Nothing but Flowers

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hops Stringing - Part 2

David's photo from the tractor - the sunroof allows him to
keep an eye on all the stringing action...and creep backwards.
Practice makes perfect. That's what they say, and it's hitting home as we work our way through the hop yards stringing so the bines will have a way to climb the trellis.

David and I worked on figuring out this task last weekend, an investment of time that  he was able to build upon over the week.  We had a team come out and untangle the coir rope, and then he recruited some labor to run a row to master the technique.  Finally, on Saturday, Eric joined him to motor through as far as possible with a nearly perfected technique.

Preparation for the second row - 60 or so ropes are tied
to the basket so they'll trail with minimal tangles.
Those guys were out early and were checking out some trellis maintenance to be sure everything was in order with the new stresses the stringing activities are adding to the structure.  I joined them at around 8, and we were quickly getting to work setting up the tying platform with the 60+ cords needed for each row.

Down the row - the second row of Cascades - they went, David in the cab and Eric tying off the coir, with me following behind to straighten tangles so that the ropes quickly settled into place, without the "drapery" effect we had experienced on the first day out.

The team powered through seven rows of hops by quitting time on Saturday morning, so there are only three out of 12 left to do.  We also have four of the rows anchored - so that is the next big process we'll take on.

A number of the bines were already training themselves to go vertical, using the little marker flags as a guide.  Once the yard is strung, we'll go in and start moving them onto the ropes - and that will be prime growing season for the new plants, so they'll really take off at that point.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hops Stringing part 1 @hawksbillhops

With bines literally popping up all over the hopyards, David and I decided to get out there and try our hands at stringing a row or two.  We had plenty of encouragement from other hops growers in the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative, and both of us had watched some YouTube videos showing how they do it in the Pacific Northwest.  Still, we knew there was going to be a bit of a learning curve before we got this right...

We ordered rope made from coconut husks - coir - from the Pacific Northwest to provide the lines that will guide our hops bines up the trellis.  The version we ordered comes in 200 line bales, which is shown with me up on the lift.  Foolishly we thought we could just roll out with these lines coming off one at the time.

No such luck: by the time I had the first line tied, the bale looked like I'd just pulled 200 strings of Christmas lights out of storage!

So it was back to the ground to rework our plan.  We decided to separate out handfuls of 10-12 ropes and see if that made things easier.  The answer was yes, but the hanging ropes were still somewhat tangled, only in much smaller bunches.

Still, we rolled doing it this way - finishing up the Fuggles roll fairly quickly, and making some adjustments along the way.

The next step was to anchor the ropes.  Along with the bales of coir we had bought authentic "w-clips" and a special tool for this purpose.  I figured there would be written instructions in the packaging -  there weren't, but we got the hang of it quickly.

Finally we had our first row strung - there was a lot of learning curve about how to do the tying, how to anchor the ropes, and some possible tinkering with the trellis we need to look into.  But all-in-all, I'm pretty satisfied with what we have accomplished.

We do need to get back out there and finish tying these bines, though!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Taking Inventory @hawksbillhops

On Sunday I went back over to the hop yards to check things out.  During the work day on Saturday, I had noticed that there were plants from every one of our commercial varieties up and out of the ground, and even our experimental variety, Centennial, was doing well.  So I wanted to do a status report on which rhizomes were up and out of the ground one week after planting.

I also found that some of the Fuggles have sent up some robust bines already.  That is the row that we had strung on Saturday - our learning curve row - but from this photo it's clear that within a couple of days some of them will have already found the coir ropes on their own, without any human assistance or training!

So back to the inventory status, which was the  little chore I set out for myself on Sunday.  First I recalculated the inventory, which I have been mentally tracking as 800 plants.  Keeping with round numbers, it turns out we are about 120 plants short of this count after putting in about 680 plants.

I can account for the shortfall as follows - we had calculated that there would be an open row, so there's 60 of the 120, and we double planted the Fuggles rhizomes, which accounts for another 50. Next year we'll go back and fill in the open spaces, which will give us another 100 plants, according to the counts on the inventory chart below - of course, we're hoping to plant a second acre next year too, so the counts will be significantly higher!

The chart outlines the estimated count of rhizomes we planted on May 2.  I took this count the day after the planting by counting the marks where plants had been placed - it could be off by a few, but it's close enough.

One week later, I walked the rows to count which plants were sprouted.  I remain very surprised at how well the Fuggles are doing, but then I reminded myself that we put two rhizomes in each hill, which more or less ensured we'd have success with them.

For those who have been reading these status reports, you'll know that I am watching how the CTZ - which I am going back to calling Columbus as of this post - and Goldings are doing.  They are right in the thick of it for viability, which is great news!

I'll do another count like this the next time I am in the hop yards, either May 16 or May 23.  We should be pretty close to fully sprouted at that time, and can begin to truly forecast our yields for our first year!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Up come the Fuggles @HawksbillHops

At Hawksbill Hop Yards, we planted five varieties for commercial purposes:  Cascade, Chinook, Columbus (we're calling it CTZ now), Fuggles, and Goldings.  After the planting event on May 2, I was waiting as patiently as I could for David to send news that something had broken ground - and I wondered which variety it was going to be.  
On Tuesday, a mere three days after they were planted, our first bine sprouted. It was a Fuggles, which caught me by surprise, because I was sure that one of the Cascades, which was predicted to be the most robust variety for our Virginia soils and climate, would be first.

There's always work going on at the farm, but on Saturday, May 9.  I'll post about those activities in a couple of days, but suffice it to say, in addition to getting this photo of one of the Fuggles (many more were up by then), I took a look around and could verify that all of our commercial varieties are up and out of the ground.

I would go as far as to say that there was noticeable growth from some of the plants during the 3 hours we spent in the field.  It was pretty amazing to see.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spring Flares at Hawksbill Cabin

We were lucky with our garden at Hawksbill Cabin - there is a nice variety of plantings with something in bloom for most of the spring and summer.  Last weekend was just about the peek of it, with the lilac and azalea bushes maxed out.

It was a nice surprise that the trillium we discovered last year returned - I was fortunate enough to catch it while it was in bloom.

The azaleas cover most of the sloping front yard in front of the addition.  There are one or two others off to the east side of the house, but this is really a pretty spectacular spring time show.

This year, we were out doing yard work and an older couple drove by slowly.  They were looking up at the house and made several passes. We figured they were lost, so we waived them down - they told us that they drive by every year to check out the azaleas.

Apparently they knew Bill, the original owner, who planted them.  They said that at one point these shrubs were large enough to obscure that part of the house!

When I found the trillium last year it was a great surprise.  I have taken several hikes in May and early June up in Shenandoah National Park and never caught sight of one.  Just my luck that we have one - a single one - growing over in the side yard.

I don't know what it would take to get this one to spread over there in the wood lot, but I would like that.  It's okay if it doesn't, I'll just enjoy finding it every year in the last week of April and first week of May!