Archive for the 'Hobbies' Category

Racking day

I took a chance on wild yeast with the cider that we pressed from neighborhood apples. Big mistake Indy. It smelled nasty and I dumped it in the back yard.

Note to self: Although, I found it nasty, white faced hornets disagreed. For two days, they crawled around my lawn by the hundreds. Next time, I’ll dump it down the drain.

Anyway, since that didn’t work, I went to McConnell’s farm and bought five gallons of cider. I added brewers yeast and started primary fermentation in a 5-gallon pail. Fermentation had slowed, so today I racked (transferred) the fermenting cider to a 5-gallon glass carboy. This leaves much of the dead yeast behind so that the cider will taste better. The carboy (think water cooler jug), has a narrow neck which can be closed with a stopper and an airlock. This way the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast will fill the space above the liquid. This keeps out oxygen and therefore the bacteria that turns hard cider into vinegar.

Getting the hive ready for cool weather

I’ve been feeding the bees since August to make sure that they have enough honey for the winter. Today I started getting the hive ready for cool weather. I replaced the screened bottom board with a solid bottom board and installed an entrance reducer on the front of the hive.

The bottom board

During the summer, the hive gets very warm and humid. Bees turn nectar into honey by evaporating the water, until it’s, well, thick as honey. All that water vapor has to be vented from the hive. Bees do this by fanning their wings to circulate air. To make their job easier, the bottom of the hive (called the bottom board) is a screen. This lets air in but keeps bugs out. The weather is cooling but the queen will continue to lay eggs through most of the fall. This means that the internal hive temperature has to remain between 90 and 93 degrees at all times. Last night the temperature was 44 degrees outside. To make it easier for the bees to keep warm, the cool weather bottom board is solid. While it helps the hive keep warm, it does reduce ventilation so it will be harder for the colony to cure additional honey. For this reason, you want to keep the screen bottom board in place as long as you can.

Entrance reducer

During the summer, the entrance runs the entire width of the front of the hive box. The entrance reducer is a cleat that can be turned to reduce the entrance by either 75% or 95%. The smaller entrance is easier to guard as the colony population starts to drop. It also helps keep heat in. It does, however, make for quite the bee traffic jam. On the warm sunny day, hundreds of bees hover feet from the hive, waiting their turn to land.

Stop feeding

As I mentioned, I have fed the bees since early August. There’s now 70-80# of honey in the hive. Since it’s now harder to feed the hive, and there are sufficient winter stores, I removed the top feeder. If spring is slow arriving next year, I will start feeding again in March.

Next steps

When it gets really cold, I will turn the reducer so the entrance is 95% reduced, cover the outside with tar paper to reduce drafts and to absorb sunlight. I will also drill a second entrance hole in the top of the hive box. This serves as a second-floor entrance/exit. During winter snow can block the main entrance from the outside, or a layer of dead bees can block the entrance from the inside. The axillary entrance will let the bees get out on warm (above 54F ) winter days. Bees don’t eliminate waste inside the hive. They hold it!

More cider

My daughter and I gathered apples today so that we could make even more cider. We started with the apple tree in the neighbor’s yard and ended up gathering apples from the neighboring orchard. It has been a long time since the orchard was operated commercially. We asked the farmer if we could pick a few bushels of apples to make cider and he told us that we could pick all the apples we wanted. He also let us know that good cider requires a variety of apples, and then explained where on the orchard we would find different varieties.

We picked about 3 1/2 bushels total but ended up grinding only half. My wife, my parents, both daughters, the neighbor’s child, and even my niece helped. My homemade apple grinder isn’t finished and even with lots of help, using a food processor to grind apples is slow.

We pressed 5 gallons of cider. It seemed sweet so I am fermenting it without adding sugar. I also turned two quarts into spiced cider that we drank warm that night. It was very good.

Cider experiment update

The yeast did start in the 1 1/2 gallons of cider without resorting to the baker’s yeast starter. That’s probably a good thing, since the cider in the mason jar has a strong yeast taste. It’s strong in the other sense too. I doubt one could drink the pint without feeling its effect. It is as strong as a white wine.

Hard cider experiment

One fall thirty-five years ago, my dad made a cider press. We used it once or twice. The press has sat in my parent’s attic ever since. Then two years ago, when my parents moved to West Virginia, so they asked me if I wanted the press. I did, so the press was moved from their attic to my shed where it has sat ever since.

For no particular reason, I decided to try it out today. I collected about 15# of apples from the neighbor’s tree and ground them in a food processor. I then ran the ground up apples through the cider press and got 1 1/2 gallons (plus 1 pint) of cider. The press worked well but grinding apples in a food processor won’t scale.

I added 9 cups of sugar to the cider and stored it in a 1-gallon jug, a half gallon jug, and put the remaining pint into a 1-quart mason jar. To the cider in the mason jar, I added about 1/4 of a package of baker’s yeast. My plan is to use the cider in the mason jar as a starter if the natural yeast doesn’t take in the jugs.