. I thought that dark blue would look good and I've been pleased with the new look of the press in this colour.


Sainte Emidecau was made in Paris, probably before WW2. Now I don't know if St. Em is the patron saint of le Cidre over there but somehow I feel that her namesake cider press must be of female gender so I ask you to forgive the habit I've got into, of calling her 'she'. Her vital statistics are metric of course, so I hope she will forgive me for telling you that she stands 6 ft 6 ins tall and is 4 ft 6 ins wide, because I can only think of large items in feet. St . Em is electro-hydraulic and has a 3 x3 ft press bed and she weighs several ton(ne)s, being made entirely of thick U section steel beams. St-EM.jpg


I was faced with the problem of not being able to lift any part of this press and I didn't want to bother my friends more than I really had to. I had somehow to move what seemed to be unmoveable, from the garage to the ciderhouse. There was however some time to muse over this problem because St. Em's first requirement was for a 1 ft diameter x 2 ft deep hole to accommodate part of her lower appendage, the cast iron ram cylinder. This was two days work using a borrowed Hilty breaker and a large SDS masonry drill to get through the 6 inch concrete of the ciderhouse floor, then to make the hole and finally to line it with a piece of 1 ft diameter plastic drainpipe. I knew that St . Em would only make any further movement if she had wheels.


Luckily I had seen some heavy duty industrial castors on ebay. I bought these and when they arrived I made up a couple of wheeled dollies by attaching them to some pieces of hefty timber. Fortunately I also had a chain hoist and a trolley car jack available. One way or another I was able to get the big girl on her side and perched upon her two sets of wheels. To my surprise I then found that it was easier than I'd expected to carefully nudge her along through the next room and into the ciderhouse. Here I should explain that the ciderhouse occupies three rooms of a long barn in our garden. These rooms adjoin a garden room and then a garage that comprise the other end of the barn. Fortunately the room most suited to become the press room is the one next to the garden room so St. Em only had to rumble over the terra-cotta tiles in there to reach her destination. I feared the floor tiles would crack, but I'm glad to say that they didn't.


Having got her into the press room, the next problem was to get her up on her feet. This filled me with dread. The only way I could think of was to make a hole in the ceiling so that I could secure the chain hoist to a timber truss in the roof. Standing well clear, as I pulled the chain through the hoisting block, I half expected there to be a horrendous cracking sound in the roof above, followed by the sound of falling tiles. Mercifully no damage was done and St. Em arose majestically to her full height. What a relief! All I had to do now was to use the car jack to reposition the dollies to be under her feet, so that she could be nudged into position over the hole in the floor.

This was the precision engineering part because the 4 holes in her feet had to match up exactly with rawlbolts that I'd previously fitted in the floor. She then had to be carefully lowered on to the bolts. I had taken the trouble to make a template for drilling the holes in the floor and was pleased to see that this paid off. St. Em alighted with graceful dignity into her final position and was duly bolted down.

Now that she was happily at home in the press room she was able to give me a hand. I could use her substantial cross beam for attaching the hoist so that I could lift her other impossibly heavy parts into position. The ram cylinder, like a large bomb, was easily lifted above the bottom beams and then lowered through them, into the hole in the floor. The cast iron pusher plate, the pump fly wheel, the heavy oak press bed and upper plate then followed in the same way.


Having had the satisfaction of doing it all myself, I was finally defeated by the motor! This 2 hp machine has to sit right on the top of the press, from where, it drives the hydraulic pump flywheel by means of two vee belts. I just could not lift the motor more than a few feet above the floor, so I had to phone a friend. He is an ex-marine and he got hold of the thing and tossed it up there like Rambo. Sometimes it is just wonderful to have a man around!

Well at least I could then get on with the lightweight things like connecting the water header tank to the hydraulic pump and the motor electrics. Finally the big day came when St. Em was switched on and she came to life. I was fascinated to watch the press bed rise and big ram slowly extend from the cylinder as the flywheel whirred and the little hydraulic pump chug chugged, as it pumped more and more water into the cylinder under the floor. I was thrilled to think of the difference that this will make to my cider making this autumn. In fact I was so chuffed, after seeing all this wonderment, that I've asked a local furniture workshop to make a new hardwood juice tray and pomace former. Dovetailed corners, of course. Only the best for St.Em!


Sterilising tank

Having completed the installation of the press, I've been making a sterilising tank for the racks and cloths. The racks are 34 inches square and I just could not find a tank large enough to take them, either new on google, or second hand on ebay. Then remembering my successful makeshift apple washing tank made from half of a 1000 litre IBC, it occurred to me that by cutting an IBC across its long dimension, I could make a tank that is about 36 inches square. I cut it so that the height of the sterilising tank so formed, would be about 20 inches, more than enough to allow all of my racks to be laid in a stack to wallow in the SO2 solution. Then I made a wooden stand to support the tank 1 foot above the floor. This was to allow the fitting of a bath drain plug and U bend. I want to plumb it in to the ciderhouse drain for ease of emptying. I'm pleased with the result. Even my 16 inch racks were a pain to keep clean last year and I ended up soaking them in a disused shower tray. With any luck this tank should make life easier with the 34 inch racks.

Apple Elevator

I've started thinking about the next phase of my project which is to build an apple elevator in order to get the mill upstairs above the press room. In the last few days I've finished raiding the remains of the old grain drier that I mentioned earlier. I now have enough elevator parts here to make at least two elevators. This is because I think that I may need to have two elevators set at 90 degrees. There is not enough space at the back of the barn to have one elevator to take the apples straight up and into the sloping roof. This means that I must have one elevator to take the apples from the washing pit, up alongside the wall of the barn, to just above the eaves. This would be positioned so as to drop the apples into the hopper of another elevator set at 90 degrees, to take the apples up and into the roof.


As an electronics engineer I fear that this is could stretch my mechanical engineering beyond its elastic limit! I can just about see my way to making one belt driven elevator, driven from the 3 hp motor and reduction gearbox that I've already obtained. If there are to be two elevators, ideally both should run at the same speed. A second one needs to be coupled to the first by a right angled 1:1 drive of some sort. Tricky! Perhaps the simplest thing would be to have another motor and gearbox for the upper elevator and just run it a bit faster than the lower one. It is all becoming more complicated than I had imagined and a successful outcome looks dubious. I can imagine apples flying off here there and everywhere with me cussing and having to revert to the wheelbarrow!

Problem Solving

This was on my mind when I was walking the dog today. Suddenly I thought that the simplest thing would be to take the apples higher on a taller single elevator. This would drop them into a downward sloping, large diameter pipe set at 90 degrees, so that they could roll down and into the roof. I wondered what would be the minimum angle of the slope that is needed for the reliable gravity feeding of apples. The trouble is that not all apples are spherical and some have flat tops. It would be hopeless if some refused to roll, bunched and caused a blockage in the pipe. Has anyone any experience of feeding apples down a pipe into a mill? If so, I would value your comments. If I decide to go this way, the angle of the pipe will obviously dictate the design. I don't want to make the elevator higher than is absolutely necessary. By the time that there are enough apples around to set up an apple rolling trial, it will be too late to have the elevator ready for the pressing season.


Why must the mill be above?

It is to improve process flow and is a fairly traditional method of cider making. The idea is that with the mill upstairs, the pomace that it discharges can be collected and fed through the ceiling directly to the 'cheese', as it is being built for the press in the room below. If the mill is on the same level as the press, unless you have some clever system of mini conveyors, not only are you forever lifting apples into the mill but also scooping the pomace from the output receptacle to put up on to the cheese. This is not too arduous on a small scale but as throughput is increased, back ache really starts to take the pleasure out of cider making. I made 75 or more cheeses this way last year which is why I'm hoping to get gravity working for me this year!

Why not pump the milled pomace?

This is just what I hoped to do last year and I bought a cheap centrifugal sludge pump to move the pomace. However it wouldn't work at all but did prompt a very interesting discussion here about the real answer which is a cavity displacement pump. The only snag is that they cost several thousand pounds. Not really in Rose's 'cider on a shoestring' budget.

Burrow Hill

Nevertheless it was interesting to hear how pomace can be pumped. At the time I had just visited Burrow Hill Cider where the old rack and cloth press had been relegated to become an outdoor exhibit. In its place was the largest modern belt press that Voran make, mounted only about 3 feet above ground level on its own special concrete altar. Having paid homage to this marvel of continuous pressing, I became curious about the milling. The pomace was being piped to the press from the mill. The electric mill was still upstairs in the barn as of old and the apples were being sent up to it on an elevator. The pomace was being pumped down to the press by means of one of these shiny and expensive pumps. Now what struck me as quite amusing was that the process flow was now unnecessarily upsy- downsy. Once pomace can be pumped, then like you say, the whole thing could be done at ground level, though it would still be handy to have a little elevator to get the apples into the mill. I expect this is only an interim set up. Burrow Hill is far from being a shoestring operation!

The Experiment

Regarding an offer from the south

Thank you both! It is good to hear how the Kingston Blacks 'do lean down low' in New Zealand! What a lovely picture to imagine during this cold weather here. The sight of a heavy crop of deep crimson Kingstons in amongst those dark green leaves is a joy to behold and a great favourite of mine. This evening I've been tasting my KB after racking. It has just about finished fermenting and seems promising. Trevor, thank you for offering to do a rolling test for me. (Andy, how astute of you to think of asking our friends down under. Don't suppose it matters that the apples may twirl around the other way inside the pipe!)

The test is simply a case of dropping apples into a pipe with the pipe set at a succession of different angles. If you could drop them about 4 at a time this should simulate what the elevator will do. Would you then note the angle of the pipe at which they will always roll down the pipe reliably. I would hope that 30 degrees would be alright but I've a nasty feeling that it may need to be 45 or more. The apples will always be whole at this stage, though of course some will have flats and bumps on them. So please try big ones small ones and any old sort of ones you can find, with a few leaves and twigs for good measure.

I expect that the diameter of the pipe is quite important. A small pipe would offer more friction and would be also more likely to get jammed. I would reckon on the pipe being between 9 to 12 inches diameter. I want to use a pipe rather than a chute as this would also send water pouring into the roof when it rains. Regarding the Vigo mill. I also found that the 15 cm version jams a lot. I have the 20 cm one now which is less trouble as it benefits from having a more powerful motor. Even so it chokes a bit if I try pouring in the Bramleys. It is definitely a good idea to halve large apples beforehand. I think one needs to have a more powerful 3 phase machine, like those made by Voran, for the continuous mincing of apples of any size. Thanks again and good apple picking,

Linden Lea

"And there for me the apple tree Do lean down low in Linden Lea."

Don't you think there is something beautiful about the way that apple trees lean over? I love to see a really old orchard where the apple trees are are twisted and leaning at crazy angles. Sometimes their branches root again where they touch the ground. Often a completely fallen trunk can grow a new tree. Michael Cobb has some wonderful examples in his orchard and much to his credit he has let them be. You can taste their approval in his cider!

Old apple trees are like old olive trees, full of character and perseverance.

Silly me, coming over all whimsical again. I blame it on the weather. There is a lot of work to do in the ciderhouse but I don't feel like braving the cold out there so I'm fiddling about with the computer indoors. I'm resting on my laurels a bit because the installation of the big French press is almost completed.

I love the poem Linden Lea by William Barnes. It seems to perfectly describe the joy of growing your own apples. Most people are familiar with it as a song, sung to a tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is always much in my mind at this time of the year. A good friend of mine has a wonderful tenor voice and he can usually be persuaded to sing Linden Lea when we get back to the house after the wassailing. He is also fond of his cider so I carefully judge the right moment to ask him to sing. It is the highlight of the evening for me and the tune is on my mind for weeks afterwards.

( Actually although I love the traditional high worked orchard, I don't mind seeing the dwarf orchards if it means that cider is making a comeback.)


Bag in Box

I used the Vigo B-in-B s last year. They source them from Smurfit in France and of course add their margin, which ( imagine my surprise) they increased this year. The largest they did at the time was 10 litres, though this may have changed now. Mark Shirley has given the present price of the Vigo 10 litre box.

This year I looked around a bit as I really wanted to move up to 20 litres. I found the English firm that makes the boxes for Weston's cider. They are www.packaging-services.co.uk of Stroud, Gloucestershire. They have a good range of boxes that are plain white ( like Vigo's ), or brown with a wood grain/barn door pattern. I went for the 20 litre brown version because it has the bonus of having the words 'Traditional Cider' printed on its sides. Prices for the 20 litre size are between £2.50 to £3.00 but the minimum order is one pallet of 360 boxes.

For people here familiar with the very presentable black and green 3 litre B-in-B used by Weston's for their Organic Vintage, this is a good example of what Packaging Services can achieve. This neat little box has obviously been made to look very attractive for the supermarket shelves.

For the payment of a one off setting up charge of about £300 per print layer they can customise the plain boxes with your own logo etc. Weston's 20 litre boxes that the pubs use have a simple one or two colour print and their horse pulled dray logo on the side. They do look a lot more professional than Vigo's plain white boxes. I have also noticed already that their quality is better. The boxes made by Packaging Services are more robust, being made of thicker cardboard.

Next year,( when I'm hoping to reach the 7000 litre limit), it will be a great temptation to have my 'Cider by Rosie' logo on the boxes. Ah, how pride goeth before a fall, I've still got to get that elevator and washing pit made!


Cider by Rosie

Cider from Rosie surely?

Well, may be, I quite like that! However, Cider by Rosie was suggested to me by Chris King Turner of Mahoral Cider, when I started up and it sort of stuck. Some people like the pun and I like to think that it helps them to keep my cider in mind! Can't change it now, I've just printed oodles of Dymo labels to stick on the front and back of my boxes for this year's output.