Wednesday, 14 December 2011

End of year post

Well at last we have finished making cider for another year.
It has been an unusual and somewhat challenging cidermaking time for us for various reasons.

The local apple crop did not do particularly well despite reports nationally that it was a bumper year for apples. Lack of rain throughout the year saw a marked decrease in size of fruit.
One orchard owner which we have had apples off over several years let us down badly. Despite the communications we had concerning the time of when we were going to come and pick it them up, we phoned them up to inform them we going to come in the next few days and they said it was fine... THEN they rang back to say that someone had already picked them... astonishing behaviour. When I said that we had contacted them etc and their come back was 'well I can't change the past can I???' Errr no sir but you do remember the past. We move on...

Anyway we are pleased with our slight tweak to the cider making process which has made it a lot easier for us. We have not made quite as much juice as we perhaps we would have hoped to do, mind you when apples are plentiful we do make more and it is the same visa versa.

The festive markets we have attended have done very well this year and that is down to not only the fact that we have more ciders to offer this year but the golden bullet is our extra special Mulled Cider. We know it does well at shows when we serve it up, but we have been extremely pleased with the sales of the mulled cider in a bottle. Every show we have done we have run out!!
We have unfortunately failed to get the online shop going for the Christmas market and we apologise for this. There have been several reasons with one being we have been stretched for time regarding trying to do everything with cidermaking and the shows. It is so easy to lose time rather than gaining time. We are well aware that many of you have been disappointed, and we regret this but there is only so much we can do... An online shop is however an important responsibility to operate and we felt that we had to be 100% happy with it. I still do have plans to launch the shop early in the new year which will offer the entire range of ciders that we do! Watch this space.

We have been very pleased with our progress and development over 2011. We have exceeded our plans now being able to offer 6 more ciders in a bottle. We have really enjoyed all of our shows and we do enjoy meeting all of you on the front line! Our customers really do matter to us! This is more than just a business to us - it is a way of life! Thanks so much to all of our customers and may we wish you a happy Christmas and a happy new year!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Autumn on the farm

Well we have now got a couple more ciders available in bottles. Damson and Elderflower and also the long awaited Mahorall Mulled Cider! We are extremely pleased with how our new bottled ciders are being received and it was well worth the rigmarole of sorting out labels, bottles, caps etc. We are particularly pleased to be able to offer our Mulled Cider in a bottle. It is always been very popular when we prepare it at the shows that we do over the winter and once you have had a taste then your hooked. Having a nightmare with trying to suss out building the online shop for the website.. its a lot more difficult trying to build one yourself. I am hoping however to be able to crack it in the next couple of weeks in time for the christmas market. We have started cidermaking for 2011 ! Everyone assumes we should have started ages ago but they fail to realise that the season dictates when we start and more importantly the apples have to be ripe so the natural sugars are at their maximum. The old cidermakers used to say that the tree will tell you when the apples are ready - simply meaning that the apples will drop off. We have had no cold weather yet and little wind to speak of . After slightly rejigging the cidermaking set up in the shed we have made the whole process a bit more easier and more efficient. Now we hope to easily do 1000 litres a day which is ideal for us. We are going to make some apple juice too this year as an experiment but not sure whether we will offer it for sale - we will have to see. The apples are a bit smaller this year and not every orchard has done brilliantly. Market price per ton has increased by about £15 which we have no problem with as it does encourage the growers to continue with what they do. All prices have gone up from glass to plastics so it is no real surprise. Gravity is about 1060. After numerous requests each year from other people wanting us to press their apples I am seriously considering building a portable apple press and a mill on a specially designed trailer. Then people could hire it out over a day or a weekend and get on with making their own. We would supply the cloths and even the odd empty barrel if people wanted to go the whole hog. I have a good mate who is handy with welding and trailer building so it might be a good project to get stuck into perhaps early next year. It should not take too long to get the costs back too. The colours in the Shropshire countryside are once again stunning. I am going to make a special effort this year to capture some of the colours on camera. It was a great shame that we had to cancel our owl halloween evening last month.
As the video clip shows I had prepared the barn for a very special evening but unfortunately the Falconer had a very serious accident involving being hit by a vehicle and run over at a show he was attending. A truly terrible accident and of course we had to cancel it. A very great shame but we will definately put on another show at later date. I am very pleased to say that the Falconer has now made very good progress in getting better.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

And it just keeps getting busier!

We have been to quite a few shows over the last 4 weeks and we have been on the whole very pleased indeed with the results. We have been to Far Forest show, Minsterley, Bridgnorth, Acton Scott, Ludlow Food and Drink, TCHT Autumn Fayre and also a show at Attingham Park!

Ludlow Food and Drink is the biggest show that we go to and also handily enough one of the closest! We had 8 different ciders on offer at Ludlow and we launched our new cider too! Cider and ginger is the latest offering from Mahorall Farm and it is always good to test drive a new cider at a show as you you get first hand reaction of what people think. Well we ran out of our new cider and ginger twice! Excellent reaction and we are now planning to continue it and put into a bottle.

Lots of things happened at Ludlow including yours truly being interviewed by a Sky cooking channel, our cider being used as an ingredient in a Shropshire Fidget pie, our largest transaction at a show so far and even an MP coming over to tell us how much he liked our cider! Lots of positive vibes and we had our most successful Ludlow Food and drink ever! So thanks to everyone who came to say hello and have a taste!

Well we have now hosted two parties on the farm and I am very pleased how they both went! Both groups were very nice people which of course helps and they were very well behaved and left the site very tidy. The weather was pretty good for both of them and I think one of the most enjoyable aspects was sitting around the campfire into the early hours.

The second party was actually a wedding reception which was not quite what I envisaged so early on the plans but all the guests loved the whole experience of the farm. There was a fantastic Yurt as well in the campsite.

Our next event planned is a Mystical Halloween event at the barn on the 22nd October. I have lots of exciting plans and more deatils will be posted over the next few days. It will be ticket only due to the restriction of numbers so please, please do not just turn up on the night as there is a chance we will not be able to accomodate you!

So I am now looking into finalising details of the labels of the new ciders we will be offering in the bottle which includes cider Elderflower and damson, cider and ginger and this year we are determined to try and bottle our Mulled cider in time for christmas! Yes we have been hoping to do this for several years but this year we might just get it together!

As a result of our rash of new ciders that have been such a success this year I am attempting to offer all of our products available by buying over the website and delivered to your door. Well it is lot easier saying it than doing it... My good mate Bob and myself have made a start but heck there is a lot to it! A whole new area for me but I am determined to try and get it up and running as soon as I can so please bear with us....

I think as a result of Ludlow Food and drink Festival and our cider being used as an ingredient Radio Shropshire contacted us and came down to the farm to interview us. The reason being is that a couple of presenters were given the challenge to create a Shropshire Fidget Pie by only using ingredients sourced in Shropshire. They have been going around the county interviewing various suppliers. The radio show went out on Thursday Sept 22nd. We are hoping to be able to capture it and you will be able to listen to it again.

September is damson picking time - now damson is more important than ever due to our new damson cider so we have been busy picking before they go over - elderberries are also being harvested to go into our Mulled cider. Soon apple picking will be on us as well! This year is shaping up to be another good year for apples and our little trees in our millennium orchard are absolutely loaded!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

July/ early August has been frantic for all sorts of reasons.....

At the start I managed to have a proper weekend away down in London which was absolutely brilliant. A very special weekend which involved doing a whole load of things. Involved going to War Horse, the comedy store and going on a power boat on the Thames! Really really enjoyed the break despite not having a moment to relax.

Oswestry Show was in July. This is a show we had not been to before and wow what a surprise! The saturday was brilliant - the sun was out and the atmosphere was very special. The show is in the streets of the town and the whole feel of it was of an idyllic market town. Very well organised and I was rushed off my feet from the word go! Sunday was a little different as around lunchtime the heavens opened... and open they did. It is sometime since I have seen rain like that and the market stall I was under was not quite fit for purpose. I am not sure if any stand could have survived the downpour that we had and coupled with having stock in cardboard boxes the ship almost went down.... The rain aside the show was brilliant and well done to the organisers - we will certainly be coming next year!.

We also went to the Attingham Park Summer Food And Craft Show near to Shrewsbury in July. Not too bad an event - we did ok but maybe not top of the list for next year.

July was a month of doing several trips to the bottling plant which is both time consuming and tedious but an important job to do to ensure the cider supplies keep flowing! We are very pleased how things are going particularly with our new flavoured ciders. They are flying off the shelves and we are only just keeping up with the bottling! We are nowhere near being able to offer it for retail sales or even mail order as we are just keeping up with the show supplies.

July was also the month which involved haymaking. Always an intense time not helped by the shockingly inaccurate weather forecasting. I managed to make about 700 small bales which is no mean feat considering that each one has to be moved 3 - 4 times before it is finally stacked in the barn... The machinery is almost medieval but on the whole things went alright. The baler did pack up however on the last couple of rows. Managed to get them all in just hours before it rained and also just before Burwarton Show which was just as well.

Burwarton show at the start of August is always good fun to go to, not only as an exhibitor but also as a visitor. We were very pleased how the show went and ran out of all sorts of cider. Saw lots of old friends and also potentially picked up some possible new retail outlets. I certainly think that a busy stand helps trade. The next door stand said they thought we were giving away the cider for free, judging by the queues!

A couple of days after Burwarton is Tenbury Show. Perhaps a bit more of a local atmosphere but nevertheless a great day out. Trade was slow to start with and then after lunch it got really quite busy - the foodhall area is quite small however certainly considering the wealth of local food and drink suppliers there are in the area.

I am also trying to glitz up the farm buildings area as we are hosting a couple of parties at the farm in the next month.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

June Blog

June has gone quite quickly. We have however got our new range of ciders on the go at last!
The new ciders have been tried at various shows and have gone very well indeed so we have decided now to bottle these ciders so they will last longer. This enables us to offer these special ciders all the year round. Our new ciders are:

Cider with Damson
Cider with Elderflower
Strong Dry Cider

These new ciders will only be available at the farm shop, the shows we attend and I am hoping to be also offer it on mailorder too.
Our first show with the new ciders was at Ellesmere on the 18th/19th June and we were very pleased with how the ciders went. It is nice to be able to offer a tasting of these ciders at shows so customers know exactly what they taste like. What is pleasing is to be able to offer a larger range to customers.
Ellesmere show was well attended and that is down to the organiser of the show called Lincoln who is a great character. Not so sure about the dressing up like a bunny rabbit but I suppose the theme was Alice in Wonderland. Joking apart the show was very good and we were lucky with the weather too.

June is Elderflower month and we have been busy picking the flowers and making lots of Elderflower syrup. It has been a good crop this year and I do enjoy picking them. I think it is because it so peaceful and also natural the actual harvesting of anything from the countryside. You can see what you have achieved and then make something delicious from them. We will be making a small amount of Elderflower Syrup in small 250ml bottles to sell but obviously with our new cider with elderflower on stream we are making it larger bottles for adding to the cider through the year.

We have almost run out of our popular medium sparkling cider which is not ideal. Planning the bottling is not easy at the best of times however the contract bottler has changed its lead in time from 1 month to 4 months. This I think is probably due to so many more cider producers jumping in on the scene as well as beer producers. Anyway it wont be long now and our stocks will be refreshed and we will be back to normal....

We are also planning at least one more photography course and we also planning a very exciting event in the barn just before Halloween. We will be holding a ticket only event which will feature a very special owl display. I am considering making it a bit scary but it will also be aimed at familys so I will have to tread carefully.... We shall have to see but watch this space for forthcoming news.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

May Blog

Still no real rain in May and the ground is suffering. The grass has not grown anywhere near what we would have hoped.

We had our first food fayre in May which was The Shropshire Show at Shrewsbury on the weekend of the 14th/15th of May. The show I think is still trying to find its feet after a rejigging of management and it is certainly getting there. One criticism that was certainly relevant to us being in the food marquee, was that there were too many producers selling very similar products. I feel that this a huge oversight as it is not only the exhibitors but also the visitors which subsequently get a poorer experience. The layout of the marquee was good and plenty of space and the weather was pretty good. As I keep convincing myself it is not always the sales you do on the day but it is the general presence and advertising. As a result of the show (or more to the point hanging around pubs in Shrewsbury in the evenings) we now have our cider for sale in a Shrewsbury pub!

We also had a presence at the Teme Valley Food Fayre in Tenbury Wells. This was ok but I think the numbers of visitors were a bit down on what the organisers had hoped for.

We had my local buddy come and do the processing of the wood I had managed to obtain using my new winch which is pleasing as at the start of the year I was starting to feel a bit ill prepared for the this winters wood fuel. We still have to source some more wood but at least is it a start..

We are still waiting for the delivery of the new labels for the new bottling of ciders we have planned. It seems to have taken an age which is a bit disappointing but having said that we still have to do the bottling - labels are always applied last. The start of June is going to be busy as not only are we going to be bottling the cider but we are about to start doing Elderflowers.

The development of the barn and the hiring out as a venue is taking shape! I seem to have got the Midas touch with Google as a subtle link on the frontpage of the website seems to have generated some interest. The enquiries so far are a bit larger than what we had originally planned but hey - you have to follow the market. Still have a fair bit to do to sharpen up but I am not pretending to offer anything we have not got - if that makes sense. It does however prove that there is a market out there.

Talking about the barn - our first photography course was very successful indeed. The theme of the event was Falconry and the weather was perfect in very way. Chris Neal (The Falconer) did an excellent job with his much loved birds and provided endless opportunities for people to take some stunning photos. Claire Carter from CarterArt was the tutor for the day and did a marvelous job in ensuring everyone was getting the most from their camera. We covered numerous scenarios from the basic to the very challenging 'in flight' shots. A fantastic range of birds were used from Molly the Barn owl (my favourite) , a Bengal Eagle Owl, a Kestrel and also a modest appearance from the cutest baby little owl which was just gorgeous! The range of skill of the participants varied quite considerably. One gentleman had hardly taken a photo in his life and had to borrow a camera. He thoroughly enjoyed the day and it has inspired him to take it up as a hobby! The cameras that were used during the day were quite impressive. I had to secretly whip out my mobile phone to take a few photographs and felt a bit of a numpty!

Everyone rated the day as excellent and already we are planning more courses!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

April News

April as we all know has been exceptional dry. This has its advantages and also its disadvantages. The grass has stopped growing altogether and we are now pretty desperate for some proper rain. One advantage that has been considerably beneficial is that the dry weather has enabled me to get machinery down into the vallet and to get some wood for the winter ahead. I have bought an electric winch and mounted it on to the front of the old Leyland tractor. The winch can pull about 6 tons and the creme de la creme is that the winch can be operated by remote control! This machine has been enormously useful and the investment has been a very good one! The valley is about 10 acres and has a track down to the flat bottom floor. It can only be accessed in dry weather and as it has been so dry I can succesfully pull out large loads of wood on a trailer. I have been immensely impressed with this tool and would be more than happy in selling the things! I have also gone one step further in purchasing a synthetic rope instead of a steel cable. This is useful for handling it and can also be slung up into a tree to help when felling. I have been experimenting with a pulley for pulling at angles and also using a very successful method of loading a trailer with a winch. I have been so impressed I have brought forward the 'launch' of my youtube channel and have posted a couple of videos on it.
The whole thing has been brilliant and I have now got a significant amount of wood for this winter.

Cider sales in April went absolutely beserk. This has been another advantage of the hot weather and of course the many bank holidays. We have obviously not been alone and the big rub is that there is a massive lead in time for the bottling factory and it will be difficult to last out what we have in time for the next bottling. We have however have a back up plan in as much that we have plans to launch 3 more ciders in bottles and do some bottling ourselves. You heard it here first and hopefully they will be launched this month. The labels have taken forever to finalise (my fault) but we are nearly there!

I too took advantage of the holidays and took some time off. Booked a VERY last minute hotel over in Wales with a gorgeous sea view AND a glitzy spa with a hot tub, swimming pool, steam room and sauna. Spent hours and hours in there and it was great.

Booked a few more shows for this year which flys in the face of my plan to ease up on the shows but hey you have to keep the money coming in.

You may have noticed that we are now offering in conjunction with Hawkeye Falconry an experience day at Mahorall regarding flying Hawks. It is a new venture and we already have had a few bookings. It is quite exciting as we of course have fantastic countryside as a backdrop and also an indoor barn if the weather turns nasty.

We are also planning to hold professional photography courses in the barn and in surrounding countryside for people who want to learn how to get the best out of there camera. We will also be offering the special chance of photographing some of the beautiful birds supplied by Hawkeye Falconry. This however has not actually been publically advertised as the first course we have
planned was booked up within a week! Hopefully as time goes on we will be in the position to advertise some future courses....

One last thing is the Bluebell wood has been fantastic this year particularly with the nice weather.

Friday, 25 March 2011


Well we are just about coming to the end of March and I have no idea where it is has gone!

The days are getting longer and with the clocks changing in a few days it will be even better. It is just as well so more things can be a done in a day!

I have been going to a more social networking courses and I feel I have taken on board as much as I can handle now. Very interesting stuff and I can certainly see how it can increase brand awareness. Now over 150 followers which I am quite impressed withI am looking forward to putting it to good use when we launch a few things that are in the pipeline. Yes we do have a good few things in the cooking pot that are coming together quite nicely.

Went to an interesting talk on The Much Wenlock Olympian Trail plans next year. Much Wenlock or more to the point a man called Penny Brooks contributed to the rebirth of the Olympics that we know today. Quite hard to believe but it is true. We are hoping to be on the map (quite literally) when people hopefully visit Much Wenlock next year. It is always useful to feel as if you are in the loop. Met one or two interesting people too AND another talk on social networking...

I am a bit concerned I have not got round to the wood gathering mission for this year but I have my eye on a number of trees which I can just reach albeit on a slope so next week I must do something about it.

I have decided to make more hay this year as the demand has gone mad after this winter. Hay making is fun IF it all goes well but challenging when you are doing it and the fear of the heavens opening.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

February on the farm

Bottling a lot of cider this month. Both our dry and medium bottled ciders are close to running out so we have had to do two bottlings this month. We have decided to alter the style of the glass bottles from the 'beer style' bottle to a more slender modern looking shape. The new style bottles are also more eco friendly which is is an interesting concept but the idea is that they have less glass in them. This results in less energy and materials to make them and also they are slightly lighter. This will help slightly with transport and of course they will be lighter to lift for individuals. Our label will be staying the same so they will be just as easy to recognise on the shelf! We are expecting the new bottles to come on line next month.

The fermentation has been slow this winter and the yeasts have sort of had the brakes on as at has been so relentlessly cold. Things have been picking up now and one particular tank is going berserk and sounds like a diver under water! Constantly blowing bubbles to the point of being a bit annoying when we are in the shed... All the tanks however are working away as they should which is very pleasing particularly after this harsh winter. I have always thought that if you do not meddle with the whole concept of making cider there is less chance of things going wrong. It is also nice that each tank has its own character when using wild yeasts.

I have been lucky enough and have managed to bag a number of free courses recently and I have another 3 or 4 to attend. REALLY enjoying stretching the old brain and useful information is always good to take on board. I am exploring several avenues regarding marketing using the internet. It is all very interesting indeed and I am picking up lots of useful tips. The biggest attraction to me is is that it is all free - both the courses and the actual concepts. The last course was called showcasing you product online. Nearly didn't go as I thought it would be building a website and how to portray it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a heck of a lot more and several times I simply could not keep up with the tutor! It was based on creating eportfolios using open source software. I have a lot of homework to do on testing it out but it is very useful to know.
I must say that it is so refreshing for a small business to be able to develop by attending such free courses organised by local authorities/groups. It is a shame that one set of courses are coming to an end this month due to the cut of the funding. Just pleased that I was able to make the most of it and in all honesty I couldn't face doing any more or my little brain would burst!

Spring is slowly showing a few signs of happening which is inspiring. Longer days and less grim weather is always so very welcome. The crocus is bursting through and the last few days the Daffs are shooting up in the garden. All very good but I am well aware that I have a lot to do before spring officially happens.

I am really quite excited with some of the plans we are going to explore this year. More focused on farm based bits and pieces. We are not planning to attend quite as many shows this coming year for various reasons. Much as we enjoy them they are quite time consuming and also costs of attending these shows are always going up. Vat has of course gone up, which increases everything but particularly the fuel prices. Fuel costs add up shuttling to these shows and also there is a slight feeling that some show organisers are seeing such shows as a cash cow. Occasionally there is little thought in a good selection of producers and stall holders are just bums on seats. I am aware that the organisers costs are going up too, but to be worth going to any show, we as a stall holder has to make a decent profit over the show days. All sounds a bit harsh but we are lucky enough to be able to explore different points of sale.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

After sort of hoping that the start of the New Year was going to be nice and gentle it seems as if we are busier than ever!
It is disappointing that the Quest for finding wood has reared its ugly head again and dead standing trees are under threat.
A major wood gathering mission needs to be launched again for now and the future. A winch attached to something has to be the answer as so many trees are just out of reach. I want to keep 'getting stuck' in a vahicle to a minimum because it is tedious....

Forever on the quest of learning new things I attended an online marketing seminar at the new Shrewsbury Food Centre. I already dip my toe into Facebook and Twitter but not really grasping how it could be properly used regarding marketing. I certainly have an interest and I also quite like the fact that this type of marketing and information sharing can all be done for free.
The course run by 4startersuk and sponsored by Shropshire County Council was very good indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So watch this space or more to the point my Facebook and Twitter.
Mmmm planning for the year ahead... Lots of ideas and also help from various angles which is very encouraging. Have to remain focussed but also excited about future developments.
I have a new smart phone which I am hoping will be very handy. A heck of a lot to get my head around but so far so good. I am convinced I have lost a few phone numbers (and weirdly gained some too) on the transfer of the sim card but I am sure it will sort itself out.
Discovery still going well (so far) but unfortunately the other day the rear door hinge broke and there has been quite a bit of faffing about to try and get some affordable ones and I still have to actually replace it. I really miss not being able to use it.
It is great that the days are visibly getting longer. Snowdrops have just started to appear too.
These little indicators of the year progressing mean a great deal to someone in the Countryside as things are beginning to wake up at last. Shame I cannot say that about me.