Making Apple Cider

Apple cider and fall – is there a better drink on a cool fall evening than a cup of warm apple cider flavored with cinnamon?

My husband’s family has a long tradition of making apple cider each fall.  His aunt and uncle have apple trees.  This year, they picked 11 bushels of apples which made 20 gallons of cider deliciousness.


This is the cider making operation.  The two on the left are my husband’s aunt and uncle AKA Extraordinaire Apple Cider Makers!

Once the apples are picked, they must be washed and any bad spots are cut out.  These side by side tubs worked great to put sweet apples on one side and tart on the other.  The water was changed out every couple of batches.


My mother-in-law preparing the apples to be made into cider.  The sweet apples were in the tub on the left and the tart apples on the right.  We used 2 sweet apples and 1 tart apple for just the right flavor.


Little ones are good at cleaning apples 🙂


Any guesses on how many apples got eaten?

The mixture is two sweet apples with one tart apple – that’s it!  The tart apples are Jonathan and the sweet apples are Red and Yellow Delicious.

After being washed, the entire apple goes in to be shredded – seeds, stems, peel, and all.  Once there are enough apples, a lid is put on and the apple mash is pressed for the cider to run out.  As the liquid flows out, the mash can be pressed down further.  It takes a little time to release the juice.  We got about one gallon of cider per batch of pressed apples.


Pressing the apple mash


There’s a net bag inside the bucket that keeps the apple mash contained.  Once all the juices flow out, the mash was removed, and we’d start a new batch.


The apple mash was fed to the cattle.


Apple cider flowing

As the cider flowed from the apple mash, we would alternate pitchers to collect the cider.  Then the cider is strained through a thin fabric, such as a tea towel. The straining collects any small chucks of apple that came through the press.


We yielded 20 gallons of cider from 11 bushels of apples.  It took 4 hours, lots of laughter and precious family time.

The cider is good for 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator or can be frozen to enjoy later.

This year making apple cider was bittersweet.  My hubby’s grandma always enjoyed making cider.  She passed away last winter so it was the first year without her there to strain the cider.  Our family gathered in the evening to enjoy supper together.




My Farmer’s Planting Notes

In farming, every year has its own set of unique challenges, but this year seems especially challenging.

Notes from my farmer’s planting book –

May 2, 2015  Corn planting is complete. It looks like nearly every seed that was planted came up. Warm and dry weather perfect for establishing a stand. Couldn’t look much better!


On April 29th every seed seemed to have come up. The crop looked amazing!

May 3, 2015  Right on time to start planting soybeans. Chances of rain next week.  My wife says she saw a forecast for up to 5” of rain next week. Our truck driver says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

May 5, 2015  Rain. Nice break to work on equipment.

May 10, 2015  Still raining. Wife and the weatherman might have been right about 5” of rain.

May 17, 2015  A farmer friend posted on Facebook, “Rain, rain go away, come back on July 1st!”

May 21, 2015  Crazy as it sounds, we’re going to visit my wife’s family over Memorial Day Weekend. Never, ever believed that to be possible during planting.

May 25, 2015  Returned from wife’s family visit. It rained 3” while we were gone.

May 28, 2015  When was the last time I planted? The corn looks yellow. There are drowned out spots all over the fields. Only a few acres of soybeans have been planted and we’re well past the ideal time to plant soybeans.

June 1, 2015  More rain in the forecast?

June 5, 2015  The river is cresting, and will likely get out. Move equipment off fields by the river. Pull motors off pivots on the fields next to the river, otherwise, they will be ruined.

June 5, 2015 (afternoon)  10’ (yes, 10 foot) of water at the entrance of the field. Hope the river goes down quickly so the water can drain off the field soon. Guess I can go to my board meeting dinner tonight after all.


The river got out of its banks on June 5th and flooded part of this field.

June 8, 2015  Three days of sun before a 70% chance of rain on Thursday. Start planting the sandy fields and hope for the best.

This too shall pass. It’s hard to know how this crop will turn out, but we’ll certainly work hard to get it planted and cared for. Harvest sure seems a long ways off when there are these kind of difficulties with planting!





Beijing, China – Part 5 – Corn Harvest

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Beijing, China with USSEC (United States Soybean Export Council).  

We were mostly in Beijing, but one day we did travel outside the city to visit the Great Wall.  Along our drive to the Great Wall, we did see some corn that had been harvested along the side of the road.  The kernels were still on the cobs, and the entire ear was drying down.  It was covered in plastic that day as it had been raining lightly throughout the day.


Recently harvested corn, just outside Beijing, China. Notice the corn kernels are still on the cobs.


On the return flight home, I sat next to a man who worked for a large agribusiness company.  He told me that the farmers in China will harvest corn at the half milk line stage which is much earlier than when the U.S. farmer would harvest.  He said that the average corn yield in China is 80 bushels per acre (similar to where the U.S. was in the early 1980’s).

You’ll notice in the picture that the corn kernels have not been removed from the cobs.  He said that they will allow the corn to dry down on the cobs then some sort of machine will come through and remove the kernels from the ears.  The kernels will eventually be picked up and the cobs will be burned as fuel for the family’s fire during the cold months.

I would love to see a Chinese farm and harvest first hand!

Comparison to U.S. Farm

As a comparison, if the average farm in China is 2.5 acres (like 2 ½ football fields), and corn yields 80 bushels per acres, their total production would be 200 bushels of corn.  Today the U.S. price of corn is $3.50, so they would yield $700 total for their crop, and entire livelihood for the year!

The average U.S. farm is 446 acres.  This size of a farm requires at least one spouse (likely both) to work off the farm to support family living expenses and provide benefits, such as health insurance.

While we were traveling, we were told a few different times that the term farmer is equal to peasant in China.  It’s fascinating to look at the contrast between U.S. and China’s farming styles.  It makes me very thankful for the technology and innovations that we have available to us on our farm.  It also reminds me of the plight that other farmers have who don’t have access as we do.


Project #WatchThemGrow – August 6th Update

We are finally getting some rain this afternoon, but boy has it ever been dry.  It’s been close to a month our last rain.


Corn “firing”

As you can see from this picture, the corn has been “firing from the ground”.  This means that the plant has run out of water and it is taking the nutrients out of the bottom leaves and putting them towards the ear.  This is a self protection measure that the plant has to finish out producing the kernels on the ear of corn.  A plant’s number one job is to produce kernels.


Picture taken August 6, 2014


Picture taken July 29, 2014

These pictures were taken one week apart.  This week’s picture is lighter green and shows a lot more stress.  Although the summer overall has been mild, the few days of 100 degree temperatures and hot winds have taken their toll along with the lack of rain.

IMG_2711 Since the main goal is how many kernels of corn will be ready for harvest, let’s look at the ear.  Luckily, it was mild enough during kernel development that this particular ear hardly “tipped back” or aborted kernels.


Right now the corn kernels are finishing out prior to harvest, and the drought impact will be on the kernel weight and the depth of the kernels.

So when will harvest be?  The weather conditions adjust the amount of time from planting to harvest – for example, is it cool after the seeds are planted so it takes a long time before the plants pop up?  Is it a mild summer and the plants aren’t getting the heat units it needs to progress forward?


Look at the cracks in the field!

It has been so dry.  However, as I’m typing this we are finally getting some much needed rain!



Project #WatchThemGrow – July 30th Update

One of the favorite farmer sayings around here is, ‘we’re always two weeks from a drought’.  Truth.  A couple weeks ago, we could not say enough about the nearly ideal growing conditions we’d been having.  Today, not as much.  It’s been around two weeks since we have had rain, and some corn field are starting to have the “ears drop” because the plants are running out of moisture.

On a farm, one talks about the weather a lot.

Since my last update, the corn tasseled and pollinated (see the July 1st update for how the pollen travels to each kernel).  The corn plant has up to about one week before the silk dry up to pollinate.


Notice how the silks on this plant are dried up and brown.  Once the silks are dry pollination is complete.


The silks on this ear are brown inside the shuck too.  Compare to July 1st when the silks were fresh and plentiful around the ear.


Do you think it’s more important to have more kernels around the cob or more kernels the length of the cob?  In fairness, the answer is both – the more kernels on the cob the better!  But kernels around the cob, the better.  This ear has 16 kernels around and 37 kernels in length.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

Recipe Flashback – in honor of January being National Soup Month!

This is really the name of this recipe and I think it lives up to its name!  Since October is National Pork month it’s a great way to round out the month, and perfect for Halloween night.  It’s great for either putting in the Crock Pot or cooking on the stove.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

8 medium potatoes (I don’t even peel mine, just wash and dice)

2 carrots, finely shredded

2 stalks of celery, sliced

1 onion, chopped

5 cups of water

5 chicken bouillon cubes

1 ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1-12 ounce can of evaporated milk

2 cups of cubed ham

Directions to cook on the stove.  Bring water to boil.  Add bouillon cubes, salt, and pepper to water.  To make this recipe quickly, I just wash all my vegetables then run them through my food processor to chop.  I don’t chop the potatoes as finely as the carrots, onion, and celery.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium; add potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and ham.  Cook until vegetables are soft.  Add evaporated milk and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions to cook in slow cooker.  Place vegetables and ham in slow cooker.  Add bouillon cubes, water, salt, and pepper.  Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.  About 2 hours before serving, add milk.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chives, parsley, and cheese.  Yummy!

The pig farm where I was raised — I grew up on a family farm, and we raised pigs.  My parents stopped raising pigs around 2006.  The pig farm that I was raised on was “farrow to finish”.  This means that we had mama sows that were bred, they had baby piglets that were raised to market weight and sold to be processed into meat for grocery stores.  Most family pig farms today are more specialized than what our farm was.  They may only have the mama sows and then sell the piglets once they are weaned from their mother.  Other farms might just have the small piglets and raise the feeder pigs to market weight.  Each part of raising pigs has its own challenges.

A lot of people have questions about gestation crates that might be used on pig farms.  We did not use gestation crates on the farm that I was raised on ~ more on that in a moment.  We did; however, use farrowing (or birthing) crates.  I firmly believe that farrowing crates are important not only to the health and well-being of the mama sow, but especially important for the piglets.  The mama sow would receive individual feed and close monitoring during the days after giving birth.  The way that the crates are designed, there were bars on the sides so the piglets can get to the sides without the sow laying down or stepping on them.  The sow does have room to lie down to nurse the piglets; the piglets just have space on the sides where the sow cannot lay on top of them.  Once piglets were weaned from their mother, the sows would be moved outside to group pens.

On my parent’s farm, the group pens were outside.  Part of the pen would be concrete where the sows were fed, and part was dirt.  There were “huts” or shelters that they could get in to protect themselves from the elements.  There are some disadvantages to this type of housing.  First, there isn’t a great way to climate control the environment.  During the winter, we would “bed them down” with straw inside the huts, but there were still large open areas that exposed the outside.  Second, there is a hierarchy order with animals.  When sows are fed in this group setting the most aggressive will eat first and the most while the weaker ones will get what’s left over and less feed.  Remember survival of the fittest?  Third, even though these pens were checked at a minimum twice each day, on rare occasions, we’d miss sows that were ready to have their piglets or they’d deliver early in the group setting.  This is very challenging for a lot of reasons, one being that it’s very dangerous to remove the piglets and the sow from the setting.

On the flipside of the disadvantages of the group housing that I described above for sows can be overcome with gestation crates.  A lot of farms today have buildings that are climate controlled ~ think air conditioning/heat to keep the building at a constant temperature.  Hmmm – similarly, most of us keep our houses climate controlled year round…. The hierarchy order isn’t an issue with gestation crates.  Each pig receives their feed individually and can have their health monitored individually.

Why did my parents never convert from outside group housing to gestation crates?  I would say that as much as anything it had to do with the cost of putting in this type of barn.  From an economic and sow health aspect, there are a lot of strong reasons why a pig farmer would have built a barn with gestation crates.  Farmers don’t make these decisions without doing a lot of research and contemplating what overall makes the most sense for their farm.  That being said, if a farm already has their sows housed in gestation crates, they built this type of barn only after much research and contemplation.