Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery


Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples

Next year's ice cider is fermenting

The recent cold snap was ideal for ice cider production, and we made the most of it. We pressed cider the day before the temperature really dropped, and the cold weather did a great job of freezing water out of the cider. Now the warm weather allowed us to clean out the cider mill in good shape, and the ice cider is now in its tank, so the yeast can do their part. Now all of the cider for 2014 is busy fermenting.
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Selling to retailers

Steve and Jen spent a couple hours pouring hard cider at Provisions in Northampton this past Monday. It was a nice opportunity to have some more folks taste our cider, as well as meet the people working at the store. This is a really exceptional place, offering an amazing array of wines, beers, cheeses and other specialty foods. They have a whole rack of local ciders and meads, where our Sparkling cider is available until we run out. If you want to shop for these items where the staff is knowledgeable and helpful, check out Provisions. There is even free 15 minute parking out front.
We also delivered some Sparkling cider at Ryan and Casey in Greenfield, and Cold River Package in Charlemont. Both of these stores are really supportive of local beverages, with a great selection of most of the alcoholic beverages our area has to offer. We are lucky to live in an area where not only local food, but local drinks, are increasingly more available. We will certainly be enjoying some local cider with our harvest Thanksgiving meal tomorrow. Happy fall!
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Thanks for another great season

CiderDays weekend was a mad crush for us, since we offered two talks here at the orchard, as well as hard cider tastings and sales all weekend at the farm and at the Cider Salons in Shelburne Falls Saturday evening. The enthusiasm and enjoyment of all the people we came into contact with really makes this a fantastic event. The cider community holds some of our favorite people, so it’s also a time to catch up with folks we haven’t seen for a year and make connections with new people too. All in all, it is inspiring, gratifying, and exhausting. Now that we have had a few days to recover we feel newly energized, ready to press the rest of our hard cider juice and plan what we will do with it.
We still have some hard cider left, so if you want to get some before the holidays feel free to call and stop by the farm.
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Cider Days

Mark your calendars, Franklin County Cider Days (www.ciderdays.org) is coming up Nov. 2nd and 3rd. Join in celebrating cider, hard and sweet! We will be doing two talks here that weekend,
⁃“A Primer on Organic Orcharding Practices”, Saturday 12:00-1:00
⁃“So you want to be a Commercial Cider Maker”, Sunday 11:30-12:30, with Steve Gougeon and Andy Brennan (
The Cidery). We will discuss getting into a small scale, farmstead based approach to commercial cider making. Topics include; regulatory hurdles, scaling up from home fermenting, and marketing/distribution from a two state perspective (MA and NY).
⁃And we’ll have hard cider, sweet cider and doughnuts! Check out their site for schedules (see side bar).
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Breathing room

We had a busy, fun Columbus Day weekend, as Jen and Mark were at the Ashfield Fall Festival all weekend, and Steve was at the orchard with donuts and hard cider tastings. Now that we won’t be open on weekends until Cider Days, we have been focusing on finishing up - getting the last of the apples picked and packed into the cold storage, cleaning up the last of the drops in the orchard for pigs, and working on hard cider pressings. The first of the hard cider juice is fermenting away, and we even found some time to cook some apples! Our first apple crisp of the season and two canners full of applesauce - those Freedom apples make the most beautiful pink applesauce. Looking forward to some pies soon.
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Orchard work

We had amazing weather for the orchard work we undertook this past week - it was a pleasure to have an excuse to be outside. We picked all the Red Delicious and a lot of Northern Spy and Freedom apples, and as we cleared each tree we have taken the time to pick up all the drops for the neighbors’ pigs. We also picked all the pears off our one fruiting pear tree, which we are offering for sale this weekend. The pears won’t keep, so this is the only weekend to buy them, and we will have them here at the farm and at the Ashfield Farmer’s market Saturday October 5 from 9-1. We have apples allocated for whole apples and sweet cider at Ashfield’s Fall Festival (Oct 12-13) as well as here at the farm this weekend and next. We also began pressing for next year’s hard cider this week, and will continue to work on that in the weeks to come.

We have decided to offer a price break on 1/2 case or more of hard cider. People buying 6 or more bottles of hard cider (any varieties) will get $2 off each bottle. This deal will be available here at the farm and at the Ashfield Farmer’s market Saturday October 5.
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Too few apples...

Having had a fantastic weekend here at the orchard, with beautiful weather and lots of people coming to pick apples, we are finding that enthusiasm for organic apples is growing faster than our orchard is. Customers picked so many apples this weekend, we don’t have enough to offer pick-your-own next weekend as we were planning. Instead, we will be picking the rest of the apples in the orchard and offering small amounts of pre picked apples (1/2 peck) for sale the weekends of Oct 5-6 and Oct 12-13, along with sweet and hard cider, donuts and jams and jellies. We will be picking the rest of the Freedoms, Red Delicious, and Northern Spy so those three varieties will be available, for as long as they last! Meanwhile, the fall colors are looking beautiful and should be about peak this weekend. You are welcome to come take a walk through the orchard and enjoy the view even if there aren’t apples to pick.
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Apple season has begun

We had a busy, fun opening weekend. This was our first weekend in the new retail space in the barn, which worked very well. Lots of folks tasted hard cider, ate donuts, and picked all of our Liberty apples. We are lucky to have help from Jen and Steve’s parents, both while we are open and working in the orchard before and after. Our sons are old enough to help out too, so if you stop by Aidan or Elliot might be ringing up your order, or directing you to the trees we are picking.
This coming weekend we will be picking Cortlands and Freedoms. Most years we have Libertys for two weekends, but they had a light crop this year, so they are all gone. The weather for this weekend is forecasted to be fantastic. We recommend coming in the next two weekends for good U-pick availability - if we have good pickers, we won’t have a lot of apples available for pick-your-own by Columbus Day weekend. We will be open Columbus Day weekend regardless, and will have pre-picked apples (including Northern Spys), in addition to sweet and hard cider, donuts, jams, jellies, and vinegar.
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Opening next week!

As we look forward to opening for the season Friday, September 20th, we have a countdown of things to accomplish. We picked MacIntosh apples, as they are ready a little earlier than when we are open. We only have two MacIntosh trees left, the others having been grafted over to varieties that produce better apples when cared for organically, so those Macs will go into our first cider pressings. We will be picking peaches over the next few days, so we should have a few quarts of those for people to buy next weekend. The orchard is looking good, and it smells like apples, a sure sign that the fruit is almost ready.
Our new retail space in the barn is ready, jams and jellies are stockpiled, and four cider varieties are bottled and labelled and ready for sale. We have been in a flurry of buying bottles, labels, bags etc. to be sure we are all set for the season. We will pick more apples and press cider so we have sweet cider ready for sale on the weekend. As usual, our first weekend we will offer Liberties for picking, as our other varieties will be better with another week or so on the trees.
We have of course been doing other seasonal things - the boys and Jen are back in school, and the garden is producing like crazy so we are turning all those veggies into our food stores for the winter. A very good year for potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and not so great for squash and broccoli. Its always comforting to fill the shelves with our own canned produce.
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Harvest is approaching

We had our first peach crop this year that was too big for us to eat all by ourselves. This year, the Reliance peach trees are big enough to give us a few bushels to sell, though the later varieties still need to grow bigger before we can sell any of them. It has been wonderful to have peaches around to eat any time we want. I used Red Havens for canning this year, they peel and split in half so easily I may never can Reliance peaches again. I hope they taste as good as they look. As of yesterday, we sold all the Reliance peaches we had to sell.
We are on the verge of having four hard cider varieties available. We bottled the ice cider, and will be bottling the cyser soon too. The cyser is our one dry, still cider this year, since the sparkling and hop ciders are both sparkling, and the ice cider has some sweetness, since we stopped fermentation by transferring the liquid off of the yeast multiple times.
The apples are coloring up and sizing up well. We plan to open for picking Friday, September 20th, and will be open through Columbus Day weekend (though we are likely to be out of apples by the Monday of that weekend). At the farm, we will have apple picking, pre picked apples, hard cider, sweet cider, donuts, and jams. We have moved our retail area into the barn to give us some more space, as we have outgrown the retail space in the cider mill.
We are experimenting with parasitic nematodes to control some of our pests, namely apple and peach borer (which bore into the young trees until they snap off) and codling moth, the quintessential worm in the apple. Because both of these pests spend time in or near the ground, we can spray the nematodes (which are tiny worms) on the ground under the trees and on the lower trunks so they can parasitize the pests. A number of studies have shown these are effective, though the weather conditions have to be just right. So we are hopeful that this very focused pest management practice can improve apple quality and save our young trees.
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Summer orchard

The orchard is looking good, with apples sizing up and decent fruit set on Libertys, Freedoms, Northern Spys, and Cortlands. Golden delicious are taking a year off, as they are on a biennial cycle. A handful of the young trees have a few apples, but none are really starting to bear yet. We had a very rainy spring/early summer, so it was difficult to keep clay on the trees while the plum curculio were active. Libertys in particular are very attractive to plum curculio, so we thinned those quite heavily to remove damaged fruit. Jen is still thinning the Freedoms - between rain and other time commitments, it is difficult to fit in the many, many hours needed to hand thin the fruit. At this point, we continue to thin to keep apples from touching, to minimize insect damage on the fruit. It also gives us an opportunity to keep track of late season insect damage, mostly from codling moth.

We are selling our hard cider every other week at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market this summer and fall. We will be at the market next Saturday, July 13, from 9-1 on the Town Common, and have the Hop and Sparkling hard ciders for sale for $12 per 750 mL bottle. We also offer free tastings; there’s nothing like a little hard cider with your coffee and pastry in the morning, right? Right now, the only way you can buy our cider is at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market or by stopping by the farm. This fall, we will sell hard cider here at the farm every weekend when we are open for apple picking. By that time, two more varieties of hard cider will be ready; a Cyser (hard cider and honey fermented together) and a limited offering of our Ice cider. Looking forward to next year, we are all set up to make more hard cider this fall so we can offer it in a few retailers and restaurants locally.
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Almost blossom time

While our apple trees are holding off blossoming for a few more days, our other fruit trees - plum, cherry, peach, pear - are all in full bloom. We are supposed to get frosts in the next few days, though not so cold as to endanger the blossoms. Let’s hope the forecasts are correct. We are relieved to have gotten a few inches of rain in the last number of days. It had not rained since we planted all our new trees, and no matter how well you water plants, real rain does a better job. Nothing makes you attentive to weather like farming! We are thrilled to have really precise weather information with our new weather station. We find the temperatures are really different than those recorded by the Clark Orchard weather station, which is only a few miles away but hundreds of feet lower in elevation. Now we can track our own degree days and wetting periods.
We got labels approved and printed for the sparkling and hopped ciders, and we are now close to contacting retailers to start selling cider. We plan to be at the Ashfield farmer’s market Memorial Day weekend with those two varieties of hard cider. That market is on the town common in the village of Ashfield Saturdays 9-1. We won’t be there every week (unless Ashfield residents turn out to be really thirsty for cider), but expect to attend once a month during the spring and summer. Once the maple, farmhouse, and ice ciders are ready we will add them to the selection.
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Spring orchard work

We have been so hard at work we have not taken the time to share what we’ve been doing, hence the length of this entry. We pruned all the trees in the orchard, some on top of snow that let us reach high in the trees, some on snowshoes, and some on the ground. The trees are continuing on their path to proper shape, as each year we allow some branches to grow out and eventually can cut the overhanging branches that grow at weird angles. We also grafted new varieties onto rootstock that we collected from our trees or those of neighbors and friends, which are currently in our refrigerator but will soon be in the nursery bed to grow into young trees. We ordered a few new apple varieties from Fedco Trees, namely Redfield, Campfield, Reine de Pomme, as well as a few more peach trees, grape vines, and blueberry bushes, and all but the blueberries are now in the ground. We are also moving all the trees we grafted two years ago into the orchard, filling in areas where trees died and starting to plant in new areas as well. It feels great to have the orchard filled in at last, though these new trees will not fruit for some time to come. Remaining orchard work, before we see blossoms, include planting the apple trees that remain in the nursery bed and the blueberry bushes, pruning of a few of our giant standard sized trees, removing all the big tree trimmings from the orchard, and flail mowing the smaller branches to return them to the soil. It’s amazing how those chopped up branches disappear.

On the hard cider side, we have also been busy. We ordered new bottles, and bottled most of the 2012 cider as Sparkling and Hop hard cider, with the still, Farmhouse hard cider, Maple hard cider, and the Ice cider continuing to age for a bit longer. We decided to bottle-condition the sparkling and hop ciders by adding just a few ml of maple syrup when we fill the bottles. This adds some bubbles as the maple syrup ferments. We also worked with our artist friend Jeff Grader to design some labels for the new varieties, and we are now working through the bureaucracy of getting them approved by the organic certifier and the federal government so we can get them printed. Nothing is quick and easy when dealing with alcohol! We are looking forward to making the hard cider available at a few local retailers in the next month or so. Updates on that as soon as we have them.

This spring has been nice and gradual, with no weird heat waves in March like we had last year. We see no vole damage on any trees this year, perhaps due to the long cold period before we had snow this winter. Hopefully pest insects were knocked down by that cold as well; we are looking forward to seeing whether cold, dry winter periods reduce pest insect pressure. Every year is a new adventure, we’ll have to wait to see what this one will bring.
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Solar panels

So we have had the solar panels for almost one year, and it’s official - we made enough power to cover all of our electrical use, plus the 480 kWh we needed to cover the $6/month customer fee for being grid tied. We head into the sunny part of the year with a $9 credit remaining. Thanks Northeast Solar, you did a great job sizing the system!
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Orchard reflections

On this snowy day, when pruning is not an option, I have been thinking about the orchard as a component of our local habitat. The Northeast Organic Farming Association spring publication focused on the role of organic farms in supporting the biodiversity of our local communities, noting that one goal of the organic standards is to promote biodiversity and ecosystem health beyond the farm.
The notion that our farm is part of the local ecosystem is one of our prime directives as orchard managers. We foster elements of the ecosystem within and around our orchard to integrate our non-native fruit trees into their ecological community, both to gain benefits from that community, and to provide resources in return. For instance, we encourage a healthy soil ecosystem by maintaining a diverse understory, feeding the creatures in the soil with compost and tree trimmings, and avoiding use of materials that might harm those soil inhabitants. Those creatures in turn make nutrients available to our trees, aerate the soil, and keep conditions such as water retention and pH in balance. We also are thrilled to host predators of all shapes and sizes, from the mind-boggling diversity of spiders in and around the orchard, to the mink that spent much of this winter hunting little mammals on our property, to the hundreds of birds that feed their babies with insects from our orchard each spring and summer. Without these helpers we would be overrun with pests that would kill our trees and damage our fruit. And while our property is just a small piece within a large area of forest and other open land, the mix of pasture, orchard, forest, wetlands, and gardens offer resources to a broader range of creatures than one habitat could provide. So, we hope our management strategy is mutually beneficial, to us and every other creature we share space with.
This strategy does sometimes come with costs. That mink killed a chicken before we tightened up the coop. Rodent populations can spike, leaving us with girdled, dead trees. Various insect pests have gotten out of balance, damaging substantial numbers of apples. An orchard is not an intact ecosystem, after all, so we do need to intervene to a degree. But we hope to always improve our capacity to manage the orchard in a way that will improve the health of our trees, the quality of our apples, and the value of our property to everyone else living here.
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Hard cider matures

Our hard cider has been fermenting very slowly this season, but it was finally ready to be transferred into new vessels this past week. We spent a day moving cider from one vessel to another, with a bit of product testing. A productive day. It is amazing how different cider can be from year to year using the same apple varieties. One year we made a lot of cider with Freedom apples, and it was all pretty high acid. We only made a little cider from Freedoms this year, and the acid level is much, much lower - it tasted really good, actually. Hard to say why. So our cider is going to be quite different every year, given differences in the apples and the yeast from year to year. Every batch is a new experience!
The cider will age for another few months before we bottle it this spring, and then it conditions in the bottle for a while. We expect to start selling cider in May this year. Stay tuned for where it will be available.

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The winter orchard

So far this winter, we have had a lot of cold weather, some of it when there is snow on the ground but also when the ground was mostly bare. Before we started taking care of the orchard, we noticed that some years insect damage was worse than others, and thought that cold periods when the ground was bare might have some connection to that. Given that many of our pest species overwinter in the top few inches of the ground, cold without snow to insulate the ground could kill a lot of overwintering pests. If this is true, the coming season might have quite low pest pressure. This would impact plum curculio, codling moth, voles, and possibly apple and peach borer. I sure hope it works that way!
As for the mammal pests, we have new fox tracks in the orchard every day, and a big mink has taken up residence, so that should reduce the number of voles and rabbits for next season. I got to see the mink kill a rabbit right in our front yard, and we found another he had probably stashed in a snowbank. I say he, since it is mostly male minks that kill rabbits - they are bigger than females. This mink is very dark sable, almost black, so is very noticeable in a snowy world. He also got into the chicken coop one night and killed one of my chickens, but we buttoned up the coop and he has not gotten in again.
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