Thursday, April 29, 2010
Hops are vigorous little buggers! Here is one that, in only 3 weeks has started climbing the flag I used to mark the plant. Guess it is time to get moving on the trellis. (I know there are some weeds in there....I will smother those out soon)
It is a critical and busy time on Windy Hill. This is the time that weeds really take off and can bury our efforts if not careful. That is the story of many previous gardening attempts. We often travel in late May to early June and return to a virtual coup by the weeds. This year we will be armed with a combination of deep mulching and a tractor to cultivate. In the hop yard we will combat with a cover crop, though we seem to have a hard time deciding what to use and how to make sure we don't do anything that might jeopardize gaining organic certification.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
We have had a lot of rain recently, which is probably good at this stage for the hops since I haven't put the irrigation system in yet. I can report that the soil in the hop yard seems to be draining well, wich bodes well for the plowing and subsoiling that was done. I don't have much more to report, but I did take a walk through the hop yard yesterday evening to take a count of what is coming up. We currently have 64 bines that are clearly identifiable. I believe that there will be more to come...so I think this is pretty good at this stage. A few looked ready to climb something, so I best be getting busy on the trellis system!
Monday, April 19, 2010
With some help from the family, the weekend was spent making sure the rest of the hops got in the ground. It was a little easier to get excited about doing this because, as can be seen in the photo, the hops in the first few rows have started growing. However, I now feel like the race is on to get the trellis system in place. These vines are going to need something to climb pretty soon. Some of them have grown 4-5" just in the week since I planted them!
By Sunday afternoon I had successfully put 100 cascade and 20 chinook rhizomes in the ground. By the end I had a pretty good system that was at least twice as fast as the first row. I guess it is a learning experience. It is funny, after all the planning with plant density and row spacing, I ended up with 4 unused rows. I think I was thinking of commercial spacing when I calculated my density, but I ended up with doubled density on the plant-plant spacing (no need to machine cultivate between plants) and a 6' instead of 7' spacing between rows due to the smaller size of my compact tractor. I think this will be good. From what have read I will not be limited in terms of growth and light, but will clearly max out what I will get from my 1/5 acres test plot. We have 5 rows of cascade and 1 row of chinook. It worked out perfectly with the number of rhizomes we ordered.
One of us also came up with the cool idea of a hops adoption program. We are working on the details, but it would allow a remote interested party to adopt a plant. We could call it the remote Hop Ownership Program (rHOP). This also got me thinking about pre-orders for home-brewers that would like to adopt a hop and receive the hop cones from their plant at harvest time for that special batch (or two of beer. This could be a cool value added product. If anyone is interested in this opportunity please let us know.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
That day finally arrived last weekend where we starting putting the hops in the ground. I had 100 cascade and 20 Chinook rhizomes in the beer fridge for the week until we could get ready. My "real" profession kept taking my time and attention. In any case, it was time to plant!
I received a text message on Friday afternoon from my sister asking what we were doing on the weekend. I replied "Planting hops, drinking hoppy beer and playing in the mud. Wanna play?", to which the reply stated "we are on our way". I haven't been so excited in a while. My sister and her family live ~6 hours away so we don't get enough time together. Also, I was beginning to realize the significance of hand planting 120 rhizomes and was really looking forward to the volunteer labor.
On Friday evening I was a little paranoid about whether I had done adequate soil prep. Our soil is a clay loam, which is pretty good in the grand scheme of things. It does hold the water a bit and I really don't know whether there is significant hard-pan that might impede drainage and root growth. Rural King had a single point sub-soiler (aka ripper) that was only $150. I had been thinking about it earlier an have really been trying to keep the cost down, but considering that the hops will be there for a decade or two, the $150 started to seem minor in comparison to the investment in time and other materials. Thus, on the way home from work I picked up the sub-soiler in my mini cooper! That was fun, especially since their policy required an employee to help me load it. I asked the fellow if he had loaded many 3-point implements into mini coopers and he said something like, "well, no...not really, but you just never know what you might see".
In the evening I sub-soiled half the garden and it was really amazing. A sub-soiler doesn't really turn over or disturb the soil, but it runs about 2 full feet deep and lifts the surrounding soil slightly and leaves a 1-2 inch slice through the soil. I think it was a cost effective choice. Now, I should have done that prior to plowing, but I think it had the same effect.
To the right is a photo of the whole crew after a day a planting. It was, quite honestly, hard labor. We worked out a system where, after the rows were laid out, one of us would first dig the hole and make sure the soil was loose, a second would work in a shovel or two of composted manure and a third would come in behind and plant the rhizome. We managed to get 55 rhizomes in the ground on Saturday, and had fun doing so! The photos below shows part of our assembly line, include the rear guard, and the first plant being planted. It was a great time and we are so thankful to our volunteer crew that helped us get started. We tried to provide for the crew by purchasing the highest quality, hoppiest beer I could find and by cooking some excellent pizza with dough that had been rising for a full day and a half. We even ended part of the evening with some banjo/guitar/bass music on the front porch. The time was too short, but we had a great weekend. There are more photos to share and some reviews of the beers we drank while putting in the hop yard, but that will come later.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I am able to report that after much debate, internal consternation, weighing of pros and cons, we decided to site the hop yard in the western end of the northwest plot. This is on a high spot of our property and I thought the drainage should be decent there. That area has proven itself very effective at growing thick turf and grass. It also has full sun and is somewhat blocked by other buildings from the prevalent winds. Long story made short: we made a decision and broke ground. Using my GPS and a 100' tape measure I laid out an area that is 56'x100', mowed it as short as possible and prepared the plow.
Now, I have read that plowing with a moldboard plow is something of a dying art and an activity requiring a degree of skill not required with the more commonly used tillage methods in "modern" farming. Fortunately, I used our garden area for practice last week and learned how to set the plow properly. There is something kind of ironic about going to the internet or my iPhone to get info about plowing...but it worked. I was able to set it up and by the last half of the garden I had nice furrows that were being turned over properly. I should mention that it wasn't simple I am not sure how I would have figured it out without the internet. Here is a photo of my fist furrow. Luckily, I think the farming neighbors were off doing easterly things and weren't around to watch me; that would have been a bit of pressure. Nonetheless I made a pretty straight row and it turned over nicely.
About half way through I actually started feeling some pride and satisfaction in how the furrows were laying down. When they are done correctly, the flip over relatively flat and it give a bit of an undulating surface. In any case, it is done and I only have to wait a little while for the grass to dye and to run over it all with the secondary cultivator to break up the big pieces and then we will be ready for the hops plants, which came in on Sunday. My next blog entry will have some photos of the hops that are currently in the fridge and an interesting story of how I am utilizing a disc harrow that I found on our property. It was half buried in the mud with a tree growing through it. Until then, remember to stops and smell the hops.