Somerset, famed for its cider, is still a good place to grow apples. Many gardens boast at least one tree, but few people are able to make full use of the fruit and it often goes to waste. Collecting spare fruit to make apple juice could be a resilient way forward.
So we collected bags of sound apples. They need to be in good condition for juicing, not bruised or chewed. We borrowed a scratter, a press and a pasteuriser from Somerset Community Food and spent the afternoon pressing apples.
Much hard work later, we had fifteen bottles to fill the pasteuriser, and some left over. Unpasteurised apple juice will only keep for a few days, even in a fridge. The pasteuriser sat on a chair in the kitchen, full of very hot water, for several hours.
Although the juice did keep well – we opened a bottle eighteen months later, which was fine – it had taken a lot of apples and hard physical labour to make not very many bottles. If ever a process called out for mechanisation, this was it.
We knew a local firm would take apples and press them into juice for a fee, which no longer seemed so unreasonable. It would be possible to make a profit of £1 a bottle. Could this finance a larger project?
This year, we explored Plan B. Collecting fruit from an overgrown orchard in West Pennard, we estimated that one tree provided enough apples for one crate of the five needed for a minimum order. Two people took an hour to clear the ground of rotten apples and windfalls, then pick the good apples from the tree.
The profit margins are too small to offer the householder free apple juice, and you must be careful how much you sell at cost. Most people who have unused fruit trees, though, are pleased to have the ground underneath them cleared. Fallen fruit attracts wasps, is slippery and interferes with lawn mowing.
People already doing gardening work could combine this with harvesting the apples. A cider company might buy the windfalls, increasing the profit margin. Careful planning of collection rounds can minimise fuel use.
One crate of apples gives you about 12 bottles, from which you need to pay for your fuel and the time spent selling the juice. You would need to invest the money in having the juice made, and maintain a small van. It should be possible to earn a small living from the wasted apple harvest for one quarter of the year though.
The project may be a good income for a community group using volunteer labour. They would have the added benefit of being able to access a market, funding for a pilot scheme and better publicity networks.