RG 2009 January

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

January , 2009



Cleaning Up the Cider House

Quite apart from my need to clean the ciderhouse due to the impending inspection, I always like to give all the equipment a good clean up before it is put away at the end of the season. The press cloth and the racks need especial attention so that there are no remaining pomace particles that could fester away during the storage period.


Last year at this time I hung all the press cloths around our rotary clothes drier and blasted each one with the pressure washer. It was an effective method of cleaning them but it took several hours and was a miserable job to have to do on a cold winter's day. The alternative of putting them through the washing machine takes ages because the drum will only take one cloth at a time. This year it occurred to me that the laundry could probably do a good job on them and save me a lot of bother. I bundled them into an IKEA bag, still wet from their last soaking and took them into town. I was a trifle embarrassed to take them in like that, but was pleased to find that the people at the laundry said it would be no problem at all.

I collected them a few days later. The laundry people all laughed when I entered the shop. "Here comes the apple lady! Oh, we've had such a lovely cidery smell in the works, quite intoxicating! It was a pleasure to do them!". I was ever so pleased when I saw my cloths all dry and neatly folded. They are now a much lighter shade of khaki and perfectly clean. Best of all the bill only came to £12. At £1 per cloth it was excellent value indeed.

I think this may give me a solution to my previously mentioned problem of doing keeved cider on St. Em. Next year I will put the cloths through the laundry when I've finished the draught. They should then be perfectly cleaned of wild yeasts before the keeving phase. I would really like to be able to get away from having to do numerous cycles of the small press like I had to do this year.


The final clean up of the racks is unavoidably a big outdoor pressure washing job. It also takes ages because the washer jet has to be tracked along each of the channels on both sides of each rack. I find this is the only way of completely removing the brown film that has built up on the edges of the slats during the season. It has been an easier job this year because in the summer I treated St. Em to a new set of racks. These replaced the old blackened and unvarnished softwood ones that she arrived here with. The new racks were made of ash by Matthew, the fine craftsman who made me the new oak tray and pomace former for St . Em two years ago. Truly a labour of love, the slats are fastened by innumerable tiny stainless steel screws and beautifully finished with Rustin's two part, food grade varnish. St Em's wooden parts are now fully restored and she really looks like new.


In the cool temperatures of the ciderhouse condensation forms on the outside of the tanks. This attracts dirt and can allow moulds to form. These growths are assisted by previously unnoticed splashes of juice. This nastiness is easily wiped from the sides of the stainless tanks but is much more difficult to remove from the polypropylene IBCs. These I have to rub with a cloth soaked in thick bleach. I then leave them for a little while before blasting them with the pressure washer. This works well but it is quite a long procedure due to the fact that the outer cage of the tanks divides the sides into a number of little panels that have to be rubbed with the cloth individually. It is perhaps the only drawback of using IBCs for bulk storage.

I've also used the thick bleach method for cleaning the walls of the ciderhouse, but had to leave it much longer before rinsing down.


The final cleaning problem is how to get the brown film out of the Vigo food grade pipes. I use Vigo's foam cleaning balls that are simply pumped through the pipe from end to end. These work up to a point but there are still deposits that they will not shift. I'm hesitant to use bleach in the pipes because I don't like to think of it going anywhere that gets to be in contact with the cider. I suspect that it is probably alright providing that the pipes are well flushed out with water afterwards so long as the bleach does not permeate the plastic walls and leave a residual odour. Anybody like to give me the benefit of their knowledge and experience here, please?


Re Bleach: I think you will be OK with a water rinse followed by a sulphite solution and final rinsing with more clean water. The reason for the sulphite is that bleach is an 'oxidising agent' while sulphite is a 'reducing agent' which is the chemical opposite so the one will neutralise the other. And residual sulphite is OK to have in cider whereas residual bleach isn't. Be careful of using a bleach which is highly perfumed though. You can buy good not-foaming oxidising cleaner for winery / brewery use from Vigo and it is a better bet than standard household bleach. That's what I use for a good clean, just followed by water afterwards.

There is a slight side note to all this cleaning. If you make everything clinically clean, where will your 'house yeast' come from for next year? It takes time for these to build up in a ciderhouse or winery so you don't want to drum them all out! - Andrew Lea

Get a ball of string and a long piece of cotton cloth that when compressed will fit tightly in the pipe, attach one end of the string to a corner of the cloth which should be nice and wet with what ever cleaning agent you are going to use, tie the other end onto one of the cleaning balls and fire it up the pipe with a hose or the pressure washer, once it appears at the other end simply grab the string and pull through the pipe. By the addition of a piece of string on the other end of the cloth you could pull it backwards and forwards until the pipe is clean. - Tim.

Hi Rose, A Happy New Year to you. I noted your comments on the Rustins two part varnish you have used for your new racks.I have looked up the http://www.agwoodcare.co.uk site you quote,and have found a 2-part Rustins varnish labelled 'Rustins Plastic Coating-the toughest finish for all furniture and interior woodwork'.It does not seem to mention food grade varnish anywhere,so I am wondering if this is the varnish you use.Could you confirm that this is the product that you have used. I have been using my oak slatted racks for some years now,and soak them overnight in a bleach solution at the end of each season.I have been tempted to use a strong spirit based polyurethane varnish to save me the trouble,but have been concerned that it might chip off in time.However,now that I have seen your reference to a tough varnish again,I might varnish them this year.My bottom tray is also beginning to leak,and could do with sealing also. Best Regards - Michael

Ray Blockley wrote:

Anyway, lots of good advice about cleaning pipe-work. For my two penn'orth,
I use a combined cleaner-steriliser called "Chempro SDP" which I buy in
large boxes from the local wine making & home brew shop; it's widely
available, so I would imagine most folks have heard about it.

I used to use it for winemaking from way back in the 70's, but I hear tell it's no longer available? I use the Vigo own brand equivalent whose active ingredient is sodium dichloroisocyanurate and seems to do the same job. I suspect Chempro was the same but may have been formulated a little differently. These compounds are widely used as bleach equivalents across the food industry and there are many variants. Sometimes a little difficult to dissolve especially if slightly 'caked'. - Andrew Lea

For stubborn stains I use 'beer line cleaner' Available from Macro/ Shefs larder/booker wholesalers. if you have a container you cannot physically scrub, it is great for loosening stubborn stains to the point a jet wash will move them (better to clean your vessels after rather than before use!). I have been told by a very reliable cellarman that as long as the fluid sits for no more than 10 minutes it will not eat into plastics. i always give it an extra rinse as it is chlorine based. - Denis France

There's been lots of good advice posted already, but here's my two pennorth. Standard household caustic soda is pretty good at cleaning pipes. Mixed with bleach it is very effective and used in breweries. You do need to be VERY careful with it, especially as it is most effective/lethal when hot. Personally, if the pipes are not too dirty, I prefer to use Oxyclean (available from home brew suppliers in un-perfumed form) in solution at about 60C. After rinsing, sanitize with sulphite (neutralises any residual caustic and reduces any residual bleach) or iodophor (my preference - it is effective and very good value for money). I usually then rinse and then leave pipes filled with Brupak's "Stayclean" solution. This keeps them sweet until next usage, but I do rinse and sanitize again before using. I should add that this is my practice for the brewery pipes. My cider production level is insufficient (as yet) to warrant the use of pump and pipes. Black mould is a real problem here in Cumbria, so I tend to keep a spray bottle of bleach solution handy to wipe down surfaces which don't come into contact with beer/cider. Unfortunately I now seem to have black mould on the press plate, so I think I'll bleach that and try using some of that 2-part lacquer. Cheers - Mark Evans

Without wishing to teach anyone to suck eggs, I've found the most important aspect of keeping moulds at bay during storage is to make sure everything is not only cleaned thoroughly, but also totally dry. Afew years ago I came to the Autumn cidermaking and was dismayed to find mould growth in some of the fermenters, and I've also had this in a barrel or two. No I give every fermenter/barrel a period of drying time in the relatively dry/warm environment of the porch before storage in the ciderhouse, and have had no problems since. Mark Shirley

Red Label Hypochlorite from your local Mole Valley Farmers or SCATS
depot if you are in the south or southwest England area.They sell it
in 5litre or 25litre drums. - Barry Topp

Never has one of my requests generated so much useful information!

I was pleased to hear about Stayclean. With things like plastic tubs and 5 gallon fermenters, I always sprinkle in a teaspoon of sulphite to keep them sweet during periods they are empty. I have tried this approach with plastic pipes by filling them with a very weak sulphite solution. However It turns the plastic opaque after a period of storage. This does not look nice and probably means that the healthy shine on the surface of the inner walls has been lost, rendering the pipes more susceptible to future contamination. Presumably Stayclean does not have this unwanted effect.

I must try some!



Cider Friends and Friendship

Following our little ukcider hiccup at New Year, I was delighted to see several posts, notably from Con and Mark E reminding us of the friendly and helpful membership that we are fortunate to have and enjoy in this group. This has prompted me to write a piece that has been on the tips of my fingers, so to speak, throughout the pressing season. The subject is cider friendship.


As some of you already know, I've had a very busy, as well as a very worrying late summer and autumn. Frances my sister in law, who is my dear friend and companion here, has had an even nastier brush with the dreaded cancer than she did in the previous year. This involved a period of depressingly unpleasant chemotherapy, followed by a big operation in Bournemouth Hospital and a long recovery period. I am very happy to say that she is now on course to make a full recovery, thanks to the many prayers of our friends at church and the excellent treatment and care of the NHS. May I also thank those of you who have phoned or emailed with your kind wishes for her recovery.


At the start of the pressing season, I wondered if I would have enough time and the necessary inclination to make my cider this year. I decided that I would just try my best and take things one day at a time. It seemed best to view it as a challenge, but at the same time to steel myself against being disappointed should I fail to make the full quota. Well as you know, I did get there in the end, and have made my 7000 L. Now I've even got some time to write again, whilst hoping that the 'catch as catch can' 2008 cider becomes something drinkable.

When a situation such as I have described arises in life, it is as though one's senses are sharpened. I found myself more aware and even more appreciative of my friends. I always enjoy meeting fellow cider makers, enthusiastic apple growers and of course all who enjoy drinking real cider and perry. It seems to me that drinking cider not only allows people to enjoy each others company and have a laugh, but also generates firm friendships. Cider people are so lovely to know! There must be a secret ingredient in the stuff, that even Andrew cannot identify! Looking back there have been lots of times in the last few months that I've been especially aware of the friendship that exists between cider people and that I have also been fortunate to enjoy. It is really something rather special and that I have found very uplifting during a worrying time. Let me 'play back' the season and you will see.

Looking Back

Barry's New Forest Cider weekend in October was an outstanding success and was once again blessed with good weather. What a happy occasion, being able to meet up with more ukcider friends than I even do at Putley. A jovial and definitely non-curmudgeonly Roy had even made it down here from Berkshire! I will never forget being met by Barry, champagne flutes at the ready, for the sampling of that delicious perry all the way from Oz! I wanted to write lots about the event here, but just did not have the time. Fortunately Peter Yarlett took some super photos showing the vintage cider making equipment in full swing. I'll repeat the link for those who missed it:


3000649868_b157907fda_m.jpg 2999809829_9e339dddcf_m.jpg 2999800825_5e50d3a4d8_m.jpg

These pictures said it all, but not quite. There was something special about Barry's weekend that I had not realised when I had attended the year before. The whole thing is set up by a group of cider friends and most of them come down from Gloucestershire every year to help Barry and his family put on the show. I suspect that this is not the whole story by any means, as other cider friends like Vicky with her Shark mill demonstration have also become a regular feature. However I had thought it strange that I kept meeting folk from Gloucestershire all afternoon! They seemed to be operating all the various presses and scratters in various parts of the show. Later Barry told me that they were a group of friends organised by his friend Albert Rixon from up that way. Albert is a passionate restorer of old cider machinery and I previously had the pleasure of meeting him when he has accompanied Barry on visits to my place. He has beautifully restored a twin bed Workman press, that features a clever gear change in its pressing mechanism. It is always a fine feature at Barry's weekend.


I discovered that in order to inject a little excitement into the pressings, Albert had arranged for the juice pressed at last year's event to be actually made as cider by the pressing teams and entered into a blind tasting competition at this year's event (2008). Only the makers themselves were allowed to judge, just like at Putley. However this was just a bit of fun. It had to be, with team names like Cotswold Hillybillies, Topper's Toxic Juice, The Yard Pissheads etc! The competition was held on the Saturday evening at a great gathering of the friends for a party in the barn. The party is put on by Barry and his family as a thank you to all the exhibitors demonstrators and helpers who make the show such a success.

The best cider competition was won by the Yard Pissheads, so called because they work the huge wooden beam press in Barry's yard. I noticed the need for many pints of lubrication during this process! Dare I say it here? Their cider is pressed through straw and theirs of the previous year had a good clean and scintillating flavour! (See Pete's photo of the press). I had the honour of being asked to present the trophy, which had been specially carved by Chas from the Forest of Dean. It was most impressively made from three pieces of oak barrel stave. These had been integrated into a base and acted as a support for a cluster of 3 carved apples. Chas is a skilled wood turner and has a wood turning stall at the event. To my great surprise, after the trophy had been presented he then presented me with a beautifully made wooden bowl. It is a fine memento of a lovely evening. There was music, cider, together with Sue and Sally Topp's tasty nosh. No wonder this get together is so greatly enjoyed by all the visiting cider friends of New Forest Cider!

In the grass

The next week I was back home, in the thick of it, doing my mid season cidermaking. I wondered how to keep up with it all. Venetia's little orchard that I have to pick by hand, had like everywhere else, a massive crop this season. Friends that I know from our local pub had helped pick the first half ton, but the main bulk of the crop was now down in the grass and it was obviously impossible to cope with. There is only so much kneeling and bending that one dares ask anyone to do! I knew that Albert had brought his refurbished Caqueval apple pickerupper to demonstrate at Barry's weekend. Best of all, Albert and his machine were still there. Could he possibly consider lending me it? I rang Barry to ask him to put in a good word.

Pickerupper machine

Imagine my delight when Barry arrived at the orchard with the machine in his van, soon to be followed by Albert in his car. Barry then had to go on, as he had other business to attend to. Albert proceeded, working solidly, going round and round the trees with the machine, effortlessly collecting the apples. He would not even allow me to take a turn with the hard work of tipping each basket load from the machine into my trailer. Nor despite my protestations, would he allow me to pay anything for his time or the petrol! By mid afternoon and feeling very grateful, I was able to tow home nearly two tons of apples. Barry picked the machine up again a few days later. The Caqueval is actually more cumbersome and heavy than I'd imagined. I could never have managed to collect it and get it off the trailer by myself. They knew this. What wonderful friends!

As my mid season gathered momentum, I got more and more tired and began to long for a bit of help. Clive my friend in the next village who had hoped to help me, had not been able to finish rebuilding his own twin screw press. He was now working solidly in every spare moment, fashioning and bolting together the heavy oak parts in his garage. I well understood Clive's determination to get it finished so that he could make some cider of his own before it was too late. He certainly succeeded and the old press is now a joy to behold, a perfect partner for his 19th C wooden scratter. As for me, I had begun to feel like Jean Nowell must have done all those years ago at Lyne Down.

I needed another ciderboy!


Then as though in answer to a prayer, just as Ny had appeared here at my crucial time in the previous season, along came Dominic. A strong young man with a love of cider, he had enjoyed my stuff in a local pub and decided to seek the source of it. Dominic is a landscape gardener who has returned to his Dorset roots after his business partnership had gone wrong in London. As he was still looking for work locally, he had the time and masses of inclination to help me make the cider. We worked very well together. The cycle time of the process reduced dramatically and we soon make short work of the last load of apples that I had collected in Somerset. How nice it was to have the draught all put away in its tanks. I would then be free to turn my attention to the keeving of the late varieties. Dominic has become a real cider friend who now does occasional work for me in the orchard.

Throughout this time I was driving to and from Bournemouth every day for the hospital visiting hour. It was only a little diversion to go or to return via Barry's at Burley. When cidery chats and tastings would be the natural outcome of such a visit, how could I resist such kind invitations on two occasions to share a meal with the Topp family. Albert was staying as well, so it meant that Barry, his cidermaking son John, Albert and I were able to taste various products from near and far and put the cider world to rights as we supped! Of special note at these tastings was Albert's Old Gloster keeved (He spells Gloster like that for some reason of antiquity!) and Barry's Morgan Sweet Cidre Nouveau. Both delightful. I expect the latter is now selling well at Borough Market.

Albert popped by here a few weeks back, to lend me a splendid stainless Burco for making the mulled cider at the Wassail. He said how very much he had enjoyed our tastings at Barry's. Oh yes, I said......So did I!


Rabbit Damage

I've always used rabbit guards on my trees, replacing them with larger ones as the trunks grow stouter. This is the time of year when I put horse manure around the base of each tree and also check the posts and guards as part of the job. Now that the weather is milder I decided to make a start on this job today.

Having seen so many mature trees in other orchards without any rabbit guards, I had come to the conclusion that perhaps they are only really needed on young trees. My earliest plantings are now 15 years old with trunks about 8 ins diameter. Their bark has taken on the mature tough and fissured look, so characteristic of older trees. Last year I decided that these no longer needed the rabbit guards. I could not imagine any bunny being the slightest bit interested in such a tough and tasteless meal. However I still kept a careful check on these unprotected trunks from time to time throughout the year, and as expected, the bunnies had completely ignored them.


What I saw today therefore came as quite a shock. No doubt due to the ground having been frozen for three weeks, the bunnies must have been desperate for something to eat and decided to attack the unguarded trees. I was relieved to see that no tree had been completely ringed, ( ie stripped of bark all round the trunk), as this means certain death. One tree was much worse than the others, having lost bark over half the circumference with the stripped area extending to 18 inches above the ground. It should recover but it's not a pretty sight!

There was a big increase in my rabbit population last year so I was probably lucky that the damage was not a lot worse. Needless to say I have now refitted the guards. The problem is thus arrested, though only just in time.

I've posted this as a warning to anyone else who may be thinking that the time has come to do away with their rabbit protection. It is a sad prospect indeed to lose a tree that one has planted and then watched grow over a period of many years.


Roy Bailey wrote:

I have had the same problem with some of the trees in my garden. It is
probably rabbits, but it could also be muntjac deer. I don't know if
you have them in Dorset, Rose?

Yes I've had Bambi and friends! A few years ago they nipped out the tips of 10 Kingston whips that I'd grafted and then proudly planted to help fill up the orchard. I learnt from bitter experience as usual, in this case that Bambi's favourite delicacy is the growing tip. Since then I've always fitted 4 ft mesh guards rather than the 18 inch plastic spiral wrap sort. I've also improved the fencing.

I can't believe that I used to be moved to tears by films like Bambi and Watership Down! Apple growing is a continual battle against pests of one sort or another.

When I pruned my trees around Christmas, both here in the garden and in
my orchard, I deliberately left all the cut material on the ground in
the hope that the critters would eat that rather than my trees. In
both cases the smaller branches were quickly stripped back to the bark.

In my case I lazily left the cut material on the grass. This may just have saved my trees. As every little cut off twig has been stripped clean, I reckon that these were the Bunnies' first choice of fare before tackling the tougher bark on the trees. Sometimes laziness pays off!

The best cure for rabbits is to place a small piece of lead in their
left ear. How do you do that? Guess?

I had shooters and ferreters last year, some even camping in the barn and making a weekend of it. The results were disappointing particularly with the ferreting. The problem it seemed was that there is a very long standing colony of rabbits in the wide hedge that is along one side of the orchard. The ferreters found that there were too many holes to net. Ferret went in and Bunnies emerged laughing 50 yds further along the hedge! I'm told that the answer is the long net technique and am hoping that the ferreters will return and try this method sometime soon.

It was interesting to hear about trees being encouraged to fruit well by the shock of damage, accidental or otherwise. I've wondered about this for a long time. My very first KB tree suffered a serious canker that ate half the trunk away six inches above the ground. I staked well to give extra support and watched that tree repair itself over a number of years by growing a bulbous callus over the damage. That tree is now one of my best. It is very healthy and bears a good crop every year.

I have also had success with bypass grafting to repair canker lesions on the trunk of another tree. It seems to have worked well and it will be interesting to see how long it takes to make a complete repair.


A Windy Wassail

Saturday began brightly. The blue sky and absence of wind said nothing of what we all knew to be in store. I had been nervously watching the weather map on TV for several days, noting the progress of the big depression approaching us from the Atlantic. Torrential rain and storm force winds were promised for later in the day. Oh heck! Slow down, slow down just a bit, please don't arrive until after the wassail, I pleaded.

As always, the only thing to do is to press on with all the preparations and hope for the best. We like to decorate the orchard with little 'night light' lanterns on the lower branches of as many trees as possible. We also mark the path to the orchard, placing these at 5 metre intervals to show the way from the village road. The wassail tree is decorated with about ten of the lanterns to make it stand out from the others. In recent years I've also fixed a halogen flood lamp in the branches of a tree next to the wassail tree. This is to light up the ceremony and so that the musicians can see their music and the wassailers their song sheets. Power is supplied from a generator in the barn. This year it occurred to me that there was enough unused capacity to add some electric fairy lights to the tree itself. The strings of the new white and blue LEDs that have appeared in the shops at Christmas time in the last two years, were cheap enough this year to persuade me to get some for our outdoor Christmas tree. Now I had another good use for them. What a fine sparkle they made! The wassail tree now became more prominent than ever it had done before, all the more so as darkness gathered in the orchard.

LED lights

The LEDs were destined to become a fortuitous extra. The sky had become darker as the clouds built up during the afternoon. Now with half an hour to go before the wassail it was time to light the lanterns. My little group of helpers arrived at the barn where all was set for the lighting of the 50 or more candle lanterns and their distribution. Alas, the group's arrival signalled the beginning of the gale. The wind blasted across the orchard and into the barn. We could not find a corner anywhere, not even in there, where it was possible to light the lanterns. As the time for the event drew near we decided to abandon any further attempts. By now the wind was getting squally and the first few drops of rain could be felt. I looked up at the inky sky. Please hold off for a little longer. Please!

How lucky we were! It seemed as though the sheer force of the wind was keeping the rain at bay. A large crowd then gradually appeared from the outer darkness of the orchard, as if by magic. The brightly lit wassail tree had acted as a beacon to them as it could easily be seen from the road below. The lack of the lanterns proved to be not a practical disadvantage, though I missed their prettiness. However I was delighted that so many had decided to turn up and risk getting soaked, some even hazarding their musical instruments in order to accompany the singing.

The age old ceremony was performed. The Apple Maid put her cidery toast in the tree and the Cider Boy splashed the golden liquid all around it, the guns were fired, but above all else we sang, louder than ever before. I sensed an air of defiance amongst all of us there, as we screamed out the wassail songs into the howling wind. I don't know quite how, but we managed to do the whole thing as usual. Maybe we frightened the rain away with the singing!

Imagine how relieved I was, when all were snugly in the warm, drinking the mulled cider at Becky and Terry's party, and the rain started pouring down outside. Definitely the closest shave so far!


Pump Query

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the Vigo Europump at £88. It is a useful little pump for small quantities of cider, is self priming and pumps around 5 L / min. I've used one for ages. The only drawback is that the overheat cut out operates after about 100 litres have been pumped. Then one has to wait half an hour for it to cool down before it can be used again.

At present I'm looking at Flowjet pumps. Several of the pubs that I supply, use them for pumping cider from my B-in-B in their cellar to a handpump on the bar. They are self priming diaphragm pumps that are powered by compressed air or CO2. The landlords run them using CO2 from the cylinders that are always plentiful in a pub cellar.

There are also 12v , 24 v and mains versions available from http://www.mackengineering.co.uk . At present they have a 12v one on offer at £89 with a throughput of 9 L / min. I may get one to improve my B-in-B filling machine.