Harvest season is just around the corner, and the trees in our orchard are growing heavy with ripening cider apples. We’re grateful to be situated in Cobble Hill, Cowichan, where the long, slow growing season allows our fruit to ripen over time and develop wonderful flavours. We’ll wait as long as possible to harvest, but it’ll all start happening in about 3 or 4 weeks.
Here are a few things you might not know about harvest season at our craft cidery.
1. The bees are the real MVPs
At the beginning of every spring, we bring in several large beehives which house more than a million bees. The bees are an important part of our orchard ecosystem, ensuring that our spring apple blossoms are well fertilized. A good blossom results in a good fruit set, and we’re seeing the result of this now more than ever as our apples reach peak size and ripeness. This year, our bees were healthy and active, and we’re very grateful for all their hard work. Near harvest time the bees are moved into the hills where they collect food from mountain wildflowers. This also keeps them safe from the wasps which get quite aggressive while we are pressing.
Did you know? We also collect, use, and sell the apple blossom honey from our property. You can find it in several dishes at the Farmhouse Eatery, and as a key ingredient in our Cyser cider. You can also purchase a jar to take home from the Farmhouse store!
2. No rain, no problem
We had a relatively wet spring leading into a dry summer, Overall, the lack of rain was not as much of an issue as many may think. In fact, we have found that the addition of water to ripening fruit during the summer serves to dilute the juice, so we intentionally don’t irrigate. A bit of natural rain never hurts, but we want concentrated flavours for our cider.
3. Fruits of our labour
We have a somewhat labour-intensive harvest program, as we’re super selective on what comes off the tree. Our mantra is: If it’s not ripe, don’t pick it.
Many fruit growers will sample a few pieces of fruit to determine the overall ripeness and then harvest a whole section of trees or a whole variety all at once. We believe that not every apple on a tree fully ripens at the same time. Exposure and other elements impact the process, so some apples on the same tree might ripen a week or more before others. It isn’t unheard of for us to return to the same tree two or three times over the course of a couple of weeks. This ensures that we only press fully-developed fruit.
Our orchard has about 18 varieties of apples with about 7 or 8 varieties in large quantities. We have always described the process as painting a picture. The orchard is our pallet of colours and we use this pallet to paint pictures. The art is how the cider maker blends the colours to create our many different ciders. We know it will be an interesting vintage this year and we are excited about it. We hope you are, too.
We’ll likely be starting to press our apples in about 3-4 weeks. When you visit Merridale this fall, you may be lucky enough to catch us on a pressing day! We are open seven days a week for self-guided orchard walks, tours, tastings, shopping, and lunch, as well as brunch on weekends and Pizza Nights every Sunday with live music.