We received an email from Stephanie yesterday. She asked the following:

 I’m just wondering how long it takes for the yeast to start foaming. I pitched my yeast on top of the cider, it floated for a bit and then sank, should I be concerned about that?

Good questions Stephanie and here are our responses. 

Firstly you did the right thing by “pitching” (get you with the Brewers lingo) the yeast onto the top of the juice and then seeing it later fall to the bottom. 

Yeast loves a “blood warm” environment and should divide like crazy if the juice is around that temperature. However, it rarely is as warm as that, so the yeast just takes longer to get going. It is like us. We find it easier to jump out of bed in summer than on chilly winter mornings. 

So give your yeast time. It may take anywhere from one to eight ours to get working. If nothing has happened in eight hours, don’t panic. Leave it overnight and when you get back in the morning it should have used those night hours to make a start. 

Still nothing? Ok, it is emergency resuscitation time. Here is what to do. We are going to make a starter.

Take a litre of juice and warm it gently in a pan. If you get it to the temperature of a hot bath you have already gone too far. You want it just below blood temperature.

Take it off the heat. Taste a spoonful. It should taste good. Add new yeast and give it a whisk. Cover and leave for an hour. You should now have a jug of yeast munching on apple juice. Bubbles of CO2 should be rising to the surface. So, pour this jug back into your main vessel and within 6 hours the whole thing should be bubbling nicely.

If your starter jug is not bubbling then it is likely that your yeast is dead or you are trying to make cider in a refrigerator. Neither works, So, go get a new packet of yeast and chuck that in.  And shut the bloody door! Problem solved.

“This year my apples are very small; is this a problem?”

Well possibly, but probably not.

Firstly, remember that some trees just produce small apples. Crab apples are generally plum sized or there about and are great for cider making, so you could be on to a winner.

If your spring was a good one, then perhaps too many apples got fertilised by the bees and bugs. You may want to hand thin the fruit next year to get larger sized apples. Take out a  half of the apples (leave  just 1-2 fruits per cluster) and the tree should then have enough energy to ensure the remainder grow big and healthy.

If your tree is producing small apples and there are also other signs of stress, such as curled leaves, blight, blackspot or bug infestation, this can account for small apples. The tree is just too busy trying to stay alive to be able to put effort into the apples.

However, chances are you have a crab or a tree that grew from a seedling and didn’t grow true to variety (which is the usual scenario for seed grown apples). If the tree is otherwise established and healthy, why not consider grafting other varieties to the root stock and enjoying pretty instant success in growing big juicy apples?

Or, better yet, graft on a mixture of apples that are good for cider making and have your own cider blend waiting for you to harvest each year.

Here we are just a few weeks from harvest(although some of you with early cropping apples will be closer even than that)  so it is a great time to get the equipment out of the shed for an inspection. 

Start with your scratter. The device that turns apples into apple pulp is one of the most important parts of cider making. Many are made from wood and wood doesn’t have an infinite life span. So check whether the whole thing is sound and solid. Next look at the teeth. Are any of them loose? Are any rusted? Most important of all, when you cleaned it at the end of last season did you miss any bits? Tiny pieces of apple that have been sitting on your scratter all year will harbour germs. Perhaps now is a good time to give the whole thing a thorough scrubbing. Once that is done put it together and insure the ends of the spindle are lubricated. Make sure the boxing has not become warped. Finally, make sure that iwhen you put it away after it’s good cleaning, it is thoroughly dry. If your scratter is going back in the shed, put it in a polythene bag so that you don’t need to do more than a simple wipe down in a few weeks time when you use it.

As for the Apple press it self, the most important part is the screw. Give it a good few turns and make sure the thread is running freely. Other than that it is a matter of cleaning much as you did the scratter.  Take the time to get into every corner. I have been known to work on my press with an old toothbrush. On a nice sunny weekend spending a few hours cleaning your press is therapeutic work. Enjoy making sure your kit is clean and ready for use and think of the amazing cider you are going to produce.

Next, make sure that all of the smaller pieces of equipment you use are still to be found. Four example, my long handled spoon has disappeared. Had I discovered this when I actually needed the spoon it might have been a minor disaster.  But because I took the time to check now, I still have a week or 2 to go shopping. While on the subject of shopping, have you bought yeast?

Unless you are one of those brave cider makers who lets the neutral Yeast take its course, you will want to purchase some good quality cider yeast.

And what about airlocks and bungs? Do you know where your hydrometer is? All of this planning now Will save you from heartache in the future.

If you have planted apple trees this year then, now as summer reaches its peak, you should pay close heed to the following advice. Water well and water often. Making sure a young apple tree is not short of water and its first and second years is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure that trees long-term success.

In the first year and apple tree will be pushing out roots searching for water; if it encounters dry soil the tree will not prosper. You really cannot be too generous with your watering regime. Obviously if the roots are actually swimming in a permanent puddle then you have overdone it. But that aside you should water more often than you think. And when you water, water generously. A single small watering can full will simply soak the top inch of soil. Two big watering cans full are The minimum you need To get the liquid down to where the tree needs it.

About twice a week I pour on lots of water and let it soak it down. About 5 to 10 gallons goes in with the soil is dry. I am constantly looking out for leaves that lose their Sheen; early sign of drought.  Leaf drop is another more serious sign of drought stress on an apple tree.

In the years three and four you must still be very vigilant but perhaps can ease back ever so slightly without worrying. In year five and beyond the tree should do okay if left to its own devices and will probably not die from lack of watering. However for good cropping you do need to keep watering your trees.

Of course there is a flip side to this. It is possible to kill a young tree through overwatering. If the roots are sitting in a permanent capital they cannot get the oxygen they made and the tree beginning to rot. To avoid this don’t water every day but water as I said twice or three times a week but make sure you give your tree a good drenching. 

Use your fingers as well as your eyes. Touching the soil is a great way of understanding whether it needs watering. Trust your judgement and experience and listen to what the tree tells you it needs. If the tree looks like it needs watering it probably does.

if around mid summers day you find that your Apple tree is dropping lots of small apples don’t panic. This is known as June drop and is a perfectly natural phenomena. If the tree kept all of those tiny Apple fruitlets  on the branches then the tree will produce hundreds of tiny apples. Which would be very difficult to get a decent juice pressing from. Whereas if it drops those apples and just produces a small we number of fruits then these will be of a larger size and better for making cider from.

Other benefits of the June drop all that it may lessen the chance of Brown Rot and other pests and diseases forming on your Apple Crop. It also lessons the chance of branches breaking through over cropping.

In fact, if you don’t notice a June drop but the Appletree has set lots more little fruitlets than usual, consider removing some  by hand to prevent the problems that June drop resolves.

So in short if you see lots of tiny apples falling from the tree around June time there is nothing to worry about. The one thing I would say is clean those apples away don’t leave them lying on the ground to rot. However  they are good food for the wildlife in your garden so simply put them into a small pile somewhere in a corner and forget about them.

Last winter I put some insect grease bands around the base of my apple trees.

Then I forgot about them. This was fine since these sticky bands just sit there, discouraging various unwanted creatures from climbing the tree. 

However after 9 months they really need removing to stop the bark beneath them from rotting.

I remembered to remove the bands, but only just in time. The bark  beneath the strip where the bands had lain was soft and mushy and came away with a rubber of the finger.

Thankfully within a few days the bark had hardened again and the trees are fine. But it gave me a bit of a scare to say the least. One of the trees in particular (a Devonshire bred russet) was a gift from my departed  mum and so has a deep emotional importance alongside the obvious importance of producing fruit that goes into my annual cider production. As, I say, in the end there was no problem, but this does highlight how easy it is to mess up your tree care regime. 

 Despite my little accident adding grease bands is a really good thing to do as part of looking after your trees. Ants climb trees and stop insects such as ladybirds from eating aphids. The grease bands stop the ants from climbing which means the ladybirds eat the aphids and you don’t get and aphid infestation on your apple trees. But apart from ants, Grease bands  protect apple trees from winter moth caterpillars. Aphids are a nuisance, but winter moth can ruin a fruit crop.

I guess I really can’t stress this enough. Grease bands are a key part of any Apple growers care regimen.  Just remember to take them off after the allotted time. 

I got an email from Brazil this morning

“Hi , my name is Felipe . I’m from Brazil and I already do beer … I would first like to congratulate him for the web site , is fabulous.

I’m very interested in the process of making cider. I would, if possible , to send me a complete recipe for making cider. Ciders in Brazil are horrible and I would like to make a good quality and tasty.

I believe my experience in brew beer will help in the process.

Thank you for helping me.”

Well Pelipe, your wish is my command. I will get on to it this weekend and will try to produce something for you asap. Of course I will post it on this site for everyone to see. … Watch this space.

We are past the making time of year and into the drinking time of year. It is wonderful to finally discover whether your efforts have been for nought or worth it.

but don’t forget to compare your brews with other local cider makers. one of our local competitors has been experimenting with keeving, to produce naturally sweetened ciders. The first results were a mixed bag. the process is a bit involved, but basically stops fermentation before all the apple juices natural sugars have turned to alcohol.

If you have never tasted keeved cider before, you are in for a treat. It is nothing like shop bought sweet cider.

The question ‘when should I pick my apples’ is genuinely easy to answer.  The answer is ‘don’t pick your apples, pick them up’.

Wait until the apples are falling from the trees. When they fall naturally they should be perfect for use. Don’t worry if an apple has been sitting on the ground for a day or so either. In fact, many cider makers leave their apples in a pile for a week to let them start to break down before scatting and pressing. You get more juice out that way.

Obviously we don’t want mouldy rotten apples in the mix, but a little damage  or fresh holes where wasps have been munching are no problem and will not affect the quality of your cider.

According to the man on the radio, today is National Apple Day in the United Kingdom. We are celebrating all things apple based and what better way to do it  with a glass or three of cider.

I just got back from a visit to the very north of the country and was delighted to find some excellent local craft ciders for sale. We always think of  cider as  something that is famous in southern counties such as  Hereford and Worcestershire.  However the whole of the British isles are fine for growing apples and so pretty much everywhere that people live , people grow apples and people make cider.

… And that is something that deserves a day of celebration.