How to brew hard cider

Traditionally Hard Cider was brewed using the wild yeasts already present in unpasteurized cider, the problem with this is the results were very unpredictable. The recipe below uses a campden tablet to kill the wild yeasts and then we add in Champagne yeast for a more predictable result.

My grandfather suggested that the next batch I make to include a package of raisins into the mix while it ferments. He said this adds a great flavor to the hard cider. He should know as hard cider was much more popular in his generation. Have any of you home-brewers out there heard of this? He said his father would place cider into an oaken wine barrel and pour an obscene amount of raisins into the barrel and let it sit until it became hard.

Recipe

The below items are “per gallon”
1/3 lb sugar
Please checkout this resource for converting to cups
In this case it is 2/3 cup approximately (per pound). I used raw organic sugar.

1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
1/2 tsp Energizer
1 campden tablet

Yeast is “per batch”
1 pkg Champ. Yeast

  1. Put juice in primary fermentor
  2. Add campden tablets and pectic enzyme immediately
  3. Stir in all other ingredients except for the yeast
  4. Cover primary fermentor
  5. Wait 24 hours
  6. Add yeast and recover primary fermentor
  7. Stir Daily
  8. check gravity after 3 days up till 5 days. Look for a gravity of 1.040
  9. Move to secondary fermentor siphon off the sediment – if you have only one fermentor then put into a temporary 5 gallon bucket (ordinary one from hardware store) clean the primary and then move back to the primary
  10. Attach Air-lock
  11. Lets sit for 3 weeks and look for gravity of 1.00
  12. Add 1/4 cup of dissolved sugar per gallon of cider and then bottle it

To make wine

At step 11 siphon off to another clean secondary fermentor. Let sit for additional 2 months. Siphon again if necessary, wine should start to become clear before bottling.

Adventures in Home brewing

  • First of all I hate most commercially brewed hard ciders such as “wood chuck” however I really enjoyed my own brew, and not just due to the sense of satisfaction that comes along with having done it myself. It is legit.
  • When I emailed my uncle the recipe I accidentally forgot the forward slash in “1/2” and sent him instead “12”. He got to 8 tsp of energizer and decided something was rotten in Denmark. I called the home-brew supply store and they said his brew should be fine, but more dry than normal. I don’t know the results of his brew yet as he is out of the country.
  • I added more sugar than the above recipe called for when I bottled my cider. I’m not sure if that is why my cider has become super carbonated. When I shot the video the carbonation was perfect, however by now it takes me almost a full 10 minutes to open one bottle.
  • I gave away a bottle to my business partner Keith at Savvior Technology Solutions and gave him a warning that there might be a bit of extra carbonation. At this point I wasn’t aware of how bad the problem was, when he opened the bottle it proceeded to explode like champagne after a Super Bowl victory and painted his desk, which included many bills to be mailed out. Looks like the corporate Amex bill is getting paid covered in hard cider residue.

Ice box pickles – You can make all the pickle slices you can handle in under 5 minutes

Without a doubt Ice box pickles are the lazy man’s pickle. These are also known as “refrigerator pickles” as you just put all the ingredients into a container and throw them in the fridge. Pretty much all you do is mix the ingredients together and toss them into the fridge. The pickles I made this year were scary good. I add a bunch of fresh jalapeno seeds to give them a nice bite.

No cooking or canning

If you are super lazy you can use a powdered mix such as This one. I used one of these mixes last year and was pleased with the results.

First of all, to make this process go even faster get yourself a good Mandolin Slicer. These things are scary sharp so be careful. You could slice a huge pile of cucumbers into perfectly even slices in about 3 minutes with this. I’m telling you if you take nothing else from this article, do yourself a favor and get one of these things.

What I do is throw all of my ingredients into a large plastic container with a screw top lid… after about 3 days in the fridge you have some incredible pickles.

I’m not sure what the storage life of the icebox pickle is, I generally keep them in the fridge and compulsively eat them every time I am in the vicinity so this hasn’t proved to be an issue for me as of yet.

Here are a few different recipes. I like to also throw in some hot elements like red pepper flakes, diced jalapenos and seeds… it’s up to you!

How To Build a Cheese Press for ~$10

by Jason Akers from http://www.theselfsufficientgardener.com. The Self Sufficient Gardener is a blog and podcast about growing your own food and living off the land.

Legend tells of a merchant traveling across the desert sometime after the first civilization took root. At his side was a skin full of liquid–a canteen more or less. The more appropriate word would have been stomach because…well it was basically a calf’s stomach–yum! And it was full to the brim with that trusty desert thirst quencher–MILK. Anyone queasy yet?

I only mention all these details because they turned out to be kind of important. So our dusty traveler stops to take a drink only to find his milk went chunky. His first instinct was probably to stick his head in the first water hole around but since it was the desert I guess he just toughed it out. But it turned out that the chunks weren’t bad–not like when milk goes bad normally.

The calf’s stomach was full of an enzyme called rennet which helps calves digest mother’s milk. The “breaking” of milk divides it into two things–one of them being the basis of cheese.

That’s kind of where the legend jumps to more modern times. I wonder how long mankind had to eat chunky milk/cheese before the first deliciously smooth smoky cheddar goodness.

Well thankfully we no longer have to worry about that…or do we?

My first forays into cheesemaking went great until the time came to make curds into cheese. My missing tool was a cheese press. I searched online and found a sleek stainless steel model-the Rolls Royce of cheese presses–with a Rolls Royce price. There was no way I was going to pay hundreds of dollars for a cheese press.

Lucky I found a few articles online and in print regarding building homemade cheese presses. Here’s my version of that design.

Materials you will need:

1. (2) stainless or galv 6″ shoulder bolts

2. (2) matching nuts (not the aircraft type with the locking plastic!)

3. A handful of matching washers

4. A small chunk of PVC (4″ diameter is a good place to start)

5. One 4″ knockout cap for the PVC

6. A wooden cutting board (about a foot long)–normally this will make the pusher board and the base surface.

7. A few smaller pieces of PVC, or wooden dowels of about 1″ in diameter

You should be able to pick up all of that for less than 10 bucks. You may find ways to substitute things so read the directions first and then modify (like I did).

1. Draw the inside circle of your large PVC onto what will be the unused surface of the cutting board or other suitable chunk of wood and cut it out with a jigsaw or other appropriate power tool. Cut your large and small PVC to length. Further ahead you will find out that I cut the smaller ones way too long and had to cut them down again. I am really bad about measuring things and usually I just cut to fit. The PVC pieces must be completely flat on one side. That is the side that will be against the base or the follower. And the larger piece should be about 4-5″ tall. You can also cut your cutting board down to a more compact size. Since you probably have cut your round out of it, you may want to cut of the sharp corners. If there is enough left, cut out your pusher board or find a suitable replacement.

2. Note the rasp, next step is to clean up the edges.

3. Check the fit–doesn’t have to be exact.

4. Take the knockout cap (because in plumbing jobs it’s temporary) and remove the flange. It wasn’t in the original picture because it was an afterthought. If your wood block fits perfect you don’t really need it, but its so hard to get the wood follower just right. Check the fit on the cap after you are done.

5. Drill 1/16″ holes about an inch apart up/down and around the circumference of the big PVC. I also like to file in weep notches on the bottom surface. Resist the urge to cleanup the holes on the inside with sandpaper. You want to protect the inside surface from scratches which harbor nasties. Use your thumbnail instead.

6. Drill holes with matching spacing through your pusher board and your base cutting board.

7. Begin assembly. From the bottom up. Two bolts–>two washers for each bolt—>into the cutting board base—>large PVC on top.

8. Add the followers.

You may have to recut the small PVC pieces. You can see here that this is about the exact distance you want. The PVC pushers must be just shorter than bolts when the followers are in place and at TDC (top dead center).

8. Add pusher board, washers then nuts.

Some Bad Google Sketchup-fu of The Press Model

Want more options? You can build mold and follower sets for various sizes. Here’s my mack daddy-sized set. After the build, put all of your stuff here that touches food into a dishwasher and blast the heck out of it.

The great thing about this design is that it allows you to utilize one of two methods of pressing. You can either use mechanical force by tightening the nuts and bolts or you can place a weighted object on top. Some recipes call for a certain weight to be added so it helps to be able to adjust to the learning curve. Hopefully in a future post I can take you though the cheesemaking process.

Until next time…

Episode 3: Eduardo Avila from AR15.com boar hunting with a knife

On today’s episode I had the pleasure of talking with Eduardo Avila from AR15.com. He shares with us the story of 2 hunting trips he went on where he attempted to hunt boar with a knife. This is actually quite a popular activity now. Trained dogs hunt down the boars and corner them, the dogs are wrestle the hogs to the ground by their ears which allows the hunter to then come in for the kill.

Today’s Resources

Build A Top Bar Beehive for Less Than $20

by Jason Akers from http://www.theselfsufficientgardener.com. The Self Sufficient Gardener is a blog and podcast about growing your own food and living off the land.

For several years now I’ve wanted to keep bees. However the price of equipment and the bees has been prohibitively high for my taste. Combine that with the fact that I always found myself with neighbors somewhat close and I have sufficient reason to not want the trouble. Now that I have a small piece of land with a little acreage and fruit trees, I not only am able but also actually need to keep some bees for pollination.

I had to find some way to offset the costs a bit in order to get me into this interesting hobby. After a ton of research on the Internet and in books I’d borrowed from the local library I found a way to accomplish that goal.

I discovered an alternative to the expensive commercial type artificial beehives. I found the top-bar hive. The top-bar hive is nothing new. In fact, this type of hive is actually thousands of years old, much older than the Langstroth commercial types in use today. In ancient times these hives were built from baskets with small holes and bars were laid across the top that allowed the bees to build their combs.

These types of hives are exceedingly simple to build and maintain which makes it ideal for the use I intend, as I will not be on this piece of property full time. In fact, there is at least anecdotal evidence that top-bar hives are more resistant to colony collapse disorder. As a big plus, they are cheap to build. Makeshift ones can be built from plastic or metal barrels sawed in half and with some limited hardware and a lid.

In fact, in all of my research I could only find one drawback to this type of hive. The top bars without frames do not allow for honey extraction without destruction of the comb. I don’t find this to be a huge problem as I may not even get to extract the honey the first year or so. The problem is that destroying or harvesting the comb requires the colony to spend time and energy rebuilding it to store more honey. Because I’m not a commercial beekeeper it really doesn’t bother me much.

So as a winter project I decided that I would build my own top-bar hive (TBH for short) and I would do it in the most economic way possible. That meant scrounging materials, making use of what was available in creative ways and resisting the urge to run down to the hardware store to buy things.

To build one like I built there is a simple material list that I will provide. Almost anything on the list is optional even the lumber. This can be built in so many different ways that I won’t even give detailed drawings besides just some crude line sketches. Looking at my pictures and researching on the web will show that no one builds two alike and even though I am happy with mine, I’d build the next one differently.

Materials List:

Wood (sizes are dependent on what you want) – Free

Hinges – ~$4

Exterior coated screws (dependent on wood thickness) – ~$3

Metal screen (commonly called hardware cloth) – ~$5

Some type of roofing material (I used corrugated plastic) – Free

Carriage bolts, nuts and washers -~$5

I had some wood in my workshop but I knew where I could get tons of good solid oak boards for free. I work at an automotive factory and everyday we pack dumpsters full of nice pallets. Most of the wood is cheap but a few that hold steel coils are solid and that’s where I found my oak. The boards are roughly 48” long, 10” wide and about an inch and a half thick. Luckily they are tough enough to withstand being taken apart from the pallet. As skids beneath these boards there are heavy 4×4 inch oak beams.

So for the bottom board and the sides I decided to use the oak planks. I decided that the 4×4 beams would be great for legs (something not all TBH have). I used some leftover plywood from a train table I built for my son for the ends and the roof.

Basically you simply take the end boards and mark an angled line on each side. The angle should be the same on both sides but I guess if you were off really bad it wouldn’t really matter. Make the same line marks on both end pieces. You can actually make the size of the end pieces work for you here as you determine the angles. My end boards are about 2×2 feet in dimension. The angle I chose is about 25 degrees. If I had it to do over again I would have chose a much more acute angle. Once you have the lines marked, pre-drill and run your screws in to join the ends to the planks. Depending on the size of your ends and planks you may need to place two planks per side. I joined my top and bottom planks on each side with a small piece of 2×4 scrap. This also gave me another surface to hold screws.

Once I had what I called the general frame built I added a bottom board on two hinges spaced equidistant from the ends. Then I added the metal screen over the bottom. The screen allows ventilation in warmer times and the varroa mites that infect the bee colony will fall through the screen instead of being able to climb back up. The bottom board is on hinges so it can hang free most of the year but can be reinstalled come colder weather. There are about a million ways to accomplish the same thing. This may not be the best.

For the roof, I cut a piece of plywood big enough to overhang the top opening by some distance. Then I placed runner boards that were just big enough to slip over the box itself. The fit is tight and snug. Bees will tend to glue things together if they are letting in too much cold or weather. They will also stand at entrances and fan if things get too hot. I then took and stapled and glued a few pieces of black corrugated plastic that was thrown away at work as well. It is completely weatherproof and lightweight.

At this point you can drill your entrances, add the bars and you are done if you intend on hanging the hive from a tree or sitting it across stumps. For me, I really want it to have legs. It brings it to a height where working is easy and you don’t want to be working with bees and having to bend. You can get them caught in some bad places.

I simply took a few of the beams and cut them to equal lengths and bolted them to the end pieces. They are in very snug and should I find them a problem, I can quickly remove them.

Most people recommend you drill one set of entrance holes. I am a belt and suspenders type of guy so I did two. One is a simple slit at the front where the bees can slide in and out. ¼” is apparently the best size from my research so the slit is ¼” tall and about 4 inches long. The length isn’t greatly important. I then drilled in ¼” and ½” holes about every 4” along the side. This should give them some ventilation and extra spots to enter if one becomes crowded. If they have too many, they can always seal one up.

The top bars were the easiest part. I simply removed the roof and installed a few runner boards near the top of the frame on the inner sides. This allows the bars a place to seat. I’d like to have secured them better. I had a little room at the back so I put a spacer board to fill the gap.

From my research I determined that 1 3/8” bars are the optimal size so after accepting a donation from relatives of some scrap 2” thick pine boards I slit them to 1 3/8” wide and just long enough to fit on the runners, which ended up being about 16”. I then set the table saw blade much shallower and made a 1/8 inch groove about half an inch deep down the length of each bar. The groove was precisely in the middle (3/4” inward from each side). This groove will aid the bees and give them a foothold when they build the downward hanging comb. Don’t cut them in and the bees will not only have a hard time but also so will the beekeeper. I then placed all the bars in and made sure they were reasonably snug and replaced the roof.

Hopefully an update will follow this Spring when I place the bees!

Mushroom Collecting 101: The foolproof four

Note: Some wild mushrooms are poisonous, and they may resemble edible species. Eating them may make you sick or kill you. It is your responsibility to identify any wild food with 100% certainty before you eat it.

I’m very much interested in harvesting wild mushrooms, however mushrooms are scary business! Eating the wrong mushroom can make you severely ill or in some cases kill you! In fact there is even a mushroom called “The Angel of Death“.

So how can you get started into mushrooming without worrying about killing yourself?

Well first off all I would suggest locating your local mushrooming club if there is one around. Your good friend Google should know where they are.

The best place to start with mushrooming is without a doubt “The Foolproof four”. These 4 mushrooms are named because they are very easy to identify and they do not have many poisonous look alikes.

The foolproof four are:

Puffball Mushroom
Puffball Mushroom (beautifulcataya)
Chicken of the woods
Chicken of the woods ( minicooper93402)
morel
Morel (melystu
Chanterelle
Chanterelle (ivanteage)

Warnings

Mushrooming Skills I want to learn

  • Learning your local areas and knowing where to look
  • Learning to identify tree types. Knowing which type of trees are growing is one of the most important aspects of determining which mushrooms you are likely to find
  • Spore Prints: The color and pattern of the mushroom spores are the safest way to properly identify a mushroom.

I’ll be joining and attending local mushroom events and will of course keep the blog up to date with my progress.

Attack of the Stink bugs! How to control Stink bugs in the garden.

Stink bugs, sometimes known as “shield bugs”, have overrun Pennsylvania and much of the east coast. The pesky insects not only leave an unpleasant odor but are devastating to gardens and agriculture.

Apparently the bugs arrived to us from the orient via shipping containers.

Surprise, surprise! The explosive growth of stink bug populations seems to be linked to mono-culture agriculture practices and our current suburban trend of having ultra-clean landscape design with no native herbs or plantings. (Source)

The article goes on to point out how the use of GMO crops has drastically reduced the need for cotton farmers to use pesticides, which also accounts for the rise in population of the stink bug.

How do we get rid of these stink bugs? Well so far the only method I have found that seems to work is to vacuum them up with a shop vac. I’ve scoured the web for organic methods of stink bug control and here is what I have come up with:

Bottom line is it seems the best defense from these pests is plant diversity. The same things which control these pests work to control most garden threats, and that is creating a natural pest free environment by planting a wide array of plantings.

Have you effectively controlled these pests? Let’s hear what has worked for you in the comments.