Where I Want to Be

Thursday, July 2, 2015

In the Thick of It

Summer has finally arrived, and although the hop yard is keeping me busy full-time, I can't forget how lucky we are to have our getaway at Hawksbill Cabin, and how beautifully it reminds us every year of the changing seasons.

Today, to welcome July, I've got a couple of random photos I managed to take while I was tooling around doing errands at the house last weekend.  In the first one, one of our barncats - the one we call "Momcat" because she is the mother of one of the kittens we adopted - is hanging around the brick terrace supervising me.  At the moment I was down by the pool setting up the robot and cleaning out filters.  

I guess our relationship with her has evolved so that she is one of those "outdoor pets" that you hear about.  We feed her when we're there, and there is another neighbor that feeds her and the other barncats when we're not there.  She shows up right on queue when we drive up, popping up on the brick terrace by the time we're packing in the second armload of stuff from the car.

The second photo shows some of the bee balm blossoms we got this year, which seems to be a good year for them.  There's a patch of them that comes back every year out in the back by the little shed - sometimes it's more robust, and sometimes less.  But with all the rain, at last we have more than 20 flowers on this.

It was in bloom the first time we came by to look at the house, back in 2007.  It was an exceptional show that year, too - and I had never seen the plant before then, so I spent a few minutes checking it out.

By the time we closed on the place, the blooming season was over, but I did a little research to learn more and found out that it would likely come back year after year.

And sure enough it does, so it is one of the things I look forward to now every summer.  Things go 'round, you know.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

@HawksbillHops - General Goin's On

Here's an overall view of the hop yard.
This is the final post from my weekly check-in at the hop yards.  I've got a nice perspective here of the yard from the southwest corner, over by the Cascades.  Sure, the weeds got away from us - we had them under pretty good control until we got all that rain during the last two weeks - but looking through the yard shows that we've got good progress across all varieties, especially considering we're in our first year.

I'm amazed to think that we had our planting event on May 2, and here we are, just two months later, with good prospects for harvest across all of our varieties - Cascade, Chinook, Columbus/CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.

We did plant a cover crop of fescue to help control the weeds, and while it's holding its own out there, it's hard to pick out between the pig weed and everything else, lol.  It's also just too late to get out there and try to manually weed.
Here's a look at the buckwheat cover on our empty row.

In another kind of success story, David planted our empty row with buckwheat as a cover crop.  PawPaws honey has about a dozen bee hives out on the farm, and this will make great forage for them.  When I checked it out on Saturday, I saw hundreds of the happy little buzzers working over this crop.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, my plan is to get two pounds of this honey - which will be a delicious dark variety -  to use in a couple of homebrewed honey porter batches this fall.

That buckwheat honey will combine nicely with the Fuggles crop from Hawksbill Hop Yards to make a unique and tasty farmhouse product!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Virginia-grown Fuggles and Chinook Hops @hawksbillhops

The Fuggles have already formed cones.
During my weekly status walk of Hawksbill Hop Yards I went deep into the yard to check out all of the varieties - we're growing Cascade, Chinook, Columbus/CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.  We're looking pretty good all around, with the Cascades ready to deliver a solid yield, and the Golding lagging behind the others.

But I was pleasantly surprised over on the Fuggles row (we have 60 plants), and the Chinook rows (120 plants).  Just like with the Cascades, there were burrs growing on the Chinook, but the Fuggles have already set cones.

I do not expect a commercial yield from the Fuggles this year, and I'm planning to use them in my own home brews this fall - a series of honey porters that will use these hops and local honeys from a friend in Bethesda and two others in Luray.

Plenty of burrs on the Chinook!
More about one of the honeys in the next post, but the Bethesda variety will come from a work friend's backyard hive - I'm getting 2 pounds from there - and a friend in Luray who has supplied a nice woodland style to me in the past for use in this beer.  I'm looking forward to brewing again, and honey porter is my signature style.

I took a photo of the most vigorous Chinook plant.  About a quarter of them have reached the top cable, but most of them are at least over 10 feet.  In this case, we have two or three bines that are intertwined on the rope, and it is well-leafed and pushing out a lot of cones.

This variety is well-suited to IPA styles, and is readily identified in Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas (check this link!) - it's described as spicy-piney.  It's a high-alpha variety with decent aroma properties.

From the looks of things, we'll have 20 pounds of wet Chinook for brewers looking to do a harvest ale with this variety.  That's something to look forward to!

More Virginia Hops - Cascades @hawksbillhops

We finally had a break from the rain on Saturday afternoon - David says we got two inches, and I wouldn't be surprised.  In any case, with sunshine finally breaking through, I took a drive over to the hop yards to have a look around and see how things were going.  This post is about the Cascade bines, but I've got two more posts going up from the visit following this one.

We put in 300 Cascade (out of 680 plants total).  It is the variety we'll have the most of, and we chose it specifically for it's popularity in American ales.  We had a great success rate of over 90% on the bines, and they are truly the high-achievers in the yard, with half of them approaching or surpassing the 16 foot cable at the top of the trellis!

The lore is that hops grow vertically until the Equinox, which was June 21, and then they start branching out laterally.  That's exactly what we're seeing in the yard, although some of the bines are still looking for someplace to go up.  Instead, they'll probably follow the cables and keep the main bines moving that way.

When they are mature, these plants will yield anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds of wet hops.  We'll be able to support any interested nearby breweries that are planning harvest ales with these (leave a comment if you're interested!).

We'll dry what isn't taken wet, which will reduce the weight to between a half to full pound per plant.  Conservatively, the first year plants will yield from 10% to 20% of what a mature plant produces, so I estimated a yield of from 60 to 100 pounds wet (it takes about 6 pounds per barrel for a harvest ale), and between 15 and 25 pounds dried.

A closer look at the photos will show that the plants are not only branching, but producing "burrs" - the early stage of the flowers, or cones, which is what we'll harvest.  We've already gotten to work figuring out our harvest and processing plans for the hops - we welcome inquiries from anyone who is interested in "amazing" Virginia-grown hops!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Weekly Check-in @hawksbillhops

At Public House Produce, David and the team are right in the middle of busy times - they picked 160 pounds of cauliflower yesterday and the pick-up for CSA shares was on tap.  He still found time to make some rounds in Hawksbill Hop Yards and send along some status photos, which I'm sharing here in this post.

After we built the one acre trellis earlier in the spring, we had a volunteer event to plant 680 rhizomes in five main varieties - Cascade, Chinook, CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.  In an earlier post, we had verified a 95% success rate with these plantings, which had left 120 or so fills for next year, when we plan to expand to a second acre and add another 800 plants.

We got about 7 weeks of vertical growth from the first-year rhizomes based on the time between our 2 May planting and the equinox on June 21.  I was anxious to see how much vertical growth we'd get - so that's the main reason for David's photos yesterday.

I wasn't disappointed: the first photo shows that the Cascades have proven as robust as their reputation - quite a few of them have reached the top cable of the trellis, approaching 16 feet tall.  Some of them are even looking for places to go from there - they still want to climb, and in general we are starting to see good branching.  On Saturday I will walk the yard to see how many of the plants are starting cones.

The second photo shows some highlights of the CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.  The CTZ are getting bushy - it's as if they worked on pushing out leaves and branches rather than reaching for the top of the trellis.  From the looks of the bine in the photo, with all of those burrs turning into cones soon, this may be the first variety we harvest!

The Fuggles is also a high achiever, being the first variety to break ground and also the first to four feet tall.  It looks like we have a few of them up to 10 feet, so we've had a solid establishment growing season.  I'll keep an eye on them to see what kind of harvest to expect, although at this point I don't foresee a commercial yield from them.

Finally, there is the Goldings - I'm happy to see a thriving bine here, after hearing from so many hobby growers and other Virginia farmers that they just don't do well here.  We have 60 of them, and we'll double that next year.  It is such a versatile hop and there isn't a lot of the variety in Virginia, so there is an opportunity with this one to offer something unique at quantity for some of the brewers who are focused on English styles.

That's it for the week - on Saturday I'm walking the yards to have a look at where we have cones and get a better sense of potential yields.  We'll follow that with one last outreach post to brewers - and then start planning the harvest!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Talking Virginia Hops - @hawksbillhops @novabrewfest

Our booth featured the co-op's new logo.
Last weekend I joined two other growers – Nat from Highline Hops and Gordon from Massanutten Hops, at the NOVA Brewfest.  We represented the Old Dominion Hops Co-op and spent two days talking to brewers, home brewers and the general public about hops, wet hops, and in general, why locally sourced beer is better for Virginians.  We figure our outreach had an impact on up to 1,000 people at the booth, and in the sponsor tent where “Cooking with Beer” was a featured demonstration program. 
Some good crowds at the fest.
These were good results for the co-op, and for the three growers involved.  The feedback we’ve received confirms that there will be continued outreach about our growing industry – both from the co-op and other growers.  I’m looking forward to that – first, though, we’re getting close to harvest, and that’s a growing priority. 

Hawksbill Hop Yards had a
new banner on display.
Here are a few highlight photos from the fest – tomorrow’s post will be the weekly check-in at the hop yards!