A portion of CSC’s land is home to an apple orchard that was planted in the 1970’s. The trees in the orchard are nearing the end of their life cycle, and have not fruited for the past several years. This year, our trees produced fruit once again! 

In the spirit of preserving the harvest, we decided to take a stab at fermenting a batch of juice from our orchard apples and (hopefully) end up with some farm-fresh hard apple cider. 

Step 1: Harvest

How do you efficiently harvest apples from trees that have grown wild for the past decade? Turns out all you need is one expertly positioned pickup truck and an affinity for tree-climbing. 

The result: More apples than we knew what to do with, in under an hour.

Step 2: Processing and fermenting

Using a basic kitchen juicer, it took about two 5-gallon buckets of apples to press out an even five gallons of cider.  We boiled the juice in order to pasteurize and remove any wild bacteria that would impart off-flavors during fermentation. During the boil we added brown sugar, cinnamon, and clove, until it tasted like a palatable cider. Brown sugar, unlike granulated sugar, will ferment out and convert to alcohol, so we expect to have a pretty dry final product. 

Step 3: Fermentation

Here’s a (very scientific) illustration of what we’re trying to make happen with our cider fermentation: 

Essentially, yeast will feed off the sugars present in the cider from the apples and brown sugar. As the yeast metabolizes the sugar, it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as a by-product. 

For our fermentation, we followed a simple online recipe. 🡪 https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=345&v=rbYAFCdtm6w

Home fermentations are relatively simple. You only need a few pieces of special equipment, and the right kind of yeast. Here are the basics for any home fermentation:


  1. Carboy or fermenting bucket-basically the vessel that holds your beverage of choice as it ferments. 
  2. Airlock and stopper- an apparatus designed to let CO2 gas escape while also preventing outside oxygen from entering the fermentation vessel. 
  3. Food-safe sanitizer-keeping all your equipment clean and disinfected is vital to a healthy fermentation and safe final product.  
  4. Yeast-We used a yeast specific to cider fermentation, but wine or ale yeast also work. Most sources don’t recommend using baker’s yeast—it will work, but makes for an off-tasting final product.

There are a few other optional additives (enzymes, sugars, etc.) that will affect the final flavor/appearance of the cider, but we skipped these in an effort to keep this trial run as simple as possible. 

We used a 5-gallon glass carboy for our cider. Once the juice is transferred into the sanitized carboy, all that’s left to do is add the yeast and seal the vessel. Here’s where the special airlock and stopper come in: We fill the airlock with either vodka or sterile water; this creates a liquid seal that lets CO2 gas escape but does not allow any outside air to enter the vessel. This is important because oxygen and other pollutants can mess with a healthy fermentation. Bubbles coming through the airlock also indicate that the cider is actively fermenting, and when the bubbles stop we will know that the cider has completed its fermentation. Here’s what the whole system looks like:

Step 4: And now we wait

After the cider finishes fermenting (I.e. we stop seeing CO2 bubbles coming through the airlock,) we will separate it from the yeast and transfer it into smaller containers, where it will continue to rest for a month or so. The final product will be ready for tasting when I return to Stelle for my advanced PDC next month! Stay tuned…

To me, the beauty of working on a permaculture farm is the opportunity for experimentation and projects like this fermentation. The Stelle community is working together to implement permaculture principles and move towards a model of sustainable food production, and that doesn’t happen without some trial and error. It’s been greatly rewarding to participate in this process during my internship, and I can’t wait to keep experimenting. 

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