Monday, 23 February 2009

Job done

Well, the first bit anyway...

The 50mm screed on t'cider shed floor is now completed, and curing and drying nicely. The above pic was taken before the final section was laid. The main concrete base was given a good coat of liquid DPM and blinded with sand, before laying and trimming a sheet of 1000 gauge polyethylene DPM to float on top. The sharp sand / cement screed has been laid on top of this. Next job is to lay a very thin liquid screed over this to get a perfectly smooth and flat floor which we can give umpteen coats of concrete paint to. It'll be better than the house! Be able to eat my dinner off it? Doubtful, but at least it should be spot-on for ease of cleaning and keeping clean. The other main requirement is to provide a nice flat surface for the framework and racking to support the two levels of 60 litre containers which are ready to move back into their improved home ASAP.

However, before that we need to sort out the insulation for the walls and roof, and some form of washable sheeting to provide the inner wall surface. Got to keep the E.H. folks happy...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Screed baby, screed!

Heavy mixer-action while the sun shines.
Just having a quick break with a cuppa of Earl Grey tea and a couple of slices of bread-and-dripping (oh, the savoury bliss of it all!) before going back to laying the screed over the cider-shed floor. Got about halfway so far, but had to dash back to Wickes this fine morn for more sharp-sand and cement. Does anyone else encounter black holes when doing any work with recommended quantities? How come you never have enough despite following the instructions on the packet? Where does it all go? I reckon the evil fairies that live at the bottom of my garden nick it while I'm not looking...

The original concrete floor was fine, but always intended to screed it so that we can paint it so that it's more easier to clean and keep clean. Also invested in a "Wet 'n' Dry" vacuum cleaner for same purpose. What a beast!

Getting a consistent depth, in this case 50mm, while screeding is challenging but intellectually stimulating. Using 50mm battens as when plastering is my preferred option so far.

Oh Cider Trees - Where art thou, Cider Trees?
I'm getting frustrated waiting for the newly-ordered trees to be delivered... especially when the weather is nice and dry. We've got 6 x Yarlington Mill; 6 x Tremlett's Bitter; 6 x Morgan Sweet; 6 x Harry Master's Jersey; and 6 x Dabinetts on order, all on MM106 rootstock's. This should give us a good start while we wait for the next delivery this coming Winter 09. We wanted the early-cropping Morgan Sweet to blend with the Tom Putts and other early fruit that we collect. We also have some Major on order for later in the year, another early-fruiter, our aim being to lengthen and even out our cider-making.

We've also ordered a standard Dabinett on M25 rootstock and this eventually quite large tree is to go in the front garden at home, now that we have removed one of the large conifers that was growing like a rocket and dwarfing the house; I love Deodar Cedars, but it was a mistake to plant one in the garden! After 20-odd years it showed no sign of slowing down so had to go. Anyway, the Dabinett should look pretty in blossom, give us some fruit and not block light in the winter months.

What's in a name?
Why oh why do some folks insist on pronouncing Dabinett as "Dabin-ay"? I often come across it with an "e" on the end too. Pseudo-posh Frenchness? English name not good enough? Answers on a postcard too: Mr William Dabinett was a Somerset man, and wouldn't have a poncy name like "Dabin-ay" or "Dabinette" attached to any tree discovered and named by him!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Tree life: The ascent of man (or woman in this case)

Gerrup't' tree, lass!

I am no technophobe but the technology of getting images off my mobile phone onto my computer has defeated me - until now. Finally managed to get some shots taken during a collection expedition to the luvverly village of Lambley, near Nottingham, where Helena and Dean had kindly offered their excess apples to us for the second consecutive year.

In her usual ultra-competitive spirit, Gail was determined that she would climb the tree to give it a damn good shake to try to bring down those crafty and sneaky little apples hiding in the upper-most branches. That's the trouble with "standard" trees, ie. those with a lot of bare tree trunk (usually about 1.5 - 1.8 metres) before the branches start - it can be a pig to get up and into the tree. Luckily we had a step-ladder to help, so Gail was quickly up the tree.

Gail also has considerably less girth and weight than me, so maybe it was better for the tree for Gail to go up it...

For the uninitiated, a half-standard is a tree which has been cleared of shoots and growth for the first metre or so. A bush or pyramid tree has growth close to the ground and is limited in height by it's rootstock, so is the sort favoured in most modern orchards as it makes fruit collection much easier.

You can see the walking-stick dangling from the tree in the photo - we use this to hook around branches to give them a good shake to loosen the fruit and cause it to fall. We really need to make ourselves an extendable panker, the name given to very long poles with a large hook on the end, which were traditionally used to reach up high into the branches of apple and pear trees to shake down the fruit ready for being made into cider or perry.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Catching up - again!

Snowy days!
Here we are in mid-February 2009 and I realise I haven't added anything since last year... Sounds worse than it actually is, but I need to get more regular with this blog lark.

Anyway, these images were taken during our late-November foray into deepest, darkest Nottinghamshire to collect another load of apples. We once again travelled north to the Hempsall Heritage Orchard to see what the wind and rain had encouraged the trees to drop. After un-hitching the trailer and pushing it into the orchard, Gail unloaded the trailer while I helpfully took photographs.

Due to all the recent rain, the ground was really soft and I was worrying how we'd get the trailer off the orchard before we'd even got any fruit in it... The trees had dropped most of their leaves and the floor was littered with fruit of all colours, shapes and sizes.

We scouted round for the dessert and dual-purpose apples, and avoided all of the culinary varieties. It made it much easier to spot the best apples by looking for where the local rabbit and hare population had done most of it's nibbling! Curiously - or maybe not - the order Legomorpha do not seem to like to nibble cooking apples; unfortunately they do like to nibble and bite great chunks out of the russets. It wouldn't be so bad if they ate the whole apple, but the furry little bundles appear to browse over as many apples as possible.

Never mind, we worked on into the cold, dark and drizzle, and by late afternoon had the trailer full of fruit. By luck as much as brute force, we managed to manhandle the sinking trailer out of the orchard to a point where we could successfully hook-up the trailer onto the car. We need to adapt the trailer to take the weight it is capable of carrying, as full-to-the-brim we still have capacity to carry another 150Kg of fruit. I need to make some form of frame to raise the height of the sides.

Hot-aches set in during the drive home, but it was worth it. The next couple of days saw the apples rapidly milled and pressed until we had no more container space left. An impending Christmas trip to Spain to spend the festivities with Gail's father, meant we were pushed for time (and cash - £1=Euro1 is not fun!), so the containers would have to wait.

In early February we had a break to visit Chesterfield Beer Festival and our friends Paul & Julia kindly put us up (or should that be put up with us?) overnight so we could explore what was on offer. I didn't fancy the cider and perry choice much, so spent the night drinking the beers on offer, including the "Winter Ales" section which had a nice Thornbridge at 7.7%ABV and a really lovely rich ale at 12.0%ABV whose name unsurprisingly escapes me... It was good to meet up with Julie and Andy from Chesterfield CAMRA, who are also planning on coming down to the Ross-on-Wye Cider Festival with us in early September. Hopefully Karen and Mark (Rockingham Forest) can also make it so it should be a good bash.

Here in mid-February, the new containers are sat under cover - still empty - but I also have a new cider-pump ready for action, so the next week should see the pump proving it's worth by transferring the very-slowly bubbling (and very cold) cider into the new containers. This cold weather has really put everything back but I hope we'll have something ready by the beginning of April for the 18th Mansfield Beer & Cider Festival.

What else is new? Well after 14-odd years together, eleven of which we've been engaged and nine or so we've lived together, Gail and I are finally(?) getting married. Been to the register office today to sign on the dotted line and hand over some cash, so it is all systems go for May 23rd 2009 - which also happens to be Gail's birthday. Aaah, romance is not dead!!!! I'm looking forward to it - even though the date clashes with this year's Welsh Perry and Cider Championships at The Clytha near Abergavenny. Oh well. Next year we can go as Mr & Mrs. Nice.