Organic Cider Apple Orchard

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by cchapman84, Feb 20, 2005.

  1. cchapman84

    cchapman84 Well-Known Member

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    So, I'm thinking that when we get our land (I think we might actually go look at a piece not too far from us in the next couple weeks), I want to start an organic apple orchard primarily for hard cider production. I think that there would be a good market for it (primarily wholesale and mail-order), and, living in VT, there are tons of people in the northeastern cities (Boston, NYC, Hartford, etc.) who will pay more for a product because it's produced in VT. I'm just wondering, does anyone here grow organic apples? Does anyone produce hard cider for sale? I have a friend who makes hard cider, but he uses all wild grown apples or gets them from local orchards. I'm planning on starting small, this is definitely a long-term goal. I figure if I plant 5-10 trees each year, then in 10 years I'll have 50 or 100 trees, which should be enough for at least a supplementary income. I've found some resources online, but I want some first-hand experiences from people who've actually done it. Any hidden costs/issues that you didn't consider at first? I know I'll have to go through all of the federal paperwork and such, but aside from that and insurance, what other things are there to be aware of?

    Thanks for any and all help!

    Cameron in VT
     
  2. Bruce in NE

    Bruce in NE Well-Known Member

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    Do you know about the North American Fruit Explorers. They are folks who are into fruit trees, including apples. Much can be learned by reading their archives at:

    http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/nafex/
     

  3. cchapman84

    cchapman84 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Bruce in NE. I'll have to check them out when I have some time, too busy making soap to do it today!
     
  4. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

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    I explored planting a small orchard a number of years ago after a magazine article told about planting specific fruit bearing trees such as Gala and Fuji, and the prices they commanded per apple.

    After learning how long it would take to pick all of the apples from what I thought was a small orchard I abandoned the idea. A hidden cost for you might be in hiring pickers--if available.

    Would hard cider come under the department of Alcohol, Tobbaco, and Firearms jurisdiction? If the alcohol content is such to be under their authority it might be a nightmare trying to ship across state lines. As you can tell, I'm not really familiar with hard cider.
     
  5. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Yes, it would. There a lot of hoops to jump through before you can legally start selling hard cider, but waiting for the trees to produce will give you time to do the paperwork, etc.
    I know a few people with organic apple orchards, and know of even more, and some of them planted varieties specifically for hard cider--these are orchards in Wis, Minn, Iowa area. I took a day long class in organic apple orcharding last week at the big organic farming conference in LaCrosse, WI, and came home all inspired. Lots of other good workshops on the other days of the conference, too--I think my brain is too full.

    Jim
     
  6. Jen H

    Jen H Well-Known Member

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    My husband and I are starting up a hard cidery, our first product will be in local bars this fall.

    With any kind of alcohol production you have to deal with The BATF and your state's Liquor Control Board. It's a whole lot of paper work to wade through, and I'd really recommend an attorney to help make sure everything is done properly.

    Shipping across state lines isn't a problem if the state you're shipping to has a reciprocal agreement with the state you live in. For example, from Washington state I cannot ship hard cider to New York state. Shipping to Oregon or California isn't a problem at all.

    The beauty of cider apples is that it doesn't matter at all what they look like - they're just gonna get squished. So they lend themselves very well to organic growing methods. Trees that don't respond to those management methods are being replaced by trees that do. There are literally thousands of apple varieties that have been developed for hard cider in the world, so there's no shortage of trees to try in your particular orchard. The catch is finding nurseries that carry those trees.

    Most used brewery equipment is useable for hard cider. Just be aware that cider is more corrosive than beer is, so you have to watch the grades of stainless tanks (or just go with food-grade plastic barrels). DO NOT use any kind of Quaternary compound for sanitizing your equipment - it will turn the hard cider pink. Chlorine bleach is also a bad idea - it can give the cider a "skunk" smell. That's the sort of thing that's just unfortunate in a 5 gallon batch but disastrous when it happens in a 2K gallon tank. We use a product based on phosphoric acid that's worked very well for us.

    One of the things that caught us off guard is that in our state, commercial alcohol production has to be done in a completely separate building. We're having to build a new barn to house the cidery. If you're looking to start a separate business to sell the cider, the business that sells the cider has to be the same business that bottles and produces the cider. That means you have to invest in your own bottling line or find some company that will bottle under your license - you can't take a tank of your cider to a local winery and rent their line (bottling lines are incredibly expensive). A good attorney can walk you through some of this, I've also become the Queen of Stupid Questions.

    What else? For blending purposes we've found it's easy to get sharp apples and sweets. Some bitter sweets we can find around here. The hardest apples to find are the true bitters - which makes sense, who wants to eat a "spit" apple? Vilberrie, BTW, is a fantastic bitter for blending - a little goes a loooooong way. We've started our plantings with lots of bitters and bittersweets because we can find sharps and sweets locally (I'm waiting for the first kid to steal some of our apples - HA!).

    Also realize that this is a business. The product you make has to be something people will be willing to buy. You might like a cider that's really dry and has a sweat sock aftertaste to it (lots of english ciders fall into this category), but that's going to be a hard sell in WA state.

    Some links:

    Nurseries:
    http://www.cumminsnursery.com
    http://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees.htm
    http://www.acnursery.com/
    http://www.sln.potsdam.ny.us/

    Other useful stuff:
    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/andrew_lea/frameset.htm
    http://www.talisman.com/cider/index.html
    http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/apples/
    http://mtvernon.wsu.edu/frt_hort/ciderapples.htm
    http://www.cideruk.com/

    I'll also direct you to our commercial site. Dave has lots of other links up that may or may not be useful to you.

    http://www.brownsnout.com/
     
  7. Bruce in NE

    Bruce in NE Well-Known Member

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    What ever happened to the good (simpler) old days when they just went out in the woods and put up a still?
     
  8. Jenn

    Jenn Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I would suggest if you can afford it putting in 50 or however many trees you foresee wanting eventually all first year because the time to apples from planting will make you wish you'd put them all in at once.

    My housing area is in a 100+ year old English orchard with no chemical treatment of apples. Not technically organic because the groundskeepers spray weeds around the fronts of houses and the base of the apple trees to avoid ahving to mow grass too close to them. I gather apples and press juice every year and have put up some cider/vinegar but won't bother now I have a deepfreeze forthe juice. Think some of our trees only produce biannually but with so many and my needs doesn't matter. Proper fertilization and pruning would probably avoid this.
     
  9. mtman

    mtman Well-Known Member

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    they still have them