Swinging back around

Winter is either here or fast approaching, and that means I may have time here and there to post to the blog. It’s a possibility, but not likely. I was doing a bit of maintenance on my site. I was logged in, so I thought I may as well post.

One reason I wanted to do this post, though, is this: In the last year, in my continuing use of WordPress, a few major issues have come up. The main one being WordPress is not very secure. I’ve always kinda known this, but never had a problem before this past year. I’ve never really had the time to figure out what I should or need to do to secure WP even a little. There’s nothing like the dire need of fixing a backed website for a client for motivation.

I must say that I am surprised that more people don’t have significant, constant problems. I know full well there is way more than one web design company who relies on WordPress, but doesn’t seem to do even the first smallest thing to WP itself to secure it in any way. However – I also wonder whether some problems stem from a web host. My site and many others I have worked on are hosted with Geekstorage. My site has never had a problem. But a few of my clients on Geekstorage have been hacked. And, for a client or two I’ve had to request from and prove to various places that the sites I worked on are not malicious, and that their mailing lists are not spam lists. The  problems were solely based on the IP address of the mail server at Geekstorage. Not Geekstorage’s fault that users do stupid things, but a problem indeed. I’m guessing that maybe a shared server contributes to problems with WordPress. Maybe some hosts or privately hosted sites are less at risk. I don’t know.

In any case, here’s what I’ve found useful with WordPress, in order to gain a modicum of security.

1. Keep WordPress up to date.
This is one of my biggest long-term issues with WordPress. It’s like Windows – constantly being barraged by hackers, and so constantly updated to fix problems exploited by hackers. The folks at WP at least made this easy with “automatic updates.” When I first started using WP and for years after, updating was a manual process.

2. Keep your theme up to date. And, only use legitimate themes.
Less of an issue than keeping WP up to date. But can still harbor malicious code. A couple plugins I’ve found recently assist with keeping your theme clean. Here’s a great article with links: Why You Should Never Search For Free WordPress Themes.

Theme Authenticity Checker

Exploit Scanner

3. Take some security measures and install some sort of security plugin.
A good place to start: Hardening WordPress.

Two security plugins I’ve tried and have been relatively happy with:

Better WordPress Security

BulletProof Security

Unfortunately what you don’t hear up front is this – it is best to secure WP from the start. A few measures are almost impossible after your blog is up.

I don’t have much to say about either plugin. I have Better WP Security running on my site and another that has been hacked. I get notices every day from the plugin saying someone was trying to hack the site and has been prevented!!! It is unbelievable, really. I ran into a few issues with Better WP Security in not heeding some of the warnings. At this point in both of the plugins lives, Better WP is prettier. However, it was easier to get up and running with BulletProof. There are simply less screens and tabs to wade through with BulletProof. One thing I like about both is that they combine several features into one – like database backup. Anyway – this was never meant to be a full review. Just a posting of useful files.

Now back to real life. I may not resurface here for many months!


It’s been a long time

And it may be a long time before the next post as well … but that’s just how life is right now.

It has been well over six months since I’ve posted anything. Mainly because life changed drastically after our trip out west. It was an amazing trip well worth its own post or better yet a conversation over a drink some time. What came out of the trip, anyway, was the decision to move back to the Middletown, Ohio area. This was mostly prompted because Julia and I are expecting a baby girl! Any day now, in fact.

Besides all the preparation and anticipation for the baby – we’ve been working for Julia’s dad, Dan, at Edison Saw Shop. It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot and have achieved both Briggs & Stratton Master Service Technician and Stihl Advocate in my short time at the shop. I never thought I would be a mechanic, but it is really a pretty good gig. It is really great working for Dan, and great being so close to her family. It will be nice sharing the joy of our baby and with all of them as well.

We’re living outside of a small town called Camden, Ohio. Also a somewhat unlikely place … but we’re pretty happy to have ended up here. The house we live in is on a 180 acre farm that raises sheep, cows and chickens and lots of hay to feed those animals. We have our small flock of chickens in our little section of the farm. And, a great little garden we’ll be doubling in size this year. We’re just south of Eaton and not far away from Oxford.

Our House

And, if you are really out of touch – Julia and I got married April 11, 2011!

That’s it for now and possibly for a few months … as I’m sure I’ve said before – check me on Facebook. I spend more time there!


The out west trip

Well … we have a week left. The time has just flown by, as usual. Pictures were taken, places were seen, friends were visited, blogs were neglected and relaxation was had … it’s been a great trip!

this was real

Mostly, we’ve been on Vashon Island – a beautiful island in Puget Sound, southwest of Seattle. The marker that comes up on the map is approximately where we are – at Sun Island Farm.

Since we haven’t been blogging along the way, there is way to much to write about in one post. One of the best things to do is check out my Flickr photostream. We have been pretty good about taking pictures and posting them.

It has been a life-changing trip in so many good ways. It has been really fun to re-connect with friends out here. And, good to really miss all the people in Ohio. And miss them so much we are so very excited to get back to Middletown! I am sure I will be writing more in the near future. I just wanted to post this update real quick and not let a whole year go by before I updated my blog!


The Kanji Cabin

Ok, ok … my last post was from September …

Life has changed dramatically. And, all for the better. It is no wonder why I haven’t had time to update my site. Julia and I are engaged. We are getting married April 10th. And, we are moving from the Athens, Ohio area to Middletown, Ohio to work for her Dad.

We will also be doing some traveling this year, kind of an extended honeymoon. In May we’ll be heading out on a road trip to Washington State. Mainly we are going back to Vashon Island, to work at Sun Island Farm for a bit. Probably heading on a southern route going out and a northern route on the way back to Ohio.

So what is this Kanji Cabin? It is where Julia and I have been living since early November, 2010. (And where we are moving out of in less than two weeks.) If you are on Facebook, lame as it may be, you probably saw me post photos from time to time from the Kanji. Or, if you are a contact on Flickr, you may have seen some there as well. What I wanted to do is document the place, because we like it so much. And, a big part of me wants to try and replicate large parts of the cabin some day.

Kanji post move in

The Kanji Cabin has been absolutely great! We both love it, even in it’s half-dilapidated, shoddily-constructed state. The space is nice – a great size. Not too big. Just big enough for us at this stage in our lives. It’s well insulated and easy to heat. It is very cozy. When we first moved in, it didn’t have electric utility power. We used two Trojan batteries and an inverter for a while. Then AEP Ohio came and put up a pole and a transformer, we’ve had full grid-power since early January, and that changed things a lot.

There is just so much about the place that works. The floor plan is very open and L-shaped. It is perfectly situated for passive solar – when it is sunny outside, in the winter, you don’t even need a fire. It has great exposure and warms right up. We like the size and layout of the kitchen. More counter space would be nice, but every kitchen I’ve ever been in that was the case. There’s a few details on the inside I absolutely hate, but are totally avoidable crap-construction related and wouldn’t be in any structure I’d ever build or have built. I like the windows. The size of the rooms is nice. At it’s most basic, I like the cabin. But there are many unfinished aspects like the floor needs to be finished – there is just plywood sub-flooring. I like the metal roof, but soffits are completely open, inviting critters to nest in the insulation. The cistern isn’t anywhere near big enough, and there are other half-through through details like that. The worst part is the guy who built it had this ridiculous driveway put in – and the steepest part is on the north slope of the hill (it warms up and melts last). Even if it is dry, though, you need a four-wheel-drive to get up it. It is that steep! I will say that he probably did the best he could. The hill is very steep in all directions. He didn’t have many options.

But I like the ideas here. We catch rainwater. Which makes an incredible amount of sense to me. We burn wood for heat and live in the middle of a great forest. The house is well insulated and reasonably efficient, etc… If it wasn’t so woodsy, it would be perfect for solar electric and hot water (a well placed chainsaw would take care of the shading and provide more firewood).

Undoubtedly the best and arguably worst things about the cabin is the location. It is on the top of a hill, surrounded by trees – mostly larger oaks. It is situated on the south-side of the hill, partially embedded into the hill. The cabin has two stories – so there is a downstairs ground-level entry and an upstairs ground-level entry. The bad part is it is easily 100 feet up this fairly steep hill from the road. There is a parking landing about 1/3 of the way up the hill. Then there are steps. It is a bit of a hike from the car up to the house. If the driveway is iced up or sloppy from lots of rain or snow melt, we get to hoof it even farther because we can’t make it to the landing. There is no doubt it sucks to not be able to drive right up to the house.

However, the cabin has this amazing view. And this deck off the second floor. Wow. The deck is the best thing about this place. Unfortunately we’ve been here all winter, so we really haven’t “hung out” on the deck much, but we got out there now and then.

Kanji Cabin deck

But the view to the south out of the windows standing anywhere inside is just awesome. From the main floor, on the south side of the cabin, there’s a good 15 foot drop to the ground. Meaning the deck is hovering a good bit off the ground on that south side. So, you are in the trees. And, the view out – all you see is mid-way up these beautiful oak trees. It’s like the cabin is floating in the forest.

Anyway … I just wanted to get started on this post – I’ll work more on it later.


It’s September already?

Wow. This summer has been amazing and it has flown by so fast.

The main thing I have to say is I am in an amazing relationship with Julia. Unless you are on facebook (and most people I know are) you will already know this … We started dating in mid-May after knowing each other since I moved to Ohio (Sept. 2009) and started working at Green Edge Gardens. She still works at Green Edge. It was most definitely because of our meeting and working together there that I fell in love with her. I mean, I’ve been hoping to meet a really cool farm girl for a while now. I was almost starting to think it just wasn’t going to happen, until I met Julia. Simply great. She is such an incredible, beautiful awesome person. I could not be happier. It’s a really great story we have and I’ll share it with you the next time I see you.

Julia and Steve with escaping chicken

We even have Chickens! It’s funny that I haven’t even updated my blog with that big news. Getting chickens was partially to do with me moving to “the Far” – a “community” of sorts here in Amesville. It’s a 230 acre farm. I live in a big old farm house right on the main fields, renting a room with a few other folks for pretty cheap. I remember the first time I saw the fields idling in grass. I thought. I need to do something with this space. Chickens!

It’s nice and quiet and an almost ideal living situation (aside from having roommates – it would be nice to have our own place). Julia is living out at the Far now as well. It’s barely even 10 minutes from Green Edge. The picture above is Julia and I posing for a self-timed pic in front of the newly commissioned chicken coop. Julia is holding a very impatient chicken we call “runtin” who was in the process of flying away as the photo was being taken. It was quite humorous and we had a great laugh!

We have 27 chickens now. 24 or 25 of them are an assortment of brown-egg laying hens. Two of them are Brahma males to be roosters. We have one guinea / chicken thing that we inherited from a friend. We’re not exactly sure what it is yet … it’s looks like a guinea, but not really. It really doesn’t look or act like a chicken, either. I built a great little coop for them. There are some coop pictures up on flickr, and I need to upload some more chicken photos too …

Aside from spending a lot of great time with Julia, and tending the chickens, I have been working when I can. I’ve mostly let web design and graphic design fade away. I’m much more interested in installing solar photovoltaic systems and learning the electrical trade. I’m with Athens Electric, like I mentioned in my last post. We just finished up our busiest two weeks yet this year. Just this morning we finished up a 4.9 kW system here in Athens, not far from where Iive.

Solar Array

I am really loving this work. I just wish I had more of it at the moment! Hopefully that will change soon. It’s been a ton of fun so far.

Gosh, I’m sure there are other things I could write. Some I can’t write and I’ll have to tell you in person … but overall things are swell. I’ve got to change into some grubby clothes to go help swap out some batteries at an off-grid cabin…


April / May catch-up

Oh my poor neglected web site … I blame it all on Facebook! Evil Facebook.

Things have been going really well. I’ve been enjoying the midwestern spring. Everything is growing like crazy. We have some amazingly fragrant roses in bloom right now near the house, and one single flower is potent enough to influence the air for six feet in all directions. Working for Athens Electric, I’ve helped another couple of families reduce their dependence on fossil fuels (namely coal in both cases). I did quite well, I thought, in the solar course I mentioned in the last post. Getting the certificate of completion from that course won’t necessarily open any doors immediately, but it has increased my competence and understanding on the job, and I have gotten a couple bumps in pay as well. Mostly, completing the course and passing the test puts me firmly on the road to NABCEP certification, which is the whole point.

Fermenting is going well. The batch I took the video of turned out great and is already mostly gone (consumed!). I did start a 5-gallon batch and it is bottled and conditioned and just about ready to drink! It will be nice to have a lot more stock to pull from instead of just 10 bottles from a one-gallon batch. Yesterday I started my first mead. There’s a local guy here, Bradley, who has been doing a lot of mead making. Even scaling up to 200-gallon batches and licensing from the state and all that. He’s serious. But … really only does “sweet” meads. Although they are very good, I’m not a fan of sweet drinks. I’m going to try and do a “dry” mead. I was going to do a straight mead, just honey and water, but those fragrant roses made me wonder if anyone has ever done a rose mead. A quick google search did find a recipe or two, along with quite a few people with the name “Rose Mead” and a city in California called Rosemead … so, I had to try it. 2.5 pounds of honey and a pint of rose petals, a few other ingredients and some yeast and hopefully I’m on my way. Because I’m making a dry mead, though, it will be 8 months to a year before really drinking any of it. It will be worth it.

One really cool thing that happened in the past month: the Nelsonville Music festival – where I volunteered on the recycling crew and camped out with friends for a weekend of music, relaxation and fun – it will definitely be an annual destination.

It was really a great festival. A few groups really stood out and I’ve got some new music to get into: Givers, the Ragbirds and Drakkar Sauna. I certainly didn’t get to see all the music at the festival, but pretty much all I did catch was good stuff. Loretta Lynn was there, arguably the biggest draw of people to the festival, but I was on a volunteer shift and had absolutely no desire whatsoever to watch. It’s just not my thing.

Later this week I’m heading up north – picking up my Brother at the Detroit airport and heading further north to do some camping and catch up with family a bit. I’m looking forward to getting out of town, but I already know I will be looking forward to getting back to Amesville …


Has spring sprung?

It feels like it here in Amesville! The weather has been so nice lately. I’m really looking forward to getting out and enjoying the sun on my bike, at the tennis court, disc golf course, hiking, camping and installing solar electric systems!

I’ve been chomping at the bit to get busy and work with my new employer: Athens Electric. We’ve got a fair amount of work lined up with more about to enter the pipeline. We completed one job here in Amesville in February and are looking forward to getting on with more upcoming projects.

sunny day array

Next week I’m taking an Entry Level Photovoltaic (Solar) System Installation Training course at Washington State Community College. (Yes, it is odd to me that I left Washington State last year, but yet I’m going to attend a “Washington State” institution here in OHIO … I believe it is only called so because it is in Washington county. Go figure …) In my spare time recently I’ve been going through the books for the course – Solar Energy International’s Photovoltaics: Design and Installation Manual and the NFPA: 2008 National Electrical Code. The course should be great, and ought to catapult my solar career and greatly enhance my on the job mojo. On the 31st Drake and I are starting a new job near Dayton. I’m sure I’ll be posting back on how that goes!

MAWE "cave" hikeOther than work, I’ve been trying to enjoy my time off. I’ve been hanging out with my new friend Anna a bit. I hope to do a lot of outdoor activities with her as the weather improves. This Sunday, March 21 is the spring Farm Day here at Green Edge. We’re having a potluck at the Grange and giving farm tours from 1-4pm. I’ve been doing some hiking with a local group called Multigenerational Appalachian Woodland Explorer. We’ve mainly been exploring various members properties, as they have some very interesting geologic features and such. I spent St. Patty’s at Jackie O’s in Athens, mainly to hear my friend John play, but also to meet up with friends.

Making cider has been a fun project for me and I’m keeping it going. I have a 1-gallon batch that is close to being done fermenting, and I just started a 5-gallon batch in the past week. Between the two I should have a fair bit more cider to enjoy and share. I might start another 5-gallon batch in a couple weeks, depending how available locally pressed cider will be. One of the things I like about the fermenting process is watching it happen … seeing the activity in the cider, watching the millions of bubbles rise to the top and the gas escape through the air lock. My blackberry has a video camera built in, so I captured some of the action. Check it out!

Anyway, that’s about it. I thought it was about time to update the old blog. I’m really anxious to get working though, and earning money … not that I need or want a lot of it, but not having any income can be frustrating.


winter travels and 2010

2010 is finally here, and based on the hype from the last 20 years – I’m not impressed! tee hee hee … such a cliché really – all the flying cars and space oddities and such. It’s obvious now that things like that are many, many years down the road. We can’t even get education or health care right, much less be that far advanced.

Alas, 2010 has started off great! The end of 2009 was quite a bit of fun as well. I’m hoping to make this update as painless as possible, even though there is a LOT to report. I’ll try to stick to the highlights at the expense of some detail.


OK. So my winter travels started off in Michigan at Jenine & Chris’s house. My mom and her husband, Gary had decided to spend xmas in Michigan. I think they were mainly hoping to visit with his family, who all live in Michigan. But they also got a white xmas to boot. Which made things all the more fun. We did quite a bit of sledding! With the kids at Jenine’s in Metamora and then up in Alpena. In Alpena we even had a great sled spot that spit us onto some frozen water! It was pretty cool.


I had a brief visit with the majority of the Sparks family, Grandma & Grandpa, Uncle Roy & Keith et al, etc. Then my Mom and I headed to Alpena because she had choral performance on Sunday, December 20. Gary stayed in Metamora so he could drive to Alpena with Anna, who was driving to Michigan from Colorado with her two boys Randy and Jake. Once we all made to Alpena, we all (Mom, Gary, Anna, Randy and Jake) had a fun time hanging out, playing cards, building stuff, opening presents, eating, playing music, sledding, etc. It was a fun time!

After xmas we packed up the house in Alpena (which involved loads of chores like draining pipes, emptying and unpluggin appliances, etc.) and we headed back to Metamora to spend a little more time before we headed our separate ways. Mom & Gary got an electronic keyboard for their grandkids. I had a great time going through the piano book with Cassidy. She was like a sponge, soaking up the lessons! We blazed through like 35 pages in no time. If she keeps at it, she’s going to be a great pianist!

Train adventure

I took the train from Michigan to Chicago. And wow was it FUN. I hopped on in Lapeer, Michigan, transferred (barely) in Chicago and hopped off in Seattle 52 hours later. I was aboard the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. The ride, for all intents and purposes, was pretty much exactly how I imagined: the seats were mildly uncomfortable, I would not be able to sleep, and the food would not be very good. I will say it is way better than traveling on an airplane. The seats are way bigger, you have way more room and there is way more room to walk around. The only really annoying thing about the train was the stinky brake smell. For some reason, whenever the train slows, a horrible electrical fire odor inundates the air inside the cars. It goes away, but it is odd. Overall, I would definitely ride the train across country again. However, unless the two people I met on this trip are with me, I doubt it would be as much fun.

A snowy stop

Although the train from Lapeer to Chicago was almost two hours late, almost missing the connection with the train to Seattle, I’m really glad it was late. I would not have met Lindsey, otherwise! She and I ended up being the only two people on the Michigan to Chicago train that needed to get to the Empire Builder before it took off without us. The conductor announced to the whole train to let the two people up and to the front of the train so we could disembark first. So, while she and I were also on the same exact train for almost 8 hours in Michigan, it wasn’t until we were dangerously close to missing another train that we got to meet. We started chatting while pulling into Chicago’s Union Station and ended up (much to the consternation of the conductors) sitting together for most of the looong ride across the country. One of the best things about meeting her (besides the fact she’s like totally hot and a very fun and interesting person) is that she didn’t mind me sleeping next to and from time-to-time on her and vice versa.

I also met Jason, who was also Portland-bound like Lindsey. I maintain that there were not two other people on the train I would have rather met than these two folks. We spent just about all the travel time together, talking, eating, farting, playing games, drinking whiskey, sleeping … Lindsey taught us how to play Golf. A really fun card game I’ve since also showed Robert and Amy. I think at this point I’ve written too much about the train … so I’ll just say that it was a great ride and I recommend it – as long as you are up for meeting some new people and making some friends. If not, it would just be one long boring ride!!!

Island time

As soon as I arrived in Seattle, I headed for Vashon Island. For those who didn’t know, pretty much the whole reason for this trip was because my friends Shane and Emily invited me to their New Years party! It was sure a great reason to take a trip, and the party was indeed the centerpiece of the trip. It was a blast! I got to make many more friends while having such a good time. Pizza making, music, dancing, poetry … Tom put on an incredible and truly amazing magic show. I just love spending time at the yurt. Such great people! I miss them dearly …

Pizza making

Of course while I was on the island I had to see my friends at Plum Forest Farm and at Sun Island Farm and others in-between. I got to stay in the cabin I helped Rob built, which was quite nice. It was like coming home, really. I slept really well, like I’d just been away from my bed there. I met up with my friends Marcy and Mario for coffee and lunch, respectively. The island was such a good time, as always. On my way there even, on the ferry, I ran into Barbara Wells – who offered me a ride. Then I in-turn offered to help her move the beautiful bamboo bookshelf from the back of her car. We ended up meeting up several times while I was on the island. Such a cool little place. I met up with Dr. Bob Norton for wine tasting and coincidentally ended up back at Barbara’s house because Bob had a meeting with her. I even learned to knit and started learning the banjo! I think I pick up a new skill every time I’m on the island. It is such a rich and inspirational place.


Phew! Ok. This is getting long … So while I was in Seattle I mainly stayed at Robert & Amy’s new apartment. I initially wasn’t sure if I’d stay with them at all, being a newly-wed couple and all. I was glad they were glad to have me and I really enjoyed spending time with them. While with them, I popped open a couple more bottles of my cider, which I had transported all the way across the country, just so I could share it with them. They were both delicious! The Cider #1 ended up not carbonating, which is fine, because it is quite a nice white wine-like cider. Joe’s Birthday Cider has carbonated nicely and I’m quite happy with that one overall.

Robert & Amy's place

The morning after I got to Robert and Amy’s they helped me decide to make a last-minute trip to Portland to see Lindsey. I hopped on yet another train and 3.5 hours I was walking through Portland with Lindsey. It was another great adventure within an adventure and I wish I had more time to spend there with her. She’s got some great roommates a cool job and Portland is just a nice place to spend time in.

After my quick jaunt to Portland, my remaining time in Seattle was spend having Sushi at I Love Sushi with my friend Kevin, drinking pints of hard cider at the Hilltop with Jim and Shane and having an extended lunch and visit with my friend Nazma and her husband Suheil. I stayed with Robert & Amy all but one night and am really glad for my time there.

Ok, ok, enough already …

Now that my travels are nearly done, what’s next? I’m heading back to Amesville/Athens, Ohio to pick up where I left off. Part of me sorta wishes I hadn’t bought a return ticket from Seattle. I could have easily spent more time out there. But, I’m really happy with my life so far in Ohio and I’m excited to get back and pursue things further!

Before I headed off for my travels, I started working with Drake, a solar electrician in Amesville. We started on a 2.1 KW grid-tied system and I loved it! We’re hoping to get a lot more work and I hope to be a lot more involved in the business.

I’m still doing some design work and have some people to get back in contact in the new year. I hope to move off the farm soon and move closer town in order to get more involved socially in Athens.

Ok. Enough. If you want more details, give me a call!


basic fermenting knowledge, to date

My friend Darin in Florida wanted me to pass along some info about fermenting. I couldn’t stop writing, so I thought I’d share this with the world. I have no allegiance to any web site below. However, I will say Leeners has a good price on that one gallon wine kit …

From what I’ve experienced and what others have told me, there are basically two ways to go about fermenting things like ciders, wines, etc. You either take the scientific approach and measure things out, keep track of the progress and know more or less what you are getting. Or, you take the more “artistic” approach and essentially throw things together, loosely follow some guidelines and see what you get. People are successful from both approaches, it is really just what fits your personality. It is certainly less expensive to just throw some stuff together and see what happens. But I like to know what’s going on. So, while I’ve got a fair amount of stuff, I could spend a lot more acquiring kit. It’s not high-science, it’s hardly even basic chemistry we’re talking about here! Observation is mostly what I’ve done. People have been making cider for hundreds of years, so the basics are easy to follow without doing all the nerdy stuff. The recipes are pretty straightforward and if something says it takes 3-5 days, if you wait 5 days you’re good to go to the next step.

The biggest concern, really, is finding good sweet apple cider to start with! Most of what is available in a grocery store is pasteurized and has preservatives added to keep the cider from fermenting and spoil while it is sitting on the shelf. Pasteurized is OK, but any unwanted additives are not. If the label doesn’t say simple “Ingredients: Apple Juice” and maybe water it’s probably got something you don’t want. You’ve definitely got to find good starting stock, good juice/sweet cider before any of this stuff below will matter! (You can, of course, buy expensive apple wine base from a web site and start with that.)

Here’s a link to a place that basically has the kit I bought with a bunch of other stuff included:
At this site, on the left side, half-way down the page – look for the 1 Gallon Winery. It’s $44.95. From what I can see it comes with just about everything you’ll want. And, you’ll be able to do lots of different things than just hard apple cider. There are a few more things you should get, though.

The kit above is pretty comprehensive (I wish I had bought it!). One more thing to get for sure: I’d grab 1 oz. Yeast Energizer. The energizer might not be essential, but some recipes I’ve seen call for it and I’ve used it in my latest batch. You could probably skip it, but it is cheap. Definitely get some sort of brush to clean the glass carboy and bottles (about $3) as well.

If you want to go the measuring route, pick up a hydrometer and the test jar that’s needed. Search the site above for a 14″ Plastic Test Jar and a dual purpose hydrometer. (Or click this.) These two optional things will tell you approximately how much alcohol you will end up with by measuring the specific gravity before and after fermentation. The hydrometer can tell you when fermenting is done, but it is pretty obvious when it is done – things stop happening! No more bubbling and no gas releasing through the air lock. And, as long as you follow the timeframes on the recipes, you don’t really need a hydrometer.

cider #1 bottled

The last thing you’ll need is bottling equipment. Since bottling is probably 2 months away from the day you start cider, though, you can hold off on capping equipment. You’ll want some priming sugar (priming is what you do when you bottle to make the cider fizzy.) I bottled with the 2-gallon bucket that came with the kit, a funnel and a borrowed capper (and bottles!). A hand capper is $17.95 at the web site above. A 4 1/2″ funnel useful for bottling and other things is only like $2 (you may already own one that will work?). Caps are cheap (less than $4 for 144) and just ask friends to hold back bottles – although they have to be non-twist off. You need the bottles that require an opener… Or, over the two months you are fermenting, drink about 10-11 bottles of something and save them. If I had Grolsch beer bottles, I’d use them! By the end of fermenting and bottling, I have 10 bottles and about 8-9 ounces of cider left over. (This last 8-9 ounces has some sediment in it, I’m going to let it settle and then drink it! When I bottled I couldn’t siphon off this last bit, but I couldn’t let it go to waste.)

Minus the capping equipment, it would be about $74 with shipping to get started. It’s a little steep sounding, I know. When you compare it to what the $19.95 whizbang kit, $74 sounds like a lot. However, I think is really overcharging for what they are selling. There’s about $9 worth of equipment in the kit (based on prices at Leeners). Mainly, though, I think you need more than just a glass jug to make decent cider! I imagine it’s possible to do it that simply, but I don’t think you’d be happy with the results.

Here’s a list of stuff to get started. The number on the left is the web site part number:

One Gallon Winery $44.95
1 oz. Yeast Energizer $1.95
Wine Bottle Brush $2.95
Dual Purpose Hydrometer $5.95
14 inch Plastic Hydrometer Test Jar $3.95

This stuff would be $73.64 with shipping from the web site above.

One other thing I thought about – I have a baster, just one I bought from the grocery store. It helps getting stuff into the test jar in order to use the hydrometer. You and Tracy might already have one. It is not necessary unless you get a hydrometer and test jar.

There are a lot of little things I’ve learned in the three batches of fermenting I’ve done so far. I won’t write them all here! If you have questions along the way, either post them as comments here, email me or give me a call!


further fermentation

Fermenting is FUN! Wow! It’s so cool … I’ve been wanting to dabble in this for quite some time. I’ve been wanting to do cider for quite a while. That’s why I did it first. I want to do more cider, but also wanted to be a bit more exploratory, especially since we have had local concord grapes in season.

secondary fermentationFirst, the cider. It’s been racked to a 1-gallon glass carboy and has been in its secondary fermentation stage for over a week now. The bubbles slow down and speed up with the change in temperature, it seems. And, over time if I understand it right, the fermentation will slow down as well. It smells delicious when I sniff the airlock as it releases. I’ve got a ways to go, though before I get to try any. It will be in the current carboy for another almost two weeks. Then, I’ll rack it to another carboy where it will continue for another two months – maybe longer depending on how “clear” it is. How long, I guess, will also depend on where I’m at (Ohio? Florida? Elsewhere?) … starting fermentation experiments like this is essentially a semi-permanent move – it takes a while for the process to finish! It’s probably not a good idea to be moving around carboys full of fermenting liquid. I think it would pretty much ruin the investment.

For my second fermentation project, I decided to go pick some concord grapes at Cherry Orchards. At the market I asked Neil Cherry about his concords and he invited me to come pick some at a discount. I gladly accepted because I really wanted to see his place. Alas, I forgot my camera, so I didn’t get any pictures of his orchard. It’s a beautiful place, though. It’s been a family farm for at least two generations now. He’s got 15 acres in production – apples, pears, grapes, berries, pumpkins and some other veggies. They sell at a couple farmers markets and have a great on-farm stand as well. I needed at least 6 pounds of grapes for my wine recipe, and buying them at the market would have been an expensive proposition. So, I picked 11 pounds! And got a good discount.


They are beautiful grapes! And, pretty tasty too.

Making wine was definitely a bit different than cider. Albeit, I didn’t exactly follow the cider recipe … so this time I tried to follow the wine recipe closer. I had bought a hydrometer and other testing equipment to aid in the process. I rinsed the grapes, de-stemmed them and weighed up 6 pounds. I have a two-gallon primary fermenting bucket, so I decided to try and make a gallon and a half of wine … so I weighed out three more pounds of grapes, bringing it to a recipe and a half. After I put the grapes in the nylon sack, I crushed them by hand.

Once I did that, the rest of the recipe was pretty easy. I added a lot of sugar. I wasn’t so sure about this at first, as I wanted to just ferment the grapes and see what happens. But it turns out that concords don’t really have enough sugar to make a strong enough wine. Apparently because of the length of time wine needs to “mature” in the bottle (a year or more!), the alcohol level needs to be high enough to “preserve” the wine until it’s ready. I guess by keeping any nasty germs or bacterial incapacitated? The recipe called for a starting specific gravity of 1.095. I had to add 5 cups of sugar to get it to that level. After I achieved that, I added the yeast and away we went.

I didn’t take any pictures of this process. I probably should have, because it was a lot more exciting than the cider! I didn’t really expect the consequences of fermenting a higher-alcohol product. The fermentation was a lot more vigorous and audible and messy. The decision to make a gallon and half was not a good one. The little 2-gallon bucket, along with the sack of crushed grapes and the added water and sugar was too much volume for the little bucket. When the fermenting really got going, the sack of grape pulp expanded with CO2, decreasing the airspace in the bucket. I was cleaning up mess after mess as the fermentation was also creating foam and the pressure was pushing the foam up through the air-lock, making a mess of the airlock and oozing down all over the bucket and sometimes the counter. It was amazing, really. When the cider was just bloop-blooping air bubbles through the air lock every 20 seconds or so, the wine would bloooooop-blooop-blooop-blop, bloop, blooop, bloop constantly almost. Obvious that there was a lot more activity with all that extra sugar.

I stirred and pressed the grape pulp daily to encourage extraction. I tested the SG and when it got to 1.030, I was supposed to rack it to glass carboys. I did, hoping it would make less of a mess in the carboys because the sack of grape stuff wouldn’t be causing a mess. However, my hope didn’t materialize. The racking process went well. I thought all was great, until I left for the afternoon and came back later to find it had essentially boiled over! There was so much activity and so much foam, that I lost inches of wine through the airlock as it foamed over. Whoops. Lesson learned – I bought a “One Gallon Wine Kit” … do one gallon of wine in a two-gallon bucket. Buy a bigger bucket to do more!!!

Things have calmed down now and I don’t have to swap out clean air locks twice a day when the wine foams over. There are apparently ways around the foaming, with additives and such. But I feel like I’m adding enough chemicals already … this is definitely not organic wine … and I know now why there isn’t much organic wine – because to keep things clean, sterile and wild-yeast and bacteria free, you pretty much have to use some chemicals. Nothing horrible or toxic, but definitely chemicals.

Anyway, I really enjoy the process of wine and cider making. All the testing and racking and air locks is very lab-like and the chemist in me (thanks Mom and Dad!) enjoys that kind of stuff. Recently, my friend Jeff mentioned that if he were me, he’d be learning all about wine-making and planting a vineyard somewhere. It’s a pretty damn good idea, really. People will always love alcohol, especially local, well produced brews. I can see this fermentation thing being a part of my life for years to come. I just need my own space to have my own little operation! That, along with space for the wood shop, welding studio, computer room, etc… I’m gonna need a lot of space.

Not a whole lot else is going on, really … the farm is great. But I’m yearning for my own place. The weather is getting cold, although we had a really gorgeous past week. The one electrical/solar possibility is sounding fairly positive, and I should know more this coming weekend, when I hope to meet with the guy who may hire me. There will be a lot of changes this week, I feel. This time next week I will probably know more about what the rest of the year will be like. I’m gonna hold off on making any further plans for now.