Saturday, 12 December 2015

The entry hall, part 2

It's nice when things go smoothly, and the past three weeks have been fairly plain sailing for getting the entry hall as far as possible without having our new front door, despite a week away on business.

I'll keepthis quick, and there'sa short vid at the end in case you don't like reading.

So here's how it was at the last update:

After the walls were patched a bit, I stuck on the wall heating panels with foam.

Then installed the piping, leading the ends up to the distribution manifold upstairs through ducts I had laid months before.

At the same time, the opposite wall, which I had already repointed, needed some plastering to hide the ugly top part.

And done.

The bottom steps were tight against the wall at this stage, as I'd added 3cm to the thickness. So, to plaster over the heating pipes, I needed to get the steps out of the way. These were somehow glued on, so i used a car jack to pop them up, and carefully manhandled them out of the way.

And then plastered the whole lot, except the areas directly beside the entry door, as that would have to be blended in once the door is installed.

After letting it cure acouple of days, i turned the heating on to help dry it out. This would have been the ideal time to put some screwsin the wall for pictures, as you could see where the pipes are!

The opening between the entry hall and adjoining cellar area (where the beer cellar is) needed to be closed off, so we bought a cheap door in the local DIY store, and I built a frame to hang it on.

A quick assembly and a few coats of varnish to keep the door and frame clean, and it was ready to install.

And already quite the transformation! The ceiling was primed with a plaster primer, containing quartz sand, and although I bought a plaster to apply with a trowel and finish with a roller, I think we'll just paint it as it is, as the texture is quite ok! Less work too. Once the front door is in, and the remaining bits of plastering done, then the final paint job will be done. In the meantime, I'll start on the vaulted cellar, to try and get into the same standard as the beer cellar (not to mention making a door for it).

We also finally got a new TV, and to replace the kitchen sideboard that we'd used for the ancient thing we've had till now, I tarted up a lovely board I found in the barn, giving it a run over with the Makita brush sander, and oiling it with worktop oil. The lice edge and grain are really nice, so all I need now it to find proper legs for it, as it currently rests on a pair of old speakers.

And that's it! today i started prepping things to set up a satellite dish, and a couple of small projects, but more of those anon. For now, a live view of the entry hall as it is now:

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The entry hall, part 1

I don't know how many parts this project will have, as what seemed like an straightforward set of tasks in my head seems to have turned into a cascade of lots of interdependent jobs, some of which I didn't want to tackle just yet. However, I'm re-energised (somewhat) and want to get this done.

Essentially, the entry hall is ugly as hell, apart from the two natural stone walls and the sandstone door frames. The rest is bare blockwork, ugly fake marble tiles and stairs, and a hideous door.

The door is obvious. We need a new one, and must get one, it's just a matter of deciding exactly what type, but it has to be in keeping with the style of the house of course. And once a new door is in, the walls have to be plastered, but before that, they need to be insulated, and a bit of heating installed, to temper the hall a little in the really cold months.

But we also need to sort out the floor before the new door, and that means lifting the tiles, then pouring some self-levelling screed to build uo the level, as the old screed is falling apart and coming away with the tiles. And if we're doing that, we should get the front step sorted out before the door comes in too. And we need a couple of internal doors to separate cellar space from hall space. And the second vaulted cellar should be done before the hall floor is done, to avoide mucking new tiles and doors up.

And if I have to lift the tiles and pour screed, then the treads of the stairs will have to come off to let me access that corner. And they might break, as they are stuck fast, which means I have to accelerate the plan to swap out the treads with wood...

You see?

Anyway, it's going to be great to have a nice entry hall in a couple of months!

And here's a live view.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Harvest 2015 and first steps for cider

Over the past few weeks, we gathered up fallen apples, cleared away rotten fruit, and then had two days harvesting everything that was tree ripe. We've left the Boskoop and the Glockenapfel for a little later, as well as one Jonathan tree.

Actually, I had to harvest mostly alone, so used a trick a neighbour mentioned, to save my back some strain, by putting down a plastic sheet before shaking the branches, so I could gather the apples into a pile, and sort them in comfort.

In the end, we had 285kg of apples (including one box of really nice Köstliche aus Charneux (Legipont?) pears. The rest of the pears we gave away for a good cause.

On Monday this week, we then took the fruit to local Safterei Klein, which are a professional outfit with a band press, pasteuriser and packaging equipment.

We basically dumped the apples into a hopper where they were rinsed and fed into a mill, which then deposited the pomace onto the band, where it was pressed to crazy efficiency. The waste is then conveyed away, and is either composted or given away as feed.

Meanwhile, the hose was turned on and I filled six sanitised fermenters to the brim. In total, 202 litres from the 285kg of apples. It took less than 15 minutes to do it all.

Once we got our juice home, it had to be redistributed a little, to give some head space, so my neighbour kindly gave me a 60 litre drum he no longer uses. Then a careful amount of potassium metabisulfite was added to each container and left for a bit over 24 hours.

On Tuesday night, i pitched the yeast. Given I had planned for cider yeast for five 25 litre containers of juice, I had to improvise and use beer yeast in the big one. And that's it! Fermentation has started, albeit slowly, as the cellar is currently 16,2°C, but from what I've read, a slow ferment isn't all that bad, and it's going to be some time before we're drinking it. I'll transfer the cider to thicker-walled plastic drums once the primary fermentation is done, probably in a few weeks, and then turn my attention back to beer brewing, so we have something else to drink while we wait for cider.

And if you're interested, here's a video of the press in action, from Klein himself.

Addendum: I forgot to add that the original gravity of the juice was 1.058, with a total acid content of 7g/L, expressed as tartric acid. So, for malic acid, I think that's 6.3g/L, which seems to be acceptable. Just so I don't forget! 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Introducing the orchard

Late last year, we bought a strip of orchard from our postman's mother. Exactly a kilometre from our door, the patch is just under 1.000 square metres with 30 trees. Twenty three apple, six pear and one cherry, the majority being quite mature, having been planted in 1958 by a club or association (Verein in local parlance). Essentially, this group bought two plots of land in different locations and a bunch of trees, planted them, and divvied the land into strips, so each person had their own plot. At our orchard, the total area measures something like 200 x 200 metres, with our patch measuring 100 x 10, with two rows of trees. Some people have 200 x 10 metres, or multiples thereof, and the main use is of course to make Apfelmost, which is essentially still cider.

We were given a list of what varieties were there, and most are what people would refer to as "Mostapfel", though with a bit of storage, some seem to be exceptional dessert apples, and lots are definitely good cookers.

This was the list the former owner gave us.
  • Boskoop - Belle de Boskoop
  • Klarapfel - White Transparent. A very early apple, and one of my wife's favourites
  • Glockenapfel - I couldn't find an English name for this, but it's essentially Bell Apple
  • Goldparmäne - King of the Pippins
  • Cox Orange - Cox's Orange Pippin
  • "Rote Apfel" - well, there are red apples there, but clearly she didn't know the variety
  • Birnen - at least three varieties of pear, some eaters, some definitely Mostbirnen for making perry
I took the trouble of pacing out the two rows, to map what is where, but there are quite a few blanks to fill in!

The trees had been left to their own devices for a while, so even my inexpert eye could see that some action was needed to get them back into shape. We were a bit slow out of the gates this past spring (well, February was the month we moved in), and it was mid-March by the time we went up with ladders, saws and loppers, to do some damage. We probably need more practice, but we at least got some of the worst conditions sorted a bit, though at the time, with no leaves on the trees, we were not always sure what kind of tree we were looking at.

Following this, we basically ignored, or rather forgot the orchard for a while. We walked though it while the trees were flowering, which was a lovely sight, but it was only a few weeks ago that we went back up for a look at how the apples themselves were doing. This was rather stupid, as the Klarapfel are an early variety, and we totally missed them. At least we know for next year.

We had allowed a neighbour to graze his sheep under the trees, which was one reason why little needed to be done during the year, as the grass was kept down. However, in future I'll ask him to keep them out after July so there is no shit on the ground during harvest time. We also learned that they like to half-chew apples when, a week ago, we went up and picked up all the fallen fruit. This yielded about 34kg of unchewed, non-rotten apples that can be used. We dumped probably six or eight times that much, between fruit that had simply rotted and many half eaten by the sheep. What we rescued were then washed and are now stored in trays in the cellar.

Boskoop on the right.
We were up again yesterday evening and got another 30+kg, with a far smaller proportion of rotten fruit, that had fallen during a windy day earlier in the week. We intend to harvest the rest in a week or so.

Even with the fruit on, we're uncertain what is Cox's Orange and what is King of the Pippins, so we're going to ask an expert to take a look, and my orchard map will be complete.

But what will we do with all this fruit? For those who know me, the answer should be obvious, but the main intention is to make cider, as well as having our own apple juice. Both are very popular around here, though the cider I intend making will be sparkling, unlike the flat Apfelmost that the older generation make in this village (which is really good!).

I'm very excited about making cider from our own apples, and have been reading some good books on the subject. But given my lack of experience, I don't know how ideal the mix of apples we have is for a good cider. However, these trees were most likely planted exactly for such use, so I'll just wing it this year and see how it goes. We have space for more trees, so as I learn, perhaps a few more varieties will be added to alter the blend a bit.

There's still much to before we get that far, but I'll post an update following the harvest and pressing. For now, here are some gratuitous shots of the apples waiting for harvest. If you recognise any, let me know!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Bierkeller, Part 5 - Done!

The beer cellar has come on massively since the last update. In the past two weeks, I painted the lime plaster, repointed another section of wall and built up the floor. That was done by last Monday, and I spent an hour just sitting in there, with a cold Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, taking a moment to just think about next steps.

But what was done this past two weeks? You can see a video here, or keep scrolling for nice photos. First, I cleaned back the floor, again, to get a relatively even surface, and then i painted the lime plaster areas with a highly breathable silicate paint.

Then last Friday week, I began with the floor construction. I hauled 2 tonnes of gravel in by hand - well, with buckets -  followed by almost of tonne of crushed stone. 

I laid a layer of geotextile to separate the gravel (actually, more like graded pebbles, with no sand content), from the crushed stone layer.

Then started the layer of compressed crushed stone.

This all took longer than expected, and there was a party to go to, so it was parked at that stage. On Saturday morning, I scavenged the barn to get as many bricks as I could find for the floor and, with the help of my son, gave them a good clean with a pressure washer.

Laying the bricks alone also took longer than I thought, and by six in the evening, I'd only gotten this far. At this stage, a neighbour who is renovating the house next door dropped by with beer, so that was that for the day!

Next morning (not too early) I decided I wanted to get this done, so put the skates on with a nice piece of hickory, and by 6 in the evening, had the brick part of the floor complete.

Essentially, I didn't have enough brick to do the complete floor, as I wanted, but our friend Sace, who always has good ideas, suggested wood to fill the gaps. We originally considered going to a sawmill to get thick fir boards, but given we had so many old boards in the barn, it made more economic sense to reuse them. On Monday evening, a few suitable boards were found and given the cleaning treatment with my trusty Makita brush sander.

Battens were laid and leveled on the crushed stone, at the appropriate depth, and the cleaned boards screwed to them, forming a floating raft that turned out to be very stable.

And it was done!

All that remained was to fit it out and get the beer in there! Yesterday I finished assembling and started stocking the shelves.

 And here's a reminder of how it looked when we bought the house.

There's even a special place for my Grandad's old crown cork opener.