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One of the very first things we did when we moved to the farm was to plant a small orchard of fruit trees. We set up irrigation for four rows of seven trees each.

The first row was planted with Honeycrisp, one of our favorite apple varieties. This row taught us a brutal lesson about Cedar Rust, an airborne parasite that is incredibly toxic to apple trees, particularly Honeycrisps.

Cedar Rust is carried by Cedar trees, which grow like weeds around here. The horizon of trees in the background of this picture is almost entirely Cedar trees.

Those Honeycrisp apple trees would turn brown and shrivel before the end of July. They made a few attempts to grow apples that were quickly consumed and shriveled by the rust. We tried spraying them to no avail. They were never happy; they could not thrive.

A common mistake when gardening is spending too much time on the plants that aren't doing well.
- Unknown

After five years, they were no bigger than the day we planted them. We gave up on them and pulled them up, by hand, with little resistance. The root balls on them were probably bigger when they were planted.

At some point a tree in the fourth row died. We did some research and found the Liberty apples were supposed to be very resistant to Cedar Rust. We got one from the local garden center and it thrived. Its apples proved to be quite delicious; they are crisp tart and spicy, our current favorites.

We ordered a full row of Liberty trees to replant the first row, after pulling the Honeycrisps. Due to a snafu at the garden center, we only got three of them.

The remainder of the row was replanted with Macintosh apples and a peach tree. Macintosh turns out to be highly resistant to Cedar Rust and they are good apples, often found at local grocers.

The second row was planted with Haralson apples. They turned out to be fairly resistant to the Cedar Rust but we still have to spray them. This year we got a fantastic crop of gorgeous apples from the Haralsons, pictured here.

There were so many big beautiful apples; they looked like clusters of grapes.

The trees were tragically overloaded. Several branches got broken by the weight.

This picture was taken earlier in the year. It shows a large upper branch broken by a huge cluster of apples. Branches hang to the ground on several of the trees in the row, heavily laden with apples.

Grinder and Press

Paula cans an enormous amount of apple sauce every season. We keep most of it for ourselves and we give away the rest to family.

The orchard produced more apples than we need for apple sauce this year. It may be time for us to start making apple juice.

To make juice, the apples must be ground into pulp. Then the pulp is mechanically squeezed to extract the juice. Two machines are needed: a grinder and a press.

A couple of years ago I watched a video about a guy who made his own apple grinder. I was intrigued by how efficiently it reduced a large amount of apples to pulp. He credited a book The New Cider Maker's Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur as his source of inspiration.

That grinder was in my mind a lot over the years, preparing me for the day when I would need to build it. The need arose this year with all the apples.

Seeking the same inspiration, I acquired the book. It contains a lot of information about the entire process, more than just making an apple grinder. The book gave some very useful insight; I recommend it to others who choose this path.

The hopper efficiently feeds apples into the teeth of the grinding wheel. It's really more of a grinding drum. The grinding wheel in the book was only 4" wide, the size of Claude's largest apple. My drum is 6" wide.

The hopper and feeder assembly lifts off easily for cleaning.

Claude imparts lessons learned from his trials with feeders to the grinder. This design resulted from that very useful information gathered from his experience. Results were excellent in our test with a small number of apples. We have not had a chance to process a large batch of apples but we will soon.

The drum was cut from 2x12 dimensional lumber, actually 1.5" thick. Four large discs were cut, all the same size. A small axle hole was cut into the two inner discs. A large hole was cut from the center of the two outer discs, like a donut; this accommodates a pulley on each side that is used to attach the drum to the axle shaft.

The drum is assembled by glueing and screwing the two solid inner discs together. Then the donut discs are glued and screwed to the outside of the inner two discs, making a big heavy wooden wheel with a wide tire. The wood grain of each layer is rotated 45 degrees from the layer below, for added strength.

The drum is attached to the axle using two regular pulleys, one on each side of the drum. They are inset into the outer discs of the drum, drilled and screwed to the inner discs. They cannot be seen in the top view picture. The axle passes through the pulleys on the sides of the drum. Set screws on the pulleys attach the drum tightly to the axle shaft.

Claude was fortunate enough to know someone who could machine custom attachment plates for this purpose. Mine work the same way but they aren't as pretty.

Final rounding of the drum wheel was done using Claude's method. The drum was hooked up to the frame with the motor so the motor could turn it. A chisel was used to shape the drum until it was smooth, like a lathe.

Finally a belt sander was applied to the drum while it was turning, to smooth it even more. The result was quite good enough for an apple grinder, not exactly furniture grade.

Bar steel was cut into lengths that were attached to the sides of the drum, to give the grinder some teeth. These also help to hold everything together. Having never made one of these, I don't really know how much punishment this thing will be able to take. It is quite heavy.

This top view picture shows the motor, belt and drum. The motor is a 1/2 hp motor from TSC.

I got the largest pulley wheel they had for the drum side. It was not as large as I wanted so I may shop for a larger one on line. A larger pulley would give the belt more torque at the expense of speed.

I used the extra pulley wheel from the grain mill for the motor side. The grain mill works well with the pulley that's on it; its configuration will never change so the larger pulley was not needed.

TSC did not have many choices for bearings but I found a solution there, without having to shop online. TSC had something called an idler pulley, which incorporates a sealed bearing around the axle.

The idler pulley wheel was perforated with a couple of holes just right for #10 machine screws; those were used to anchor the idler pulleys to the wood side brackets.

The pulleys and bearings all had a 5/8" diameter hole for the axle. TSC was out of 5/8" metal rod so I bought some at Menard's.

The 5/8" rod I got was slightly larger than the holes in the 5/8" pulleys; none of them would slide onto the rod. After some consirable time with a hand sander and a few taps on the grinder, all the parts went together.

The bearings do not have set screws. A short piece of 1" PVC pipe was slipped over the axle on each side of the drum, between the drum and the bearings. This prevents the drum from walking to one side or the other.

A look inside the hopper shows how closely everything fits together. I was quite pleased with the final result.

We are ready to crush apples, a lot of them, really fast. After that, we'll need to press the pulp to extract the juice.

A traditional apple press looks like a leaky wooden barrel, with straight sides. A screw pushes a circular plate down onto the pulp inside, squeezing the juice out the sides. This is a slow process, requiring periodic tightening of the screw to press out all the juice.

Modern incarnations of this device incorporate one or more hydraulic jacks instead of the screw.

The stresses involved are powerful, begging for failure at a number of critical points. The engineer part of my brain screams for a better way.

This machine is a bladder press, made in Slovenia. It consists of a stainless steel outer drum with slots for juice to come out. Inside is a cylindrical rubber bladder that goes up the center from bottom to top, like the tube inside a roll of paper towels.

The lid comes off the top and you fill it with 80 liters of apple pulp, or the pulp of other kinds of fruit. Then you fill the bladder with water under pressure and it squeezes the juice out the sides.

The juice runs down into a collection pan and out of a port on the bottom.

Water can be supplied with a garden hose. The pressure required is around 35 psi, well within the range of residential water pressure.

It takes 30 minutes to squeeze the juice from an 80 liter batch of pulp, about 21 gallons. I don't yet know how much juice to expect from that much pulp.

We plan to try it soon, when we finish harvesting this year's apples. That is likely to be today due to dropping temperatures at night.

This is the way the press was packaged when it arrived.

I included the pic only because it captured Mercedes, a seven week old white German Shepherd puppy. She is a doll.

Here is the full grinder and press setup.

That's Maddie in the background. She has no interest in apples or apple juice or machines. She just likes to hang out in the barn with me.

Thu 14 Oct 2021 01:52:42 PM CDT

We went out and picked every apple yesterday afternoon. It was too late to grind and press them by the time we were done.

Paula picked one last batch of the most pristine apples for apple sauce and fresh apples at breakfast. The smoothest nicest ones work best with the peeler.

There were so many; she could be picky and still fill the ten buckets she was after. That should make about eight cases of apple sauce.

The remaining apples were sorted based on how much good solid crisp apple was still on them. Those that had already fallen ranged anywhere from pristine to total rot. If at least half the apple was salvageable easily, without major surgery, it was kept.

The rejects were thrown between the rows for cleanup later. You can't leave them lying on the ground or they harbor the eggs of apple eating bugs through the winter. Then in spring time, they're right where they want to be, ready for their larvae to emerge and eat a fresh crop of apples.

We collected a full tractor scoop of apples for making juice. They will be processed this afternoon.

Fri 15 Oct 2021 09:30:16 AM CDT

Last night we processed our first batch of apples. There's probably enough apples to do another batch but it was getting late.

We set up a production line that worked very well. I pulled apples out of the tractor scoop one-by-one and washed them in a tub, placing them on Paula's cutting board. Paula cut off any rot and threw them into the grinder. we had a good continous flow of apples going into the grinder.

There were a couple of small issues with the grinder. Those were easily resolved and it was smooth continuous grinding after that.

The most humorous fix was a hastily cobbled "fender" to deflect the spray from the wheel. I plan to improve upon this before the next run.

The other issue resulted in dense white smoke rising up out of the hopper on the grinder. The little PVC spacers on the axle weren't quite long enough. The drum managed to creep over and rub the drum against the frame.

Surprisingly, we had very little waste, about five gallons I would guess.

We processed enough apples to fill two food-grade ten gallon buckets with apple pulp. The buckets were dumped into the press, which filled it up nicely.

The press was the star of the show. It quietly seems to do nothing when you turn on the water. Then apple juice starts to gush from the screen and flow into the bucket.

Most of the flow seemed to be finished after the first five minutes. That filled a ten gallon bucket to the top.

The pressing process takes a half hour to complete. There was a constant dribble for the remainder of the time; that added about another gallon or maybe two.

The pulp remaining inside the press is smashed against the walls about an inch and a half thick. It is dense and barely damp feeling.

The juice.

Straight from the press. We added nothing.

Best. Apple juice. Ever.

Suddenly all the apple juice I ever had before seemed pale and shallow.

This was complex, like drinking an apple. I could taste everything in rich detail: the skin, the pulp; it was all there.

Mon 18 Oct 2021 10:08:27 AM CDT

The final tally from that tractor scoop full of apples was 17.5 gallons pasteurized and canned.

There was a little more juice that never made it into the canner. That might have brought up the total to eighteen gallons even.