Archives for the month of: October, 2014

The bees at Swan Barn Farm have done really well this year. We have two colonies, and they each have very different patterns of foraging behaviour. The bees from one of them are always busy, always out and about gathering, making and doing. The other hive’s bees rarely get up early, they often don’t stir till mid morning, and even then take some time to get into the swing of the day. For a while I was worried that one must have some form of disease, but we have been making careful inspections all year, and nothing has shown up. It still might of course as we get into the winter, but for now we just have to conclude that they have different characters. Oddly they both still managed to produce a crop of honey, the busy bees more than the lazy ones, but even the lazy ones have provided a better harvest than I expected.

Watching the bees from the hive entrance is always fascinating, there is a great book on the subject out there that is well worth finding and reading. It can tell you so much about what the bees are doing, what they are like, and what is going on the the countryside around the hives.

A few weeks ago we made our apologies to the bees and took our share of this years harvest.

removing honey from hives

In the frame above you can see where the comb has been filled with honey and then capped over with beeswax. We took the frames into the basecamp kitchen and cut the cappings off with a sharp knife

uncapping honey

The frames then went into our new extractor (a centrifuge for getting the honey out of honeycomb) where the frames were spun to liberate the golden harvest.


From the extractor the honey was filtered into a settling tank, before being bottled. This is the only processing it gets. No heat treatment, no mixing or blending, just fresh from the hive and about as local and wonderful as you can get.

honey pouring from extractor

Swan Barn Farm Honey

The posts of the timber frame of our Orchard House rest directly on stone pads. In order to keep their feet out of the damp, and (hopefully) keep the rot at bay we are using a little trick kindly donated by local timber framer and woodsman, Ben Law. The idea is to use a piece of slate as a damp proof course.

I couldn’t stand the idea of using imported slate under our lovely local timber frame, but being on the sand and clay geology as we are had to use a bit of initiative to find something suitably sustainable. A trip to see Arthur Rudd, who runs a building reclamation yard (and always has something fascinating to tell you) a few miles away on the other side of town provided the answer. In between telling me stories of how he used to thatch cottages in the neighbourhood with heather as a lad he showed me to a quiet corner of his yard where he had several neatly stacked piles of slate. He showed me how to tell where they came from by looking at the different colours, the way they split and the way they can be worked. We looked at slates from all over the place, before finding a pile that had (prior to spending a lifetime on a roof somewhere nearby) been hewn from the ground in Delabole in Cornwall.

slates at arthurs

I could hardly turn this opportunity down. A little piece of Cornwall proping up our timber frames, almost to good to be true. Arthur kindly donated 12 slates to the project, and they headed back with a smiling Dave to Swan Barn Farm. Back on site we jacked up the posts…

jacking up posts

And popped the slates underneath.

popping in slate

A bit of chipping with the hammer and chisel later we had a nice neat damproof course.

chipping slate

post on slate

Handy really, as not too long after that the weather broke and it started to rain.

Over the last few weeks we have been hosting and taking part in a number of community apple pressing events. I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who made their way down to Swan Barn Farm with their apples to take part, and get involved.

Apple washing

In the introduction to the fantastic Common Ground “Apple Source Book” Sue Clifford and Angela King say “Over the years we have bred or chanced upon hundreds of varieties of apples that suit the vagaries of the British weather, the mysteries of our locality and our taste. In half a lifetime we have squandered this cultural inheritance. Monoculture has taken over our countryside and monotony our shops… Yet we should be as proud of our orchards – as protective of them, the hills, valleys and the people who support them, and as imaginative about the food, drinks, songs and stories they generate as the french are of their vineyards and vines. Traditional orchards are cultural landmarks, the source of genetic variety, local recipies and customs. They are beautiful to be in and are Havens for wildlife.”

apple pressing day

I couldn’t agree more, I am so proud of the two orchards we have planted at Swan Barn Farm. On our apple pressing and Wassailing days they come alive, they are filled with the promise of bounty, taste, blossom and life. To see people making their way to us from the High Street with their bags and bucket fulls of apples makes me smile. I know that the way to properly protect a landscape, and ensure it lives on into the future is to give it value and relevance in the minds of local people. Making apple juice and cider might be a bit of good fun, but more importantly than that, for me, it is the best chance we have of giving our orchards a future.

 We pressed over a tonne of apples this year, the fermenters were all lined up in a row.


Most of them were carried back up the farm track with the people that brought the apples. We kept a few to ferment out though, watch out for our events over the coming year, where if you are lucky you might get a chance to taste some cider made from the apples that grow in our orchards.


Our historic apple pressing and scratting machinery was a big hit again, people love using it to squish and press the apples. You never grow tired of seeing the fresh juice flow straight out of the press. It tastes better than anything you could ever buy in a shop.

I am sure lots of the juice was drunk over the next few days, but I know that lots of people wanted to make it into cider. We try to explain to people the process on the day, but I have had a few requests from people asking for more information, so I thought I would try and post something useful.

We took the juice from the press and put it into the fermenters, where we added yeast, and nothing else. Over the next week or so the juice started to froth and bubble and come to life. By now the fermentation should have started to slow, and the pulp in it will be starting to settle out.

 ready to rack

The whole process is completely temperature dependant, so if your fermenters have been in a colder room than the one above you could still be weeks away from this stage. Be patient, it will all come good in the end!

The fermenter above is ready to be “racked off”. This simply means seperating the juice from the pulp and yeast. You can either use a syphon tube or simply gently pour it into a pan, leaving the sediment behind, and then wash out the fermenter and return the juice to it. I will top it back up to the same level with water (to keep out excess oxygen) and then leave it to go through a second, much slower fermentation. If you want to either speed this fermentation up a bit, or add extra strength (rarely neccessary!) add a desert spoon or so of sugar as well. With the airlock back on it will ferment slowly for several more weeks before almost all of the rest of the yeast and pulp has settled out, the bubbling ceases, it clears, and is ready to bottle. I bottle it in recycled Newcastle Brown bottles, and add half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle. This sugar will be acted on by the last of the yeast, bottle conditioning and adding a light fizz. Presentation is all when it comes to home made drinks. A chilled pretty bottle with clear liquid and a delicate fizz is always more likely to win people over, I think anyway.

finished cider

I hope that helps, if you follow that basic process you shouldnt go too far wrong, there is loads of information out there on the internet if you need it, the only thing I would recommend is patience and time, once it is in the bottle give it time to settle and mature, if it isn’t nice it probably isnt ready yet. Give it till next summer for the ultimate in local, sustainable, feel good, fresh, appley goodness.

Good Luck, Happy Homebrewing, and hope to see you at the Wassail!

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