Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery

Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples

Paperwork ensues

Another task we are plugging away on is getting all the legal bits of paper needed to sell hard cider. We sent off our federal winery license application last week, and once we get that we will move on to the state paperwork, then work on local permissions. No telling how long all this will take. The federal application can now be submitted online, which is supposed to speed up the process considerably. We submit it through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau or something along those lines (TTB for short, I don’t know where the A goes) and apparently the agents you deal with are truly helpful and really get you through the process. We will know more when we get some feedback on our application.

pick-your-own all done

We had an amazingly busy weekend. We started with our last Shelburne Falls Farmers Market, which was very busy and we sold out both cider and apples. Then we moved on to the Ashfield Fall Festival, where we sold a few bushels of our own apples and some of our neighbor's low spray apples from Clark Orchard, as well as many gallons of cider. Meanwhile, while Steve was at the festival Saturday and Sunday, Jen was at home for pick-your-own customers. Saturday was fairly quiet thanks to the on-and-off rain, but Sunday was so busy I couldn't keep track of the number of apples people took home. Even today, Columbus Day, we had a steady stream of visitors, selling out of the cider Steve pressed in the morning and picking the last of the Freedoms. All told, we made 15 batches of cider - at least 160+ gallons - and sold every half gallon. We don't have a single bottle right now!

It was great fun talking with so many people about apples, farming, sheep, chickens, and other topics. We will be at the Ashfield Farmer's Market with some cider (cold and hot) this Saturday, and will be open here at the farm for Cider Days November 7th and 8th. If you need a cider fix we will have some then, along with baked goods.

Season drawing to a close?

Despite wet weather this past Saturday, we sold plenty of cider and apples, both here at the orchard and at the farmer's markets in Ashfield and Shelburne Falls. Our Freedom apples are ripening and looking good, and we look forward to the coming weekend, when we will have the last Shelburne Falls Farmers Market on Friday, apple picking at the orchard, and a tent at the Ashfield Fall Festival, which is held Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. With any good weather, we are likely to be low on apples by the end of the weekend. Therefore, at this point we think that the following weekend, October 17-18, will be our last weekend open. So, if you've been meaning to drop by and stock up on apples and/or cider, time is running out. We will be open again with cider and baked goods for the Franklin County Cider Days event on Nov. 7th and 8th. Hope to see you there.

First weekend of the season

After two farmers markets and one day of pick-your-own business, we are finally into our apple season! The cider has been fun to press, and we ran out at our Saturday farmers market despite getting up early that morning to press another batch. We will have to make more on Friday to get ready for the farmers markets next week. I have to say, it has been great to have fresh cider around once again to drink for ourselves, and our customers seem to be enjoying it too. As for apple picking, we have been disappointed with the apples on the trees - there are plenty, but not the perfect apples we were hoping for. Thus, we will be discounting pick-your-own apples this season. Most of our customers have that organic-food mindset that allows for some tolerance of imperfect fruit, so hopefully you won't be too disappointed if you come get some for yourself.

Down to the wire

As the orchard is not our only 9-5 job (we have a few) this time of year can get crazy for us. We are still trying to get all of the drops out of the orchard (and to the sheep or cattle) to help keep down pests for next year. We are mowing, getting signs up, getting bag and boxes together, and judging apple quality and readiness. Pests and weather in the spring and summer made for some rocky times this season. The fungicide that we use is not as effective ( toxic ?) as those used in conventional orchards. That combined with the very wet spring and summer weather means that we will not have as many varieties to offer that don't have scab scarring on them. These however do make for good cidering apples.

Opening soon!

After a lengthy process, we have our Board of Health certification for the cider mill - we don't actually have the piece of paper in hand, but should by the middle of next week. Just in time, since we plan to open for business SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 selling cider with some early Libertys available for pick your own. We plan to be at the Shelburne Falls Farmers Market Friday, September 18, and the Ashfield Farmers Market Saturday morning, September 19. You may have noticed that many commercial orchards open by Labor Day, but our current trees are all mid- to late-season varieties so we open a little later. We have planted some earlier varieties, but it will be a few years yet before they start fruiting.

We had just enough apples ready this past weekend to try out our new cider press, and it works really well. It's fun to finally produce some cider after investing a lot of time, thought, and money into this whole venture. And that trial run will help us press cider more efficiently when we start making cider for sale next week.

We continue to pick up drops under the trees in our quest to reduce the pest pressure for future years. As the apples ripen and the grass quality declines, our sheep are more and more happy to chomp down those apples for us. Otherwise, we are spending our orchard time getting things ready for those of you who will be visiting us to pick apples or buy cider.

Cider mill is finished

The cider mill is finished. We have had our initial Board of Health inspection as well as plumbing, and will have the the many final inspections in place well before we need to start. Not to worry, we are providing business to all branches of bureaucracy this season.

As we have mentioned it has been quite a difficult summer for disease and pests. The cold wet weather has made it hard to keep up with all that is going on up there - sprays that should discourage pests or prevent fungal growth get washed off the trees, and the cool wet weather has been fantastic for insect pests as well as fungus. Even conventional apple growers have had trouble with the fungal disease apple scab this season. We do have a lot of good apples, but not in as many cultivars as we would like.

We have been enjoying apples from our single 100-plus year old Red Astrichan tree in recent weeks. It is our first apple ready for personal use and always a nice sign of what is to come. It is a tarter apple with good fruity flavor, and makes for some complex eating and drinking. We also like it for the tannins it adds to our hard cider when blended with other dessert apple cider we make later in the season. We grafted Red Astrichan onto rootstock this spring, so we can share this apple with our customers in the future.

real food

This is something of a rant, set off by a machine I saw in a catalog that treats maple sap with UV light. Why might you run maple sap through UV? Sap is boiled for hours to produce syrup, arguably an hours-long pasteurization. The reason is not food safety, but consistency. The maple flavor is actually produced by bacteria in the sap, and the longer the bacteria are active, the more maple flavor the syrup has. For a producer to have a consistent product, big operations keep sap chilled and zap it with UV to neutralize those bacteria. The result? A full season of "Fancy" grade syrup, pure sweet sugar with minimal maple flavor. And for those who like their maple syrup to be dark and maple-flavored? We had better hope that small producers using traditional methods continue to make syrup that we can get our hands on.

Why am I writing about maple syrup? Because this is illustrative of one of the impacts of our industrial food system. Consumers expect that something labeled "maple syrup" from a specific producer will taste exactly the same every time they buy it. This runs counter to the traditional method of producing maple syrup, in which flavor varies depending on the temperature and when in the season the maple sap was flowing. By using UV light and refrigeration tanks we lose that variability - one more aspect of the spectrum of flavor in natural foods that we lose without ever knowing it existed.

This all applies to our cider and apples. Many people ask us to describe the apples for each variety, and I find that difficult, because the apples vary so much over the course of the season. Cider is the same way - we will make cider from one apple variety a number of times in the season, and each time it will be very different. Minimal processing and eating foods as fresh as possible allow you to enjoy the subtle variations of these natural foods, whether that be an apple off the tree still warm from the sun, or a glass of fresh pressed cider that has gone from apple to cider in two steps (grind up apples, press out juice). In addition, organically raised foods encounter richer, more diverse soils, allowing the food to be more complex, more nutritious (check the Rodale Institute for studies that confirm this), and arguably richer in flavor as well.

Our industrialized food system has worked hard to make foods conform to rigid definitions that serve the purposes of marketing and distribution, not nutrition and flavor. People used to celebrate the differences in foods over the course of a season, or from region to region. I encourage all of us to seek out the diversity of flavors to be found in natural foods.

cider mill update

The cider mill is coming along. The structure is up, floor poured, interior trim and walls done, painted inside and out, and sinks are installed. Now we wait for the electric and plumbing to be finished and all the various inspectors to come and approve it. We are also waiting for the company Orchard Equipment Supply Co. (OESCO) to finish building our grinder - they are located one town over, so very local! the press is made in Europe (bought through OESCO) and we will pick it up when the grinder is done. Stay tuned for pictures of the new equipment! We hope to test it with apples from our one Astrachan tree, which will start to ripen in a week or two.

Cider mill + plum curculio

Well, the cider mill has most of the siding on it and we should be pouring the concrete for the floor in the next week or so. We have had our first plum curculio (PC) in the orchard, and they are now in full swing. We are trying to keep a good covering of clay on most of the trees in the hopes that they will move to the trees we left for them without clay (trap trees). The fruit is starting to size up now, some perhaps 3/4" and more.

Sprayed sulfur again (2nd time) this morning, there are some blossoms on almost everything at this point except the Northern Spys which are always late. We have holes on the ground for the foundation of our new cider mill. It is not going to be very big, look at it as scaled to the size of our orchard. At 14' x 18' it should allow us to make and store as much fresh cider as we can/want with an orchard our size. Very exciting!
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