Saturday, April 28, 2012

On the Edge of the Piney Woods

A newly self-published nature photo book done by the caretaker of Burke's Garden is now available for preview (showing 52 pages out of 120 pages) and purchase. Following is the book information:

Title: On the Edge of the Piney Woods
Dimension: 7in x7in, 120 pages, consist about 100 color / duo-toned photos, some narratives

Photo object:
Sky, native & cultivated plants, and a few wild life in four seasons. All pictures were taken at Burke's property in East Texas.

Available in:
Softcover + standard paper
Hardcover + Dust Jacket + Standard paper
Hardcover ImageWrap + premium lustre finish paper
ebook for iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch

Please see the preview of the book below.

Backlogging and updating of this garden blog has been scheduled. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Drought We're In

August 7 & 9, 2011

It's been an extreme summer! We broke high temperature records (three digits high temperature everyday since early July) and had 0 inch of rain in July and to-date August. The rain that we got on the grapes picking day (July 25th, 2011) was not worth to be recorded.

Pastures turn brown, no hay to bale. Hay price goes up to $100/bale! We sold ours last year with average price of $30-$35 / bale.

Prickly pears sprouting on the pasture. Something that hasn't happened in the past 20 years at least.

The water level on the pond has receded down about 3 feet.

Extremely low water level on the pond. We're glad the the lotus has been coming back although not as lushly as couple years ago.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Preserving Apples

August 9, 2011.

We harvested two bushels of apple and preserved a bushel of them two ways, in light syrup and brandied. An apple peeler/corer/slicer was sure a big help! The green apples were surprisingly very sweet this year, they have been sour and used as cooking apples in the past years.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Grape Pressing

August 3 & 4, 2011.

The grapes had been in primary fermentation for 4-5 days. They had been mashed and punched twice a day to let the gas out and optimize the fermentation process. They reached the red color that we'd like them to be so we went ahead with separating the juice from the skin and seed by pressing them using the type of wine presser called 'basket presses' made of wood and operated manually.

Crushed and fermented grapes dumped into the wine press. This is the oldest type of wine press called 'basket presses'.

Wooden plates and blocks placed on top of the grapes.

A vertical screw conveys pressure down from the wooden blocks and plates onto the grapes.

Grape juice flows out of the presser and collected in a bucket.

The grape juice is poured into glass jugs called 'carboy' for secondary fermentation and to age.

Grape juice in 5-gallon / 19-liter carboys. A 5-gallon carboy can make about 25 bottles of wine (750mL/bottle). Fermentation locks half-filled with water are mounted on top of the carboys They will prevent the air to enter the carboys while releasing the carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation process. By watching the water bubbling we know that the fermentation is still going on, alcohol is still being made.

Protecting the wine from sunlight by wrapping the carboys with carboy shields.
We make seven 5-gallon carboys of wine and they will be kept in there for further fermentation and to age.

The wine press dismantled exposing the residue of the grapes.

Grape skins and seeds cake.

The pressure put during pressing must be controlled so it wouldn't crush the seeds that could give unwanted flavor to the wine. We did a good job, the seeds are still intact.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Crushing and Destemming the Grapes

July 30, 2011.

We figured that the grapes we harvested would worth more if we made wine out of them rather than selling them raw. We would also gain intangible benefit, i.e. the knowledge on the characteristic of our grapes and the wine they produce for future references. We went ahead and invested on equipments and gadgets enough to be able to produce our own wine this year and the years ahead. We decided to make red wine, mixing Blanc Dubois and Black Spanish grapes together.

The first process was to crush and de-stem the grapes. The stems could give harsh flavor to the wine, so we'd like to get rid of them as much as possible. Primary fermentation process would follow afterwards by adding yeast into the grape juice and pulp. Here's the process explained in pictures.

The start of grapes cleaning/washing line.

First, the grapes were rinsed to get rid of soil/grass/leaves in the first bucket,
then move into second bucket to be washed with grape cleansing liquid
(a small % of citric acid in it) to kill all the agents that could
impede the fermentation process. Last, they're rinsed in clean water.

This is one of the equipments that we obtained this year, a manual crusher and de-stemmer machine which will separate the grape berries from their stems.
A bucket of washed grapes is ready for crushing and de-stemming.

Throwing the grapes into the crusher and de-stemmer.

By a single cranking of wheels, the grape cluster were crushed and de-stemmed at the same time. Grape berries would then fall through the perforated cylinder while the stems pushed to the other end of the machine.

The stems of the grapes are discharged at the other end of the machine
and collected in a different bucket.

The crushed grapes and juice is being sorted out
by hand to get rid of the stems that the machine missed.
The sugar content of the grapes was taken by gadget called
refractometer and it was around 18˚Brix.

About 60 gallon / 227 liter of grape juice and pulp
was collected at the end of the process.
Yeast then added to the juice and pulp for the first fermentation.
The skin / pulp was included in the first fermentation
to give that red color to the wine since we're making red wine.
Skin/pulp would be discarded when making white wine.

These are the 3 kinds of yeast that we try and use for the primary fermentation, one kind for each container. The yeast would feed on the sugar in the grapes and produce alcohol.

To learn more about winemaking process, go to WINEMAKING on Wikipedia.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards

July 1st, 2011.

We visited this vineyard, Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, located at Pittsburg, Tx., about 1hr drive from where we live, to see and study about operating and maintaining a vineyard and winery. We met and talked with their Wine Production guy who was kindly sharing useful tips and info, then showing us their winery and grapevine cultivation section. Besides learning something, we also enjoyed their food, jazz music, and of course their wine from the decked patio overlooking the vineyard. Despite their 'out-of-nowhere' location and rough county roads that lead to it, their guests come from big cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even overseas. We will certainly come back.

The view of the vineyard from their decked shaded patio
and a bottle of Los Pinos' white wine in the cooler.

Ten-years old grapevines trained to rambler on the second wire
from the ground. Something that we learned and want to do next year.
They grow Black Spanish and Blanc Dubois, too, among
other varieties of grape.

Their wiring system uses a more economical
type of wire than what we use. A good tip to save cost.

They have a stage for special occasion like 4th of July weekend.

Life size (almost) elephant statues attract
guests, especially children.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Grapes Picking Day

July 25, 2011.

We decided that it's time to pick the grapes, so we did.

We harvested two out of four rows of grapevines we grow.
The age of the vines that were making grapes are about 3-4 years old vines.
The other two rows were the ones we planted this year
so they're not old enough to produce grapes.

The state of the grapes when picked.

Our helper picking away.

The white wine grape, Blanc Du Bois, didn't do
as well as the Black Spanish grapes this year,
maybe they need more time to mature before producing more grapes.

A label of Blanc Du Bois fell off of a vine.
We're going to grow grapes using our own cutting
next year.

The clouds that gave us some shade and kept the temperature
slightly more bearable started to break out.
The high temperature was 107˚F that day.

A basketful of Black Spanish grapes or Lenoir,
the approved grape variety name for American wine.

The harvest from 1.5 rows of grapevines when
we were taking a break (about 75% of the whole harvest).

We used all the coolers and baskets we have to contain the grapes,
laundry baskets included.

Gorgeous, healthy cluster of grapes.

We had rain after the picking was done, not a lot,
just enough to keep the dust down
and put out this unusual color on the sky and landscape.
That was the last rain we had, there's no more rain since then.
We're in an extreme drought this year.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Black Spanish Grapes - July 2011

July 12, 2011.

The Black Spanish grapes have turned color from green to blue and are getting fuller, but they are not quite ripe yet.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Golden Celebration 2011

July 1st, 2011.

One third of summer and half of the year 2011 has gone. Now we're facing even hotter weather the rest of this season before it gets cooler. We got quite a good rain yesterday, it sure gave a big relief to a lot of plants, and also humans, and animals. Our pet dog soaked up all the rain, laying on bermuda grass in the rain, until thunders and lightnings started to roar. Anyway, it's the 4th of July weekend. Enjoy, everyone!

Golden Celebration, a David Austin climbing rose.

© Burke's Garden Blog, 2011.