Valley Bounty: Cider time at Coyote Hill Farm

  • It’s pear and apples processing time at Coyote Hill Farm in Bernardston. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/COYOTE HILL FARM

For the Recorder
Published: 10/22/2020 10:19:27 AM

Ervin Meluleni and his wife, Gloria, owners of Coyote Hill Farm in Bernardston, are hard at work making cider from their apple and pear trees.

“Each of our apple trees is a different variety, which is ideal for us because it means the apples ripen at different times and cause some slight changes in flavor that can be fun to play with,” Ervin Meluleni says.

For many years, the Melulenis made cider with a hand-cranked press. Upgrading to an electric grinder has simplified the process, allowing Meluleni to toss apples in and grind them with far less elbow grease. Once the apples are ground, they go into the cylinder of a Prohibition-era cider press. A piston exerts pressure, and the juice is forced to separate from the solids, creating unpasteurized apple cider ready to be packaged into half-gallon containers and sold.

In addition to apples and pears, Coyote Hill Farm grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, tomatoes, raspberries, beets, turnips and more.

“This was a horrible year for our brassicas. Broccoli, cabbage, turnips … it was all desiccated by flea beetles,” Meluleni remarks.

Pyllotreta cruciferae, more commonly known as flea beetles, are black, shiny insects measuring only about 2 mm long. Adults can survive the winter in wooded areas surrounding farms and move into the fields come May to feed and reproduce. Spring crops are eaten by overwintered adults, while fall crops can be desiccated by the larvae and summer adults.

Protective netting can keep the beetles from getting to the crops. “We’ve considered using netting, but the year that we did it ended up burning the plants,” Meluleni explains. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Coyote Hill Farm uses organic methods including paying a premium for biochar compost to grow their wide variety of vegetables. Biochar is a charcoal-like material produced through a pyrolysis process, meaning decomposition brought on by high temperatures. A lack of oxygen prevents combustion, and instead produces a mixture of solids (biochar), liquid (bio-oil) and gas (syngas). Biochar has been found to increase the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of compost, keep compost moist and aerated, improve humus content, and lead to better plant growth.

The farm is entirely powered by solar energy, including a solar greenhouse built by Meluleni that allows them to have tomatoes ready in early June, before most other farms. The greenhouse has 92 black 55-gallon drums on the north wall. As the sun comes up, it heats the drums, which then radiate heat throughout the house for the day.

If you are interested in purchasing from Coyote Hill, you can find their produce at the Bernardston and Northfield Farmers Markets. To find more local farms near you, visit

Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

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