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This Saturday (26th September) from 10.30 till 4 we are hosting our annual community apple pressing day at Swan Barn Farm. If you have a laden apple tree in your garden and were wondering what to do with all that fruit, fear not, we have the perfect answer for you. Bring them to us and we will help you turn them into the best, freshest tasting apple juice you will ever have seen.

Apple Pressing at Swan Barn Farm

Our wonderful historic press and scratter will be used for the day to process the fruit, the press has been working in orchards around Haslemere for over 100 years. Even if you don’t have any of your own apples (or cant find any to scrump!) everyone is welcome, we have the bounty of our orchards to process as well, and everyone is welcome to come and join in. It is always a fantastic family friendly fun day, with plenty to see and do. The Black Down Ranger team will be on hand as well in case you have any appley, orchardy or fruit tree pruning questions. If you have some juice to take home with you we will also be able to teach you how to preserve it, or, should you so wish, turn it into your own home made cider.

Community Apple Pressing Day at Swan Barn Farm

We are enormously proud of our two orchards here at the farm, they are a haven for wildlife, and have growing in them a number of wonderful and rare varieties of fruit. Orchards are a living cultural link with the past, a very important, and now sadly increasingly rare and threatened part of our countryside. We are doing our best to look after the orchards in our care, we plant new trees every year, prune and tend to the ones we already have, and invite people to come along and take part in the traditional rituals and harvests that they have to offer.

As part of this many of you will know that we have recently been building a new Orchard House at the farm. It has been constructed from sustainably sourced timber from the woods we manage around Haslemere and put together on site by the Ranger team. It is a new home for our events to be run in, a storage space for our orchard, gardening and beekeeping gear and a place to keep our historic apple pressing machinery.

Last year on Apple Pressing Day we had only just finished putting up the timber frame:

Orchard House Frame Raise

This year I am pleased to say that it is all finished, ready just in time for everyone to come and use it to celebrate the bumper year we have had in our Orchards. Jane Cecil (National Trust General manager, South Downs) and Sarah Bain (President, National Trust Black Down and Hindhead Supporter Group) will be officially opening the building at 2pm. If you can be here to join in the celebrations with us you will be very welcome.

We are really proud of what has been achieved, it has taken a lot of work by a lot of people to build. I hope it is going to be a very useful and productive space. Orchards cannot survive as museum pieces, pickled and preserved, they need people in them making use of their product to make sense of them. Through the use of our new building I hope our apple trees will continue to flourish, grow and bear fruit for many years to come.

orchhouse finnished 3

orch house finnished 2

orch house finnished 1

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Plenty of apples here at the moment. This weeks working holiday volunteers have been picking them in our orchard. Community Apple Pressing Day is coming up soon (28th Sept), hope to see you there.

apples

The orchard has done really well this year, a combination of good weather (not least for the bees at pollination time), the age of the trees and good pruning. Its really nice to see the traditional varieties thriving and providing both wildlife habitat and food. I am really proud of what we have achieved in the Town Orchard, and am just as excited seeing the Speckled Wood Orchard which we planted 2 years ago starting to develop and grow.

apples ripening 2

Meanwhile over at Slindon the cider press restoration project has been completed. Jointing and fitting together of the timbers was carried out in their workshop with the help of the Slindon Ranger Team.

Assembling the press 1

Seeing the journey of our sustainably produced timber right through from tree to final form gives me a huge kick. There is nothing more pleasing than seeing our wood being used for something which I hope will encourage people to get involved in their local countryside and localy produced food.

Assembling the press 1a

Traditionally oak from this part of the country was thought of as the best quality you could get. Of course I am biased, but it is certainly fantastic timber to work with.

assembling the press 2

We took over pretty much the whole workshop as the press came together. Everyone wanted to see what was going on, I really hope they all like it!

assembling the press 3

We made it to a slightly different design to the Swan Barn Press. But the principle is the same, the metal screw is turned to excert force downwards on a big wooden plate, this presses down on a stack of crushed apple and the juice flows out to be collected in a wooden box. When you remove the bung from the box the juice flows out into whatever you want to collect it in. The spent apple (known as Pommace) was traditionally fed to pigs, but also often found its way onto compost heaps. One of the traditional old varieties we have growing in our orchard was grafted from a tree that was found growing out of a pile of discarded pommace in the 1800’s.

finished press

I am chuffed to bits with the finnished press, I hope lots of people get the chance to use it in the coming years. The timbers that make it up were pretty heavy, and we think the whole thing weighs just over a tonne. The only way to move it is by tractor!

press on tractor

If you are near Slindon and want to see it in action they have an apple pressing event on 12th October and it is going to be at the Arundel Food Festival on 19th October. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the Slindon Press turned out, but am really looking forward to using the Swan Barn Farm press again at our pressing days over the next couple of weeks. I have challenged them to a Cider tasting competition later in the year!

In the orchard here at Swan Barn Farm the fruit is ripening nicely. We are having a really good apple year and the colours on the trees look stunning.

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The sight of hundreds of apples ripening in the sun has to shed a small ray of light in even the heaviest heart.

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Coming up on the 28th September from 10-4 we have our annual Community Apple Pressing Day. Its usually great fun, if you are not too far away and can make it over you will be very welcome. If you bring your own apples you can take home a fair share of juice, this can be drunk fresh or if you want we will even teach you how to turn it into cider.

Our expert countryside team will be on hand to answer any of your apple, orchard, pruning or fruit tree related questions. If you havent any apples you can still come down to take a turn on our fascinating historic pressing machinery and have a taste of the finest, freshest apple juice that will ever have passed your lips… not to be missed!

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Our collegues over at Slindon have had green eyes for our press for a few years now. They have managed to scrounge an old press screw and asked me to help them restore it and make a new press for it to drive.

The screw was rusted solid and was missing several key parts. The first of these was the piece that connected the screw to the plate of the press (the square bit at the bottom below). Fortunately a friend of the property who is an expert metal worker was happy to step in and help us make a new one, he even managed to make a new threaded hole to bolt it onto the bottom of the screw. It was a really tricky job doing this in old cast iron and I am so impressed with what he achieved. Thanks John!

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With a restored screw the next job was for me to get busy on the sawmill and make all the parts for the press. The screw is massive, much bigger than ours and so the wooden beams have to be bigger too.

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We are making it out of Swan Barn Farm Oak… nothing but the finest!

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A good bit of head scratching went in to the design, I think from looking at the size of the screw that it may well have been mounted in the tie beam of a barn in the past, so making a stand alone press is going to be quite a challenge. I do like a challenge though.

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Below is the all new flat pack press, with beam sizes of up to 11 by 9 inches I dont reckon there are many places you can get one of those off the shelf!

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All we need to do now is put the thing together… its going to be tricky, but, fingers crossed it will work out well. If it does I think it is going to be quite something. Look out for it in use at a Community Apple Pressing Day at Slindon soon.

Another group of working holiday volunteers are staying here this week. The main focus of their week is on our two small orchards, but they are also helping our with a few jobs on the Speckled Wood building as well.

Now the third coat of lime plaster has been applied to the outside of the building its time to start on the limewashing. This is a traditional form of paint, made of limestone which has been crushed, burnt and slaked with water to make lime putty. The putty is matured for several months before being thinned with water to make the limewash.

It has insecticidal and anti bacterial properties as well as being breathable, the perfect finish for our timber and straw bale walls.

At least four coats will be needed, with each one adding greater protection to the surface of the building. We have also been busy cleaning off any excess lime plaster which was spilled on the timbers. I have really enjoyed the effect on the appearance of the building as the coats of limewash go on and the timbers are cleaned up, escpecially when the morning sun shines on it.

The guys have also been out in the orchard collecting apples and pears.

The aim of this weeks holiday is partly to help with management of our orchards, but also to show people what can be achieved with their produce. We will be pressing apples with them later in the week, as well as teaching them how to make cider and perry.

As well as picking there was a fair bit of tasting going on.

Many of the varieties of tree in our orchard are pretty rare these days, and they have flavours the like of which you simply wouldn’t ever come across on a supermarket shelf. This year our Worcester Pearmain was particularly good, it was perfectly ripe and really sweet.

Don’t forget we have a public apple pressing event on October 1st from 10.30 till 3,  you can bring along your apples and apple or orchard related questions and learn the secrets of apple pressing and cidermaking.

The rain has returned over the last couple of days, can’t really complain though, its been such a dry summer so far.

Our biosurvey volunteers have made a great job of surveying the meadows, and today are entering data from the survey onto the computers as well as making a few shingles for the Speckled Wood project.

Meanwhile on the build site the framing team have understandably been sheltering from the weather. This has meant a move inside the newly membraned roof to get on with a few jobs where it is nice and dry.

The first fix electrics have been going in, and the inside of the roof has been plasterboarded. The small black squares you can see in the plasterboard are where our rooflights will be going. Each of the upstairs bedrooms will have one, and there is another one which will end up over the upstairs gallery.

The rain will be doing the world of good to all sorts of plants and trees which had been starting to feel a bit parched, I should think the orchards here at Swan barn Farm will be particularly gratefull for it. Most of the trees in our new Speckled Wood Orchard are doing well. In the other orchard, which backs on to Haslemere High Street I have been really pleased to see how much fruit there is growing this year. We planted it about six years ago, and it looks like this year it is going to produce our first decent crop.

The denistons superb gage tree has brances weighed down with gage’s and just near this one of my favourite apples is having a great year as well.

Its a knobby russet, probably the ugliest, whilst also being one of the tastiest apples you will ever see. Its skin is so heavily russeted that it cracks and folds and goes knobbly all over, a very unpromising looking thing, but later in the year eaten with a glass of cold cider and some bread and blue cheese it is sheer apple heaven.

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