Crab apple harvest

This afternoon, I headed out to see what I could get from the one crab apple tree that has tasty apples. Most of the apples were well out of reach, but after trying a couple of things, I found I could use the hook at the end of the extended pole pruning saw, at its longest, to grab branches and give them a shake.

Then ducking, so I wouldn’t get beaned in the head. Those things are hard!

Then it was just a matter of gathering them off the ground. The damaged ones got tossed towards the spruce grove, so I wouldn’t have to pick through them again when I had to shake the tree again. With so many apples, I could afford to be picky.

The deer and any other apple eating critters will be in for a treat, tonight!

I got somewhere between 15-20 gallons of apples, and I only shook the tree twice. There are still lots on the tree, but I was out of buckets.

With so many apples, I scrubbed out the wheelbarrow, then used it to give the apples a cursory wash with the hose. The amount in the photo is from the two smaller buckets.

I had to prep a third bin to hold them all.

I love these bins! They interlock to hold together, and even when stacked one on top of the other. They are still just corrugated plastic, though, and can only hold so much before they start bending under the weight while being carried.

For now, the bins are sitting in the dark and relatively cool of the old kitchen. I’ll set aside a bucket for my mother. When she was last here, she insisted in picking apples into her walker, but they were nowhere near ready for picking. They are in their prime right now, and taste so much better. We do have crab apples on some of the other remaining trees, and I do try them every now and then (except the one tree with apples so small, it’s basically an ornamental tree). They don’t taste very good when ripe. When not quite ripe yet, they’re pretty awful. There was one tree that tasted pretty bad right up until the ripened, when they suddenly became tasty and sweet, but that part of the tree died over the winter, leaving only the suckers that had been allowed to grow, so only the not-tasty parts of that tree are still alive. 😕

Tomorrow, I will start de-stemming the apples and cutting them up, and will be using the fermentation bucket from our wine making kit to make a large batch of apple cider vinegar. There will be apples left over, even after taking some out for my mother. We haven’t decided what to do with them. In the past, we’ve made apple jelly, but our Bernardin canning book with the recipes we used is still missing.

I wonder if I lent it out to someone? I can’t remember. I do remember offering to lend it to my SIL, but she just took photos of the recipe she wanted and left the book. I do have other cookbooks with canning recipes, but I’m less sure of their safety.

I suppose I could just go look at their website, but having the book is really handy.

Anyhow, we’ll figure out what to do with the surplus. Then also decide if we want to harvest more, or leave the rest for the birds.

The Re-Farmer

A morning harvest

While the girls worked on the cats’ house, I did my morning rounds. No harvesting in the garden today, but check out this pumpkin!

It’s almost completely changed colour! The second one is just beginning to show the tiniest change in colour at the blossom end, but is otherwise still very dark green.

Once the regular rounds were done, I headed out with some buckets and started our first harvest of crab apples. Mostly, I just shook the branches that I could reach, then picked up what fell.

I got about 10 gallons of crab apples that way. There are still lots on the tree, but I couldn’t reach the branches to shake them. Plus, I don’t have any more buckets available.

After bringing the buckets to the house, I used the hose to fill them with water to do a cursory wash.

I had curious company.

I help!

Then the apples got transferred out of the buckets.

These corrugated plastic bins are the handiest things!!

They have holes cut into the bottom, like what you can see on the sides, but a good layer of shredded paper made sure no apples fell though, while also absorbing water from their rinsing.

Shredded paper is something else we’ve been finding very handy. We shred only paper that is compostable, like fliers and the like. Printers switched to vegetable based inks decades ago, so they’re fine. Just no glossy paper or anything like that. Those go for the burn barrel.

We’ve used the shredded paper as mulch, as compostable layers buried in new garden beds, as a base under tomatoes ripening indoors, and now for crab apples. We even keep the shredder, sitting over a recycling bag on a wire frame holder, in the dining room all the time for convenient shredding.

The first thing we will be doing with the apples is to make crab apple cider vinegar again. That is the fastest and easiest thing to get started. Then we will be making more hard crab apple cider. We have so many crab apples on the one tree this year, we should be able to make more of both this time.

The “mother” left from our previous ACV is still around, but I don’t think it would be safe to use, so I bought some apple cider vinegar with mother to use as a starter. After experimenting with using an airlock or just covering the fermenting jars with cheesecloth, I’m just going to use cheesecloth this time.

The other thing we will be able to do differently this time is to use the big aquarium to hold the fermenting jars. It is already lined with rigid insulation from when we used the space as a greenhouse, so the temperature will remain quite even, and it has cat proof covers over it. It’ll be easier to keep an eye on it in the living room than in the old kitchen.

As for the hard apple cider, we should have enough crab apples to make it worth digging out the wine making kit and using the 5 gallon bucket and carboy for fermentation. We’ll make that decision after the vinegar is started, and we see just how many crab apples we end up with. We’ll probably need to break out the step ladder to pick more apples.

A good problem to have! Especially after having none, last year.

I’m quite looking forward to this!

The Re-Farmer

Crab apple status

Since the wind broke the one crab apple tree, and I ended up tying it off, rather than cutting it away, I’ve been keeping a close eye on it since.

Check it out.

Can you tell which part was broken?

There isn’t even a single wilted leaf on it!

It still might not survive the winter, but for now, it’s doing just fine.

Unlike this one.

This is the crab apple tree by the old compost pile. Last year, it had good eating apples. This year… well, the ones that aren’t infected taste good. 😦 About half of the tree has yellowing leaves with brown spots, and even the apples on those branches are more yellow have have spotting on them. I’d hoped to have cut away the infected branches in pruning it, but the fungus had clearly already spread further.

I’ve been looking at some of the other crab apple trees and thinking of what to do with them. Like many trees here, they were planted too close to each other. Some had already died and were cut away, others show signs of fungal infection, and most… well, they’re just not good apples. When I do my rounds and check on them this time of year, I do taste the occasional apple. One tree had me spitting it out right away. Another has the most bizarre combination of being really sweet and really sour at the same time – so sour, I end up spitting that one out, too. Others are so tiny, they’re just ornamental. The grosbeaks and deer eat them, so even though we can’t use them, they are still feeding critters. In that respect, I’m okay with them.


Partly because they are so close together, partly because of the spreading fungal infection, I am increasingly thinking of cutting most of them down to save the two trees that have good eating apples, and are still healthy. I hate the thought of cutting them down at all. There is even the sentimental side of things. My late father planted these, though it looks like the parts he grafted have died and only the suckers from the bases are still growing.

If they do get cut down, they won’t go to waste. One tree with particularly disgusting tasting apples is quite large. If that one were cut down, I’d find all sorts of ways to use the wood. It’s base is large enough, I can see carving some decent sized bowls out of the wood.

In the long term, we are intending to plant a nut orchard in the area, having found a place that specializes in trees that grow in colder climates such as ours. We will also be planting hardy varieties of different fruit trees. Hopefully, we will have apples, pears, and plums in this area, too. Taking out any sick trees, poorly placed trees, or any fruit trees with inedible fruit, would free up space needed for food trees.


I know we’ll need to take them down. I just don’t like having to do it.

All in good time. Aside from the diseased ones, there is no urgency to it right now.

The Re-Farmer

Hard crab apple cider: Getting clear

What a difference a day makes!

This is how the crab apple juice looked, right after we got finished setting up the fermentation.

This is how they looked this morning.

The photo does not do justice to how bright the colour is!

When I was checking these last night, the tops were full of dense foam, which has mostly collapsed, but you can certainly see how high it got.

Their temperatures seem to be holding at between 18 and 19C, and – most importantly! – we are seeing activity in the airlocks. Not a lot, but it’s definitely started to bubble!

So far, so good… I think! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Making hard crab apple cider; will it work?

Today was our first attempt at making hard apple cider. We are using the remaining apples from the one crab apple tree we have that produces the most amazing, sweet, delicious little apples, after using some of them to start an apple cider vinegar.

When we first moved here and saw how many crab apple trees we had around the property, we looked into what was needed to make hard apple cider. At first, we didn’t think it would be anything we could do, or at least not anytime soon. Making hard apple cider, we found, required using a large press to crush whole apples, then sealing up the resulting juice to ferment a few months.

We didn’t have a press, and with so many other things on the go, we were not about to build or buy one, either.

Then I found the CS Brews YouTube channel, now called CS Mead and More. I liked it enough to include it in my Recommended series.

They started making hard apple cider, using store bought juice. Sometimes, right in the container it was packaged in!

We could make hard apple cider without having a press, after all!

One of the things we found when cleaning up this place after moving in, was a juicer exactly like the one we had to leave behind when we moved. I think one of my siblings bought it for my mother, but she hardly used it. Everything was still in its original packaging, even!

We decided to try making hard cider using our own juice.

Now, making it using store bought juice in the bottle they were sold in works, because everything comes pasteurized and sanitized off the shelf. Basically, enough juice needs to be poured off to make room for the sugar and yeast, an airlock gets put on, and you can leave it to ferment to get a very basic hard apple cider.

Of course, doing it the traditional way, with a press, the juice didn’t get pasteurized or filtered or anything.

We decided to try making our own hard crab apple cider with raw, unpasteurized, unfiltered juice. The juice would be going straight from the juicer to the sanitized gallon jugs, so the chance for contamination would be very lower.

Lower than trying to do it the old fashioned way, that’s for sure!

The first step was to clean the apples and de-stem them. They didn’t have to be cored, but the stems would cause problems with the juicer.

The crab apples from the one tree completely filled my two largest bowls. Though I cut away some obvious nasty bit, I wasn’t worried about light bruising. I also have the not-quite ripe apples from the tree that broke in the wind storm.

It’s a good thing we had so many of these apples this year, since I had to toss the cider vinegar, and start over again.

Juicing the apples turned out to be more difficult than expected. It was made slightly easier when we found a way to raise the juicer high enough that a 1L pitcher could fit under the spout. We had 2 one gallon jugs, and a gallon is about 4L, so I could use the pitcher to loosely measure how much juice I was putting in. However, these little apples don’t have a lot of juice in them, and their pulp kept jamming the machine. My daughter kept having to stop the juicer, open it up and peel away the pulp that accumulated on the perforated metal cone inside, instead of going out the back. The pulp was so dry, it could be taken off in ribbons!

Using information I got from one of the hard cider making videos, I used 2 cups of sugar per gallon. Each got 2L of juice before I put in a bung and shook the heck out of them to dissolve the sugar.

Look how pink that is!!

Also, you might notice the liquid is not at the same level. Though these are both 1 gallon jugs, one is actually bigger than the other. They are 1 gallon at about the “shoulder”, which leaves space for the fermenting liquid to bubble up a bit.

I also used the same wine yeast we’ve been using for everything else; I don’t know the specific strain of yeast, but it’s basically what is available for a non-sparkling wine from the local brewing supply store. Again, following what I saw in the video, I dissolved about a tsp of yeast in a bit of juice, then added it to the full jugs, after getting a hydrometer reading.

After the yeast was added, they got another thorough shaking, then the airlocks were put in place.

I’m also trying to be more diligent about recording everything. I have to admit, I still don’t understand the hydrometer information, so I wrote down all three readings. It has a “potential alcohol by volume” measure right on there, but I keep reading that it isn’t any good, and that it’s better to use the specific gravity reading. It doesn’t help that I can barely see the tiny numbers and lines in the first place!

I found it interesting that the readings for the 2 jugs that were made up identically, are slightly different. It’s possible that the different sized jugs means that one does have slightly more juice in it than the other, and that could explain the difference.

The juice is not only incredibly pink, but incredibly cloudy! They were, of course, just shaken when this photo was taken. You can tell which one got finished first, as the cloudiness is already starting to settle.

We have set the jugs up on a side table in the dining room for now. It’s not a particularly bright room, it’s warmer than the old kitchen, and we can keep an eye on them. I just took a look at them, after they’ve had several hours to settle. I will have to take a photo of them during the day. They look very different right now! The sediment has settled to the bottom, and the clear juice in the middle is looking a deep, deep pink – but there is a significant layer of lighter pink foam at the top! I used the temperature gun on them, and got different readings, depending on where I aimed it. The top, where the foam is, was fluctuating between 19C and 20C (66-68F). The middle was around 17-18C (62-64F), while the bottom, where the sediment has settled, is 17C (62F). Which I think is good.

Also, I’ve turned the thermostat up for the house. It was set just below 15C/59F when the furnace turned on earlier today, so I’ve upped it a few degrees! So the ambient temperature will not be too cold, either.

I have no idea how this will turn out. Will the fact that we used raw, unfiltered juice be a benefit, or a disaster? Will we get something that tastes horrific, or wonderful? Considering how great the apples themselves taste, I would hope the resulting hard cider would be its match. I have no idea. This is a total experiment for us!

As for the remaining apples, it took so long to juice enough to fill the jugs that we didn’t juice the rest of them. I had started cutting them up to cook them into a dessert, but realized I didn’t have the energy for that left, so they ended up in the freezer! Meanwhile, my poor daughter had been standing at the juicer for so long, her back was starting to give out on her! We couldn’t even plug it in somewhere where she could sit down, since there are so few outlets in this house.

Here’s hoping the end result is worth it!

The Re-Farmer

Wind damage and salvaged apples

Yesterday’s high winds knocked quite a few branches down.

This one would have landed on the tent, if it had still been there.

We haven’t figured out what to do with the tent yet (other than keep the canvas parts). You can see two of the metal pieces that broke. On the table is the hub they had been attached to. It has no damage to it. :-/

We didn’t lose any trees this time, but we did lose part of one.

This is the apple tree at the very end of the row. In the spring, we had cut away the dead part in the middle, but the saplings that sprouted out the base looked healthy. They don’t have a lot of apples on them, but the ones they do have are larger than any of the other trees, so these young trees were already drooping from the weight.

This one simply broke away from the trunk of the original tree.

When I came back this morning, I was intending to pick the apples off, then cut away the broken tree.

Once I got a better look at it, however, I realized it was still quite attached to the roots. It just wasn’t attached to the dead tree trunk. Even after a chilly night, there wasn’t even any wilting at all.

In fact, it might actually be salvageable.

So instead of cutting it away, I took advantage of the remains of the dead tree, and tied it upright again.

If I can keep it supported upright long, as the tree grows, it should be able to old its own without the support of the trunk. It might take a few years, but that’s okay.

If it survives at all. If it doesn’t, I’ll cut it away then.

Check out the size of this apple!

It would have gotten larger, too, as it ripened. They probably could have used 2 or 3 more weeks.

These are all the apples from that one branch, including a few that had fallen to the ground.

I will be including them with my juicing, today. I’ll start off with just the sweet ones I used to make the crab apple cider vinegar; I’m hoping to get enough to do two gallons of hard apple cider. As the jugs will need room for the sugar, it’ll get less than 2 gallons of juice needed, but still pretty close. Once I get that, I don’t mind mixing different types of apples. Any remaining juice will be for drinking. 🙂

The juicer is out of storage, and now I need to get off the computer, get everything prepped and start juicing! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Making Crab apple cider vinegar: airlock or cheese cloth?

Last night, I procrastinated cleaning the dining room by starting the apple cider vinegar! 😀

I slightly modified the recipe I used last year, which you can find here. (Link will open in a new tab.)

I started off by using one of my gallon jars to measure out apples from one of the 5 gallon buckets. As the apples would be cut into pieces that would fit more tightly, plus I would expect to cut away nasty bits, or even toss entire apples, I filled the jar to the top twice, then added a few extra. I have a large enough bowl to be able to give them a bit of a wash, then leave them to soak while I prepped other things.

Last year, I sterilized things with boiling hot water. Since then, we have started brewing, so along with extra airlocks, we also have sanitizing solution. So one of the changes this year is to use that to sanitize everything, instead of scalding them.

Since I was doing a lot more crab apples this year, I put the cut pieces into water with a bit of lemon juice as I worked. Last time, for the amount of apples I can, there was no need for anything to keep them from browning until I was done. I cut them all into halves or quarters, depending on the size of the apple – or used what was left after cutting off any nasty bits! As expected, there were some losses, but not all that much. In fact, I could have done with fewer apples for the jars!

The recipe said to fill the jar 3/4s full, and I ended up with almost full jars! Even after shaking down, they were still full to the shoulder.

The recipe called for 2 Tbsp of sugar for a 1 quart jar, so for these, I used 8 Tbsp of sugar per jar. The recipe calls for filtered water. Last year, I happened to have some water bottles I could use, instead of our very hard, iron rich, well water. We currently buy refills of water for drinking that is first filtered, then treated with UV light and reverse osmosis. That is what I used to dissolve the sugar in, first.

The next change from last year was the use of a “starter.”

I’ll admit that when I normally buy apple cider vinegar, I buy whatever is cheapest. It gets used as an ingredient in cooking, so I don’t feel the need to anything fancy or expensive. When making the cider vinegar last year, it relied on the water, sugar, apples and whatever natural bacteria in the air “contaminated” it. Since I plan to use an airlock this year, and everything has been well sanitized, it’s not going to get that exposure. So I picked up a bottle of Bragg raw, organic, unpasteurized ACV, with the “mother”, to use as a starter and introduce the little critters needed for fermentation.

In doing my research, I found one person who used this same brand as a starter in his own ACV. He was using a large crock and just sloshed a bunch in, with no measuring, so I was left with no real idea of how much to use. I decided that 2 Tbsp per gallon out be enough. To make sure I got some of the “mother” that had settled on the bottom, I gently turned the bottle back and forth and upside down a few times first.

Once the starter was added, I filled the jars the rest of the way, with about an inch of headspace, with the filtered water.

When doing this last year, I didn’t have any fermentation weights and made do with some small jars. I still don’t have fermentation weights, but with the nice, wide openings in these jars, I had something else I could use.

When I was a kid helping my mother with canning, snap lids wasn’t a thing, yet. She used either wax or glass lids with rubber rings to seal. In cleaning up the basements and the old kitchen, I’ve been finding lots of these glass lids. I cleaned and sanitized a couple of them, and they look like they’re just the right size to keep the apple pieces submerged! 🙂

Now comes the experimental part.

The two jars were made in exactly the same way. One of them now has the airlock cap, while the other is covered with layers of cheesecloth, held in place with an elastic band. They are not sitting on top of the warming shelf of the old wood cookstove in the old kitchen. I placed a small piece of foam insulation down, first. The old kitchen stays quite cool throughout the summer, and is even cooler now, so the metal would be quite cold. During fermentation, there will be bubbling and foaming, and a possibility that the liquid might reach the cheesecloth, or even overflow, so they are in the plastic container to protect the top of the stove from any drips.

Now, it sits for three weeks. During this time, we’ll be checking them daily. I look forward to seeing what differences there might be, between the two methods, as well as comparing to how it turned out last year.

Hopefully, no fruit flies will be attracted to the one with the cheesecloth! We have a fruit fly problem in the kitchen right now, but so far, they haven’t been found in the old kitchen.

I still have about 7 or 8 gallons of apples left, even after my mother took some home. Tomorrow, I plan to juice them and start making some hard crab apple cider! The traditional way to do it is to use a press to smush the whole apples, then leave the juice to ferment on its own. We don’t have a press, but we do have a juicer, so I’ll be using that, plus some of the yeast we picked up to use for mead making. We have four 1 gallon jugs, plus a half gallon jug, to use for fermentation, so there’s plenty to be able to do both. 🙂

This should be fun!! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Update: Sept 7, 2020 – I goofed! But you won’t spot my mistake here. Visit this follow up post to see what I did wrong, and how I fixed it.

Crab apple picking

Today, I headed out to pick the apples off of one of our crabapple trees.

This is the one that has such bright red, sweet apples. It also ripens earlier than the other trees.

Last year, most of the apples disappeared before I had a chance to harvest them, so I wanted to get them before the … deer? … get them first.

When we were cleaning things out, I was flummoxed by finding a grabber with spoons attached to it. My mother eventually remembered that my dad used it to pick apples.

I’m happy to say that it works absolutely beautifully!

Since there were so many apples to pick this year, I laid out a sheet on the ground for them to fall on. It also made it much easier to move the apples into a bucket.

I was able to fill a 5 gallon bucket just with the apples I could reach with my hands, or the grabber. I did try shaking the trees, too, but the branches are a bit too thick to be able to shake much at that height, so I didn’t get a lot that way.

Using the step ladder, I was able to fill another 5 gallon bucket. I could have gotten more, but by then, it was getting too dangerous to try and get the apples, even with the grabber. The remaining apples will be for the birds. 🙂

Ten gallons of apples is so awesome! Last year, I used the apples from this tree to make apple cider vinegar. After trimming and chopping, I filled a quart jar 3/4s full.

That’s it. That’s all we had.

This year, I plan to make more apple cider vinegar, then juice at least a gallon, to make hard apple cider. There should still be plenty to give to my family, when they come out this weekend, if they want some.

For the hard apple cider, we have gallon jugs, bungs and airlocks to use. When we made apple cider vinegar in a quart jar last year, it was a success, but there was a problem with fruit flies being attracted to the coffee filter covered jar in the cupboard. So this year, I plan to use an air lock (they’re so cheap, I’ve been buying extras).

I’ll be using a repurposed gallon sized pickle jar for this, which means I need to find a way to get an airlock into the lid.

Which I’ve already gotten started, and will show how in my next post. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Crabapple status

One of the things I’ve been checking every morning of late, is how the crabapples are doing.

In the row of trees by the spruce grove, there are really just two trees that we can use. The others have such small apples, they’ll be left for the birds and the deer.

One of these two trees gets such bright red apples!

There are lots of them, too. I have actually thinned them, and with this tree, the easiest way to do that is just grab a branch and shake. They fall off a lot easier than the other trees!

This tree produces remarkably sweet apples. Last year, oddly, by the time we went to pick the apples, most of them had disappeared. I wasn’t even seeing many on the ground. Very strange, considering how full of apples it was, just the day before! Anyhow, I used them to make crabapple cider vinegar. You can read how that went in parts one, two and three of the process. I want to do this again, but this time, we’ll be using an airlock! Using a coffee filter was messy, and attracted fruit flies. We still don’t have fermentation weights, but we’ll figure something out.

The other tree in this row surprised me, last year. I would taste the apples from different trees to check their ripeness, and this one was… well, pretty awful tasting. We gathered what we could from the other trees, but left this one.

Then my mother insisted I bring her apples from the farm. I told here there weren’t many left, and the ones that were left didn’t taste good, but she said she would just be cooking them down and adding sugar, anyhow, so go ahead and bring them to her.

Much to my surprise, the apples actually tasted really good! They simply needed a lot more time to ripen, compared to the others.

This year, we cleaned out the dead part in the middle, and the remaining parts seem to be appreciating this.

Some of the apples are nearly 3x the size of the red ones on the other tree!

With the fungal disease attacking the row of crabapple trees, I would happily get rid of all the others, if it means saving these two trees.

There is one other crabapple tree, next to the old compost pile, that is ripening some pretty big apples. It should be ready to harvest soon, I think.

We should have lots of apples to make things with this year.

Maybe even enough try making some hard crabapple cider! 🙂

I think it’s time to visit the brewery supply place in town. I’m starting to think that the 4 airlocks we have now are not going to be enough. Especially since we’ll be making gallon batches of mead, soon!

The Re-Farmer