1 Year On

We have reached our first year of blogging, self sufficient and sustainable learning and experimenting. Hooray!

It has been a great adventure and everything we have attempted has been good fun, relatively cost efficient and sometimes hard work. We have learnt how the generations before us would have made cheese, built and worked beehives, grown vegetables the old fashioned way and brewed cider, amongst other things. Its surprising how satisfying it can be when you put the effort into making life a little more simple and self sufficient (something I have never felt when buying from a store).

Loaded up and on our way out!

Loaded up and on our way out!

The most exciting thing now however, is that the road to Raelands is getting shorter. University graduation was the other day, work is finished, all our worldly possessions have been thrown into grannies shed and we are just about to jump on a plane for Bhutan and India. Hopefully after this the road to Raelands will come to an end and we will begin life on the farm.

Before we sign off for a little while though I would like to give a few notes about what was a success for us.

1. Dairy products – Butter and yoghurt were easy and relatively quick for us to make so they are in the weekly recipe book. Farmhouse cheddar is probably the only other dairy product we would consistently make and it would be made in large batches so we don’t have to make every week.

2. Brewing – I had mixed results with cider brewing. The first batch was good but the second was really bad so I think I will try some ginger beer and root beer recipes next year and maybe brew some cider from real apples one year. Alcohol isn’t that important to us though, so it’s not much of a priority. We did have success with grapefruit and lemon cordial however, which were simple to make and great throughout summer.

3. Honey and beekeeping – I really enjoyed building my own Warré hives because I had the time and had just attended a course so the info was still fresh in my mind. In the future I am considering building Kenyan Top Bar hives because they are cheaper and less time consuming to construct. More natural beekeeping methods don’t produce as much honey as conventional beekeeping but for us this is not important because bees are more crucial to our pasture pollination than for making money from honey.

4. Vegetable garden & orchard – The organic garden we established was more successful than I expected so we hope to establish a 4 bed 10×1.5m system on the farm to produce enough veg for our family and possibly a little extra to sell at local farmers markets. The main goal though is to provide most of our veg, year round, for our own consumption. Luckily over the years dad, his dad, his dads dad and I have sporadically planted various Peach, Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange, Fig, Mulberry and Pear trees and each year we aim to build on our orchard plants and hopefully get around to netting them.

5. Meat and protein – The aim for us in the short term is to purchase some laying chickens and to grow out a steer for meat as we eat a lot of eggs and quite a lot of red meat.

The above may all sound like a lot of work but if we are to produce enough food for our family from our farm we will greatly ease our reliance on income to feed ourselves. More funds can then be spent on the dairy business and family related expenses.

Merry Christmas to you all, thanks for your comments over the past year, watch this space and we will be back with fresh ideas in 2013. Cheers.

Raelands and "the Buckets" mountain range

Raelands and “the Buckets” mountain range

Farm pastures and stormy weather

Farm pastures and stormy weather

Bottling the Brew

Siphoning the brew

Well I hope Christmas was a success for everyone with heaps of relaxation and good food. Ours sure was and it was really exciting today to finally add some fizz and bottle the cider that we started making over 3 weeks ago (Check out our earlier posts on cider making). There are lots of different ways to enhance or improve the way your cider tastes, especially if you have made it using supermarket apple juice. Some people choose to add flavourings such as cinnamon, apple, pear, apricot, etc, which are available as natural flavouring rather than artificials. However, if you are just starting out it might be worth saving the expense and giving it a go without adding flavours. Your cider may not taste quite as nice but it will give you a feel for the cider process without spending too much money. Having said that I was quite surprised to find a nice, appley, alcoholic flavour at the end of my siphon tube (rather than a vinegar) even though it was luke warm.
A step that I was really keen to take was siphoning some of the cider into a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. I found that it measured 980, whereas the pure juice measured 1080. What does this mean? Well, by taking the Specific gravity (S.G.) reading at the end of fermentation (980) from the S.G. reading at the beginning (1080) as well as multiplying by 125 we should get a result of 7500 or 7.5% alcohol content (ciders usually measure between 2-8.5%). As you can see ours turned out quite strong.

A note on cleanliness: It is important. I try to sterilize or soak everything that may be used for bottling in a specific solution designed for food grade sanitation, this will ensure that no ugly bacteria will spoil our brew or make us sick!

Making a fizzy cider by adding white sugar

Bottle your brew – Our local home brew equipment supplier gave me an easy option for bottling a fizzy cider. However if you are happy with a still cider just siphon the finished cider into any bottle that can be air sealed because there will not be any pressure placed on them. On the other hand a fizzy cider undergoes carbonation in the bottle hence creating pressure. In this case added glass strength is required. Swing cap bottles that have previously held beer are great because they are made to withstand pressure.

Gather your bottles together (I ended up filling 10 x 450ml Grolsch swing cap bottles full of cider) and clean them. Obtain a brewing specific sugar measure from a homebrew supplies. Ours has a measure for 330 ml, 500ml & 750ml bottles so all we have to do is fill the 500ml measure nearly to the top with fine white sugar and tip it into each bottle (The 500ml measure equals a little under 1tsp sugar).

After adding the sugar you can start siphoning the brew into the bottles, gently shaking the bottle to dissolve some sugar. Leave about 4cm gap from the top of the bottle and seal with the swing caps. I plan to give the brew 2 weeks carbonation until cracking one open. If in 2 weeks the bottle turns into a spewing geyser then I have put too much sugar in. Instead I hope to hear a nice pop and not too much froth when releasing the swing cap.

Our hidden trapdoor

We are only in a small house but I did manage to find a spot where the bottles can be stored. They wont be too warm, nor will they be in sunlight (I have read that keeping the brew in a dark spot is good to maintain a nice colour but I’m not sure how true this is). Anyway, I ended up putting the crates down through our little trapdoor and onto the dirt under our house. The temperature will be nice and cool/constant and should reduce the risk of the bottles warming and ‘bottle bombs’ forming. You might see this trapdoor mentioned in future posts as we plan to put a little timber shelf next to the cider crates to age some hard cheeses.

Varying ways – There are many different stages and ways to make cider and we have just skimmed the surface. We have chosen a particularly easy way to make cider for our first batch as we wanted it to be relatively cheap, simple and natural (containing no artifical flavours or colouring). There are ways to clear your cider more by racking (transferring) it into another vessel, which reduces its cloudiness and some people age their brew for many months prior to drinking. In the end it depends on how much time, money and effort you want to spend on cider making. With us it is more for the interest and the taste of cool cider on a hot summers day along with the joy (and a little bit of pride) in knowing that it was made in our kitchen 🙂

The Cider Crate

Over the weekend we caught up with the family and convinced them to drink some beer. Not just any beer though, it had to have a swing cap! I wanted everyone to drink a certain dutch beer so I could collect the empties and use them for my cider making exploits. So, after a successful and relaxing weekend I was left with another 8 swing cap bottles. The only thing now was how to carry them all? Enter, the home-made cider crate.

Ready for some brew

I wanted the crate to be big enough to hold 6 beers/ciders and light enough so that we could take it to family/friends places and not look like a beer merchant. It also had to be cheap because as far as self sufficient products are concerned alcohol is not really crucial, therefore I don’t want to spend too much on it.

The Process

Thinking and Planning time

The first thing I did was grab a bottle and some timber. I didn’t want to pay for timber so I went for a drive to look for some pallets. I found a few which were dripping wet and too thick anyway so I kept thinking. Then I realised that Lauren had just used some pine boards for her Tae Kwon Do grading, which were the perfect size for my crates, although they were a little split and chipped :).

The wooden beer crates that I have seen before are often designed to carry many beers in the back of a truck so I decided to use a modified design and scale it down.

An important step that I usually take when building something out of timber is to make a cut list. This cut list is undertaken after i have double measured everything and figured out a design. The cut list for this simple crate is: (L) = Length, (w) = width, (t) = thickness – All expressed in millimeters

4  horizontal long sides + 2 long floor slats –  250 (L) x 50 (w) x 12 (t)

4 vertical pieces – 140 (L) x 50 (w) x 12 (t)

4 horizontal end pieces – 150 (L) x 50 (w) x 12 (t)

Equipment – nails/screws (approx 30) to suit your timber size, wood glue, jigsaw/table saw/band saw/handsaw, drill/screw driver.

Construction steps

Dry assembly

1. I found the easiest way to start was to dry assemble the 2 floor boards, the 2 ends and the 2 sides, this way you can see where the verticals should be attached (see photo).

2. Glue and nail/screw the verticals to the 2 end pieces making sure that the 2 end pieces sit on top of the 2 floor boards.

3. Glue and nail/screw the two lower sides to the two end pieces, making sure that they sit up 12mm off the ground, which should make them even in height to the 2 end pieces (This forms the basic structure)

4. Flip the crate over and place the two long floor pieces onto the base

Nearly done

structure. These long pieces will not cover the floor, this ensures drainage if needed and lessens the weight. I found that leaving a 13mm gap between the edge of the crate and the floor pieces meant that the floor pieces lined up with the middle of the bottles, which will be sitting on the floor pieces.

5. Keep the crate upside down and glue, nail/screw the two remaining side pieces.

Bottles ready for filling and storing

The First Post! – Cider Making

Well here we are, the first post. I thought I would start the blog with a bit of fun and hopefully some success – Cider making.

Ready for a brew

At the end of this post I will have 1 glass carboy full of fermenting apple juice, which will  eventually be bottled and stored for future use. This recipe makes alcoholic cider therefore you HAVE to be of legal age to make and drink the stuff. At the end of brewing we should have a little under 5 Litres of alcoholic cider.

Cider can be made using pure apple juice or a blend of apple and pear juice (Perry cider). If you are reading this from Australia you may have notice some different flavoured ciders on the shelf of your local liquor store, such as strawberry, mixed berry and even cinnamon (great warm!). These ciders are usually made as an apple or perry cider and infused with different flavours. For the purpose of simplicity and to lower the costs of making cider this recipe will be made with preservative free, cloudy apple juice bought from your local supermarket.

In the future we hope to establish some apple and pear trees to produce fruit for eating, cider making and for selling at the local farmers markets.

For those of you who currently live in an apple growing region or who own some apple trees you can easily make your own cider from juicing or crushing your own fruit. I have read that a good mix of apples for cider making is 40-60% neutral/low-acid apples, 10-20% medium-high acid, 10-20% aromatic and 5-20% tannin apples.

The first step for this brew is to gather up the ingredients and utensils:

Equipment and ingredients

Brewing Utensils (approx $30.00 exc hydrometer)

1 x 5L glass Carboy (see photo above), plastic brewing tub, ceramic jug, etc

1 x Airlock for the above brew vessel

1 x Brewing hydrometer (not essential)

1 x 5L cloudy or clear pure apple juice (MUST be preservative free or the yeast we are adding may die). Leave the juice out of the fridge until it reaches roughly 20-24°C/68-72°F

1 x sachet (5g) of Champagne yeast (use 1/4 of a pack per 2L of juice)

1 x sterilizing solution/powder (available from brewing/food container supply shops)

Bottling Utensils (cost varies largely depending on the type of bottle)
(If making a still cider you don’t have to bottle your cider, you can simply add a tap to your carboy after fermentation has ceased and help yourself at will)

1 x Food grade plastic siphon (can be a bit of plastic tube roughly 90cm long)

– Assorted swing top bottles (I will be using 450ml swing cap beer bottles that i have slowly been drinking/collecting – see photo. Bottles with corks or beer caps can also be used, however if you are adding sugar to get a fizzy cider then bottles that can withstand pressure are needed).

1 x 2g fine, white sugar per 450ml bottle (If you don’t want a fizzy cider then you wont be adding this sugar)

Lets do it!

Step 1 – For interest sake I tested my apple juice using a hydrometer, it should read 1035-1050, if it doesn’t you can water it down a little. This reading will be used to measure the alcohol content after fermentation and is more important when crushing or juicing different apple varieties (my juice measured 1040).
An important step is to sterilize all equipment to be used, according to the instructions on your cleaning kit (usually just the carboy at this stage – DONT place the carboy in the oven or boiling water to sterilize).

Step 2 – Next I added roughly 4.8 L of room temp, pure, preservative free apple juice (I am going to use a sweet apple juice in my

Champagne yeast

next brew) to the carboy making sure there was about 5cm of head space between the juice and the airlock (if using a funnel make sure its sterilized/cleaned in the correct solution). The temp of the juice helps the yeast start to do their job.

Step 3 – Throw in a bit over half a pack of yeast and seal the lid with the airlock. Swish gently to remove any yeast that has stuck to the neck of the carboy (fill the airlock with sterilized water or alcohol – the liquid in the airlock will bubble as the air is slowly released from the carboy during fermentation). Using the EC-1118 yeast should produce a dry cider with an alcohol content of 6-8%.

Step 4 – Store the carboy at room temp and wait roughly 2-3 weeks until fermentation (bubbling) ceases. On the side of the carboy I will write the start/end date, hydrometer reading before/after fermentation and what the brew is. This way I can keep a record of every brew I make.