Nothing but Flowers

Friday, April 17, 2015

More Trellising

Seems like every day I am getting some very interesting text messages with incredible photos attached, as the farm team continues to build the trellis for Hawksbill Hop Yards.  Yesterday was no different, as

David sent along some shots of Eric and himself doing some final prep work on our poles.  We started with 20' 6x6 treated pine posts, which are set 4' in the ground, leaving our system at around 16' tall.

However, when some of the posts were set, we encountered stone part way down, so the guys had to go up and level them off with a chain saw. The photo here shows the measuring part of the action.

Now a word about the rig they are using for this operation.  It is made from a recycled caged water container - an ingenious idea that was sourced from the excellent series of how-to videos put together by the University of Vermont.  It has been constructed so that it can be raised on the fork lift attachment to the tractor (here's a highlight video of that tractor in "creep" mode).

Yesterday the first 600 of our rhizomes arrived as well, by way of Stan from HootnHollerHops, and the remaining 200 are coming in today via UPS from Wisconsin.  So it won't be long now until we need to start planting, once the cabling is installed on the trellis.

A reminder that our rhizome planting event is set for 5/2/2015 - we could use the volunteer help, so leave a comment if you're interested and I'll send the details.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Backyard Willamette

Two weeks ago, in this post, I was just beginning to consider how my backyard hops were faring.  I have a potted Willamette, which is the subject of photos today and in that previous post, as well as two potted Goldings.

While the Goldings are in a spot that doesn't get good sun until just about now, the Willamette is further out in the yard and the shade from the house retreats early.  So there is early growth from that plant, which happens to be three years old - it should be in full yield mode this harvest.

Last year we got a couple of ounces of fresh hops from it - the trellis situation is not optimal since we have a fairly low power line nearby, and I don't let it grow over seven feet - hops optimally want to get above 15 feet or so, but we just can't do it here.  The Goldings are in a spot where I can grow them to ten feet.

I pruned the Willamette back to just five or six of those shoots on Sunday afternoon, and I strung some jute twine for it to begin climbing.  I fell like it's too early to be at this stage already, but the plant is doing really well and I'm going to let it run.  The plant will grow vertically until the summer equinox, and then it will begin pushing out side branches before it flowers.

The three potted hops plants were part of my pilot for the Hawksbill Hop Yards venture - one of three experiments with growing that have resulted in the project out in Luray.  Now we're up to 800 plants there...with a plan to go to 1,600 next year.  Maybe we bit off more than we can chew - sometimes I wonder!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hops Trellis Update

Setting a trellis pole.
Yesterday I wrote a short post about a hop yard in New Jersey after being alerted to it from one of my Google+ friends.  There they are using a central pole technique to grow about 90 plants that will serve local brewers who are part of their club - it is a great example of community supported agriculture, and I was glad to learn about it.

Of course, I set out on my own journey this year to grow hops commercially.  I have a great partner on the farm (Public House Produce - click on the link for more details about David and his efforts) - which we're calling Hawksbill Hop Yards.  And it's not ironic at all that on the same day I wrote that other post I would get news from my own team that they set poles for our new trellising last night!
Arrival of the poles in the field.

They were working near dusk so I've applied Instagram filters to these to bring out the action.  We are using a matrix system for the trellis, which consists of poles with cable stretched between them crosswise and lengthwise in the field.  We'll have 12 rows of 60-70 plants in a field that is just about one square acre in area - and we have plans to duplicate that field for next year.

This caught me by surprise, because David said they'd planned to spend the day putting in broccoli and onions yesterday.  He told me that they set 5,000 onions yesterday, and 1,200 broccoli plants - all that before they went to work on the trellis!

Moving into position - don't try this at home!
Meanwhile there is other progress to report.  I'm getting emails from both of my commercial suppliers that our initial rhizome orders are in - since we pulled the trigger on building a full acre trellis, I need to add some - so we should see the rhizomes begin to arrive at the farm soon, in time for our 5/2/2015 planting event.

I think I have this right - the final schedule of our rhizomes by variety:

  • 300 Cascade
  • 180 Chinook
  • 120 Columbus
  • 50 Fuggles
  • 120 Goldings

Parting shot, with the poles in position.

I have 30 extra Columbus, and Neighbor Dan has offered me up to 30 Centennial, depending on if they fit into the rows I may add them.  If not, we may just find some open ground and plant them for a year, then move them into the new ground next year.

Next step for the crew on the farm will be to begin stringing cable.  Rain has come in, so this work may wait a few days - and there is always something else to do now that planting season is here!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Alternative Styles of Hop Yards

In one of the communities I follow over on Google+, I came across this photo of a hop yard in New Jersey.  My connection Brad (this is his photo) was highlighting the addition of two new poles, for a total of six poles, which are surrounded by a circle of 15 plants each.

The land is on a hillside, part of a county-owned farm there.  Brad says they are growing Cascade, Chinook, Nugget, and Mt. Hood, although there may be one more variety in the mix.  Most of the production will go to brewing club members.

When we were first conceptualizing Hawksbill Hop Yards, we considered this traditional arrangement of the plants.  You can get pretty good density with this approach, which would allow you to get to commercial production levels.  However, once we started having a look at the scale we were going for - a full acre with expansion to a second acre, this arrangement didn't work anymore, since it would make laying the irrigation system difficult, and operating machines in there would be a challenge.

The other system we looked at, but didn't adopt, is the in-line system shown in the photo of a model one of the vendors brought to the hops conference in North Carolina last month.  Neighbor Dan also uses this type of system in his hop yard, supporting his Beaver Run Brewery operation.  This approach simplifies the irrigation and equipment problems, but it is costly if you don't have a ready and cheap supply of poles - because you are using poles on every row to support the trellis cables.  

Our system, which I'll be showing off soon - we're digging holes for the poles right now- is a matrix, with poles every four rows.  The system is stabilized through the combination of lengthwise and crosswise cables that are all anchored on the exterior.

In any of these arrangements, despite the challenges each presents, a hops farmer can get densities of up to 1,000 plants per acre.  We're planting Hawksbill Hop Yards on a less dense approach, since we're in a learning stage and don't want to add stress to the plants.

I could be convinced to put in a couple of central pole set-ups, but they would be for non-production plants.  We could use them for rhizome cultivation, educational outreach, or ceremonially.  I like the looks of it, so I'll keep it in mind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My Hops Mentor

For frequent readers, there's no secret about my main inspiration for starting Hawksbill Hop Yards:  my neighbor Dan's small hop yard that supplies his "Beaver Run Brewery" endeavor.  Dan keeps between 20 and 30 plants up there - and he has seven or eight varieties.

Part of his property includes a two-acre forest of cedars that grow straight and tall, which are the source of some of his poles.  The lines are strung at 10 feet so he can reach them with a ladder, and since many of these plants are more than five years old, they yield quite well.  By the end of May, they'll have reached the top of the trellis

While Mary and I were at the vineyard on Saturday, Dan texted that he was working out in the hop yard cleaning up and stringing for this year's growing season.  I stopped by on Sunday to have a look - everything is neat and clean, and many of the hills are already sprouting growth.  This one here has some sprouts that look ready to take off, even though it is only April.

Looks like it will be a solid year for him and Beaver Run Brewery!