Last fall, there were almost no berries in the mountains and hungry bears showed up all over our neighborhood. We live at the foot of the coast range mountains. We had nightly visits from at least one bear. We named him Three Foot, because he had one mangled paw, although he had no trouble climbing the big pear tree outside our bedroom window.
This year there are plenty of wild blackberries everywhere, and the bear did not show up for nearly a month after he had last year. However, a huge pile of bear scat, filled with berry seeds, appeared in our driveway less than a week ago, while I was in Ashland. It could only have been deposited by a very large bear, no doubt Three Foot. Johnny decided it was time to turn the bear-attractant apples into cider before the bears moved from a wild blackberry to an apple and pear diet.
We don't mind bears eating our apples. It's just that I have to navigate from house to goat barn to horse barn, through the orchard and past many apple trees, in the dark this time of year. Last year I ran into bears on several of those trips. This year I'm taking my big white guardian dog and a flashlight with me, but what bears will think of those, I really don't know. Last year, the bear moved from eating apples and pears to destroying our dog food containers and eating dog food. We now have the dog food in a bear proof container. Exciting as it was to have a bear outside our bedroom window, Three Foot really needs to stay in the mountains and we need to minimize things that will attract him, like apples. (The pear tree has few pears this year, thank goodness.)
We also need to keep the apples out of reach of our horses, who would happily eat themselves to death. So all week, Johnny gathered the apples that fell under the trees and stored them in our walk-in cooler. Yesterday and this morning, we made the place ready, washed up all the equipment, and generally wore ourselves out. It takes a lot of work to get ready to press apples. Here's Johnny diving right into his work: washing out the rain barrel that becomes a cider barrel this time of year.
Mid-morning, friends converged on our farm and we made cider... but not from our apples. They brought a pickup load plus and we never got around to shaking our trees. We used their apples plus the few bags Johnny had stored in our cooler, but most of our apples are still on the trees. So it's me and the white dog and the flashlight from here on out. But boy do we have a lot of cider.
This year, Tim and Autumn joined us for the first time... with their pickup load of apples and a second cider press. It was hard work for the apple washers, sorters, choppers and grinders to keep up with two presses. Usually we shake trees in the morning, have a potluck at noon, and press cider in the afternoon. But with so many apples already on hand, we began in the morning, finished up most of the apples by one o'clock, then had our potluck. After lunch, everyone was suitably worn out and went home. Johnny spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up. Cider pressing is a lot of work.
We sure ate well at that potluck with food almost entirely provided by the friends who came to help: Linda and Dave and Randy, Lorna and Ron, Autumn and Tim, and Rand. All I made was Deviled Eggs. Johnny and I forgot to cook our traditional sticky rice that he soaked that morning in preparation. We'll be eating sticky rice for the next week.
We had worried what to do with all the apple leftovers from the cider pressing, since our goats, llamas, and sheep could not take care of all of them and we didn't want to invite the bears. Autumn and Tim came to the rescue again: they raise pigs, turkeys, and chickens, all of which will happily clean up the many feed sacks of apple leavings that we sent home with them.
Most of our apple trees are later maturing and won't be harvestable for another month. Maybe, if we've recuperated by then, we'll have another cider party. Many of the friends and relations who usually press apples with us were unavailable this weekend, on such short notice. We may give them another chance... if the bears leave us any apples.