Ramble On

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More Saturday Progress @HawksbillHops

This is Delilah, who supervised me while I was
goofing off in the barn.
With Eric and David making their way about the trellis, I was given an assignment to tinker a bit with some of the irrigation connections.  It wasn't challenging intellectually or physically, but it was my first time so I spent a few minutes on the learning curve, to ensure I didn't mess things up.

This involved a trip to the barn, where David's goats Delilah and Buttercup have a stall.  They were very curious about what I was doing there, so I went over to pay them a visit.

Then it was back to the task at hand.  I was going to make connections between some of the black 1-inch hose and the blue 3-inch lay-flat.  Accessories required for the assignment included a blowtorch, petroleum jelly, rubber cement, a flat head screwdriver, and a socket wrench.

Thinking back on it, I think I went to some USAF parties that required the same accessories.

Here's one of the valves I connected to the supply lines.
The route from the well over to the hop yards is a couple of hundred yards, with five or six 90-degree turns.  These bends also happen to be where the water will flow through the lay-flat and then transition to the black pipe, so those were the connections I was putting together.  Kind of glad to have an opportunity to build a part of the whole thing.

Meanwhile, David and Eric were really making hay stringing cable.  They managed to get all of the cross runs done, and got three of the lengthwise interior cables in place and connected on the north end.  After they connect these to the south end and take the slack out, there are only six more cables to run and the trellis will be finished.

Meanwhile, David and Eric continued their work
on the trellis.

That's great news - it means that if the weather holds, we'll have a completed trellis by the time of our planting event on Saturday May 2.  Hoping to see a few of my followers there...starts at 9am and the hop  yard is across the street from Public House Produce (click on the link for the address).  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Saturday Work Day @HawksbillHops

On Saturday I had planned to get an early start and drive out to the hop yard to see where I could contribute something more than just talk.  I rolled in at a few minutes after 9am, just as things were getting started.  Logistics being what they were, I had asked a few questions on my way in, e.g., 

  • Should I bring my muck boots?
  • Would you like some donuts?
Apparently, when you are going to work on the farm in the morning, question one will get you a sideways look and subject you to constant scrutiny for the remainder of the day, despite the infallible logic of asking good questions in the first place.  In my case, with regard to the first question, this was completely unmerited since (1) I was wearing boots, (2) I was really asking about how much rain we'd had, as any farmer might, and (3) if it was too wet, I wanted to be in my muck boots because they are easier to clean.
Here's a pano of the hop yard condition on Saturday morning, after the donut run.
Now, as far as the second question goes, I asked it purely rhetorically, with every intention of picking up some donuts from Luray's famous Fairview Grocery, where they make them fresh every Saturday morning.  The real problem was, since I was running a few minutes late, rather than making the detour on the way and risk being even more tardy, I went straight to the farm to check in first.

It turns out I was in a no-win situation - I was in for ridicule for asking if they wanted donuts in the first place, which I could have made up for by bringing the donuts; or I could arrive late, which would only confirm the unfounded prejudice about city folks' punctuality, although the presence of donuts might have offset some of this ire.  Individualist that I am, I chose a third path, to both arrive late and without donuts - I figured that if you are in for abuse, it really doesn't matter how much of it there is.    

I quickly developed a mitigation plan, in any case.  As soon as I arrived, I checked in and then asked, "Well, what kind of donuts do you like?  I'll go get them now."  It was the perfect recovery, allowing my colleagues to quickly move on to other observations about my capabilities and performance.   
By the start of Saturday, all of the poles were guyed and the perimeter cables were strung - David and Eric were going to move on to the connector cables between the poles, and if time permitted, they were going to string some of the matrix cables, which run above the rows between the poles.

Meanwhile David had a few tasks lined up for me as well - I'll put them up in the next post from the hop yard.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Looking Ahead - Hops Growing Season

I liked the photo that David sent along the other day - it shows him and Eric up in the lift running the cables between the poles of our trellis.  The long runs will connect all of the posts, and essentially will complete the structure of the trellis.  Along with the irrigation system and all the work that has gone into preparing the field, we'll finally arrive at our next stage, which will be to plant the hops rhizomes (in my post on Monday, I wrote about their arrival last week).  

So we're just about all set to get started with this thing, and just as David and Eric seem to be looking ahead from the trellis, our thoughts need to move on to what's next - how to take care of the plants once they're planted, and what happens between now and the summer solstice.  For that, I took a look back at one of the spring photos from Dan's hop yard, after he had gotten finished with his spring cleaning.

Dan had strung twine from the top wires down to each of the hops crowns in his garden, and that is essentially what we will need to do after we have the rhizomes planted.  So my work on the project this week was to learn how this is done at our small but commercial scale, and then source the twine and other materials that we will need for this stage of the project.

At the conference last month we talked about some of the equipment and supplies that are needed.  I wrote back to one of my colleagues and he pointed me to Growers Supply in Washington state - I was able to identify my requirements for the coir twine we will use, the clips that fasten the twine to the ground, and a tool that is designed especially for that purpose, and I placed an order for this stuff.  

What I still hadn't figured out was how all of that process works.  So I wrote another grower colleague, and also made a query to the folks at Grower's Supply - and they sent me a link to the video below, which provides a demonstration of the tying process at a large farm in the PNW.  The workers are quite skilled and can really move through the farm at a pace we'll never achieve, but at least this gives a solid overview of what we have to do!  

With that stage of planning done, now we'll move on to getting ready for our planting event on May 2.  I hope that some of my readers can join us!  Leave a comment if you would like directions!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First Guyed Trellis Poles

On Saturday I drove over to Hawksbill Hop Yards to check in on how the construction of our trellis was going.  Earlier last week, David and Eric, both in the first photo here, had set the poles up.  Now the work moves on to getting the cables strung to support the hops when they start growing.

We've used some guidelines we found on the University of Vermont web site for a lot of our design and concepts, with some insight drawn from the hops conference I went to in March and through networking with the other Virginia growers.  So we chose 5/16" steel cable for much of the support, and the first step in the installation is to get these poles on the outside of the trellis matrix set with guy wires.

The corner ones will have two wires, one on the north-south axis and one on the east-west axis.  The middle poles, such as the one shown here, will only have one wire on either the north-south or east-west.  

They had a great weather day for this work and managed to set all the anchors.  It was something of a learning process for the cabling part, but with two down, we're on our way to getting the whole shebang strung!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hopyard in a Sack

The bag of Cascade rhizomes.
Over the last two weeks or so I've been posting a lot about our progress building Hawksbill Hop Yards out in Luray.  I am very excited about the prospect, and really appreciate the enthusiastic feedback we're getting from around town.

However, I will take a break today from posting about the construction - I have a post coming along for later in the week - and will talk for a minute about something that is just as important: the hops plants themselves.  The rhizomes arrived in two shipments, from two suppliers, last Friday, and they are comfortably resting in their dormancy in the cooler at Public House Produce.

Partial shipment of Cascade, Chinook, and Goldings.
In a post last week, I mentioned the planting schedule of varieties:

  • 300 Cascade
  • 180 Chinook
  • 150 Columbus
  • 50 Fuggles
  • 120 Goldings
It turns out, we weren't able to get the full order of Goldings, so I only have 70.  Due to this, I think I am going to take Dan up on the offer of 30 Centennials, and make a row with the extra Columbus (I'm planning for the rows to be 60 plants, although we have room for 66).  I'll just split a row between those two varieties, leaving enough space so that they do not entwine at the top of the trellis.

The CTZ Hops.
Note on the bag that this variety is labeled "CTZ" - this is what was shipped instead of "Columbus."  When it was first brought to market, the Columbus hops were called "Tomahawk," and subsequently a third variety called Zeus was identified as being similar to them both, if not genetically identical.  In any case, here in Virginia, I've heard that people have mixed results with them, so they are more of an experiment at Hawksbill Hop Yards.

Just as the Goldings are, by the way.  I really hope that we can make a go with all the varieties, but especially the Goldings.  We'd be unique with them if we can get them to grow and produce!

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!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring at Last

Mary and I trekked out to Hawksbill Cabin looking forward at last to a weekend where the temps are getting up to spring time altitude.  Since I was out last weekend, I'd had a glimpse of what to expect, even though the temperatures had gotten into the teens (!) last weekend.

I knew, for example, that our daffodils would likely be in bloom - except for the ones the deer dug up, that is - and of course, the forsythia was ready to bust out.  It certainly did not disappoint.

Along with a couple of spring errands, we were able to meet up with old friends at the vineyard, where we took a group walk out to Little Hawksbill Creek.  It was great to see everyone coming out of hibernation - there's a lot to look forward to in these parts this year.

We also decided to head over to the Mimslyn for their deluxe brunch on Easter Sunday.  It's almost exactly what you might expect for a small Virginia town: everyone coming out in their fine clothes, ladies with hats - and the feast was very good.  We enjoyed some lamb and roast beef (we skipped the ham, in honor of Kevin Bacon, lol).

Afterwards, back at Hawksbill Cabin, Mary made some calls to the New Jersey family while I came out to the brick terrace to write some blog posts.  I wanted something appropriate to the season for background music, and found just what I wanted deep in the CD box:  Copland's Appalachian Spring.  Then I set to post, with that composition and the peepers in the background.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Here and There Hops

David texted the other night with an update on progress at Hawksbill Hop Yards - most of the materials for the trellis has been ordered, and the field is now staked to mark out where the installation will happen.  We'll take a look at everything this weekend to check it out.

On that account, the poles have arrived at the co-op and they're being stored on the trailer, so all that has to be done is to go pick them up.  We're waiting for the other supplies to arrive to consolidated trips.

Also, with spring arriving, I am keeping an eye on the three "crowns" I have in my backyard in Alexandria - two Goldings and a Willamette.  The photo here is the Willamette - you can see a half dozen or more little red shoots coming up on this plant, which is now getting started on its third year.

Both of the Goldings plants also have shoots, but not nearly so many.  They are in a shadier spot in the backyard so they'll just run a little later.

One of the Goldings is also three years old, but was damaged during transplanting last year so it didn't do very well - hopefully it has recovered this year.  The other plant was in its first year last year, so this will be the year to see good bine growth and maybe some cones.

Everything needs fertilizer - the soil probably needs a pH treatment as well.  I'll get right on that.