Here we are at the end of March, spring is almost upon us - chronologically at least - and I haven't added anything to this blog since last December. Shame on me.
So much has happened it is difficult to know where to begin...?
How about snow; frost; snow; more snow; deeper snow; ice; burst pipe in cider shed; colder frost; frozen and cracked airlocks; snow..... I think you get the picture. The weather has really made life difficult in trying to get the trees planted up on the orchard, as we still have a lot of land to clear and trees to heavily prune and pollard. Still, the heeled-in trees look happily snug and smug in their little bed for the time being.
Santa came and brought me lots of goodies in the shape of three varieties of crab apple trees (from my mum) to aid pollination and to give us a range of edible crabs which we can mess about with. More about them later. My brother and sis-in-law brought me a Felco No. 8 pruner which is excellent, along with a Silky Fox 300mm Gomtaro Apple pruning saw - which is a bit frightening at the moment. However, both have already seen use in trying to bring some shape and structure back to our Stoke Red.
We have also invested in a mutt... Namely a "Lollie" which we have called "Yarly". I kid you not. A Lollie is a cross between a Labrador and a Border Collie (a sort of glorified mongrel if you like), and we have named her Yarly after our favourite cider apple, the Yarlington Mill. Yarly has really interesting colouring: her mother is a sleek black Labrador and her father is a chocolate-brown and white Border Collie, so Yarly has turned out silver-grey with black patterning which is the result of Blue Merle patterning from her father's Border Collie genes.
Yarly - The Movie. Cert: PG
On the home front, we have had a Solar Water Heating Panel installed on our roof which is already proving its worth - much to my surprise and amazement, I have to add. The bare bones of the installation involved a panel full of the evacuated-tube solar collectors, a much larger (and better insulated) hot water storage tank, a couple of pumps and motorsied valves - and a fascinating animated display panel (boys toys). It is amazing to see (and feel!) hot water being pumped from the collectors into the storage tank at over 45C when the outside ambient temp is only 14C... Our hot water boiler never even fired up yesterday - I can't wait until there is some proper spring and summer sunshine...
Our cider has started to go out - earlier than I'd really like, but the customer is (nearly) always right. Our first outing this year was at Chesterfield Beer Festival in February, where we trialled our new blend called "Sheep Wash". It was / is very young, but rather tasty. The cider and perry list was really impressive - as was the beer list - but we stuck to the great ciders and perries available and worked our way through the lot (apart from the couple of sickly-sweet ones and the Broadoak rubbish... ugh!). We were very surprised to find out from Trev, one of the organisers, that our 'Sheep Wash' cider was voted "Cider of the Festival" by the punters - great news! Another framed certificate to add to our "multi-award winning" portfolio of five winners.
We delivered a box of 'Sheep Wash' to the Hand & Heart pub on Derby Rd in Nottingham last night - our first pub outlet in the city. A lovely pub, great atmosphere, good food, good local real ales and two local ciders: ours and one from "Three Cats" across the border in Derbyshire. It is very pleasing to find publicans willing to wholeheartedly embrace local ales and local ciders! Well done.
Next week we are off to Ripley in Derby's to deliver our cider to the Talbot Taphouse, the brewery tap of Amber Ales. They are having a festival over the Easter weekend and have asked for our cider; hopefully it will go down well and they will want more over the coming warmer months.