Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Apple Squeezing

The Gravensteins were ripe, falling to the ground. It was time to begin the picking.
It is not an easy task, picking a tree like this. Ladders and poles with picking baskets get you to most of them. Jake, Hank and Phoebe helped out.
Several hours of picking over a couple of days got us a fair number of apples.
Gravs don't keep, so you eat them right now, cook them or squeeze them. We did some cooking and eating, but the squeezing is the big job.
Our press is a homemade, picked up from a 2nd hand store 10 years ago or so. You can see it in action in the video below.

It has a shredder powered by a small electric motor. It is a fierce device. Apples go in whole, stems and all, and come out in bits. The PVC cylinders catch the chunks. When full they get slid down under the press, which is a screw jack. Tighten until it gushes, then let it finish.

It gets poured from the catch pan, through a sieve and a funnel, into clean water jugs. I don't use cleaned out milk jugs; I worry to much about the unpasturized juice and the possibility of something going wrong. So only clean, new jugs for me.
We squeezed over 12 gallons, and still had a bushel of apples to share with friends. The juice goes into the freezer, to be thawed out in October when the rest of the trees are ripe and we can do some blending.
The squeezed bits go back into the soil. The chickens are temporarily interested, but there are so many apples on the ground that they have their fill all fall.

I have a mixed relationship with squeezing apples. It is a lot of work to get the apples down, get enough to press, then store and clean up. This is such a busy time of year, and it is always HOT when it is time to pick.

But I am always glad that I did it. This year was made even better because both of the kids were home to help. Jake has been away for so long he has never squeezed apples. June has, but she has been traveling and living elsewhere, so we don't get a lot of time with both of them here. Having them, and our new friend Hank, there to help was the best part of the process.
Since neither Hank nor Jake had squeezed before, they had not tasted the fresh, raw juice. Gotta have a little tasting before the clean up. It was wonderful.

The ground is still littered with apples, slowly rotting. There are some left in the tree, including the ever tantalizing big ones out of reach at the top. The other trees' apples are still growing, the branches are straining and sometimes breaking. The press is cleaned up and put in the shed, until October, when the weather will be cooler, friends will gather, and more cider will be squeezed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How Ya Like Dem...


We are having an excellent apple year here in the Willamette Valley. I thought I would introduce you to some of our trees.  
These are my espalier trees. Espalier trees are grafted on dwarf rootstock, and are grown on wires or trellises.This keeps them short and easy to maintain. And since they are supported, you can have a lot of apples without breaking branches.
About 6 years ago, at our city house, I planted a row of 4 3-year-old trees. You can kinda see the shape of them in the photos above and below. I planted them close together, about 12' between each. Now that they are maturing I see I could have given them much more room, but mine will always be compact.

I put in 3 posts, and ran 4 lines of vinyard wire between them.
Above is a 6 way combination. I can't remember one of the varieties but the rest are Yellow Transparent, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, Braeburn and Fuji. It is a fun way to get a lot of variety in a small area. The one below, and in the first few photos, is a Red Gravenstein. It is incredibly prolific, like its bigger cousin, and with the Transparent is just ripe now.
In addition to the Red Grav and the 6 Way Graft I have a Braeburn and a pear tree on the same wires. Nearby is the funny little fellow seen below. It is a dwarf Braeburn. 
Unlike the Espalier trees, this one is not supported. It is quite small, but can get a fair amount of fruit on it. So the branches bend to the ground, and it looks a little challenged. In retrospect I don't think I will ever get a dwarf tree that has to stand on its own. Semi-dwarfs work much better.
Then there are the big kids. Above is the other Grav. She is a full sized tree. And just as prolific as the little one. We don't get fruit on her every year, more like every three. But I love Gravs. They are green, with red striping, and really tart. The cook wonderfully.

I try to keep it fairly well trimmed for health, but tend to let the branches reach the ground. Just think of all those extra apples! Phoebe, being more practical and safety minded, likes it trimmed up so you can actually walk and mow under it. She took matters into her own hands this year, which is why it looks so nice.
We have two other big trees, a King (above) and one we call the Mystery. It is so named because the old guys at the apple fair could not figure out what it is. Maybe it is a cross that only exists here.

One of the challenges of big trees is pruning them. I don't have a safe way to get to the top of the trees, so I cannot easily lighten the load on the limbs. As you can see in the above photo, there are some dead leaves, indicating a branch that has broken off. And in the upper left/center area you can see a limb that cracked. I can't get up there, so figure I am letting the tree self prune. Maybe not the best I can do, but it is what I can do now.
The King and Mystery ripen in October. So these apples have a long way to go to be ready to eat. When we have a bumper crop like this, we can have our Cider Pressing Party. It is a great event, one we have not had in several years. If we pull it off this year, you can read about it in October.