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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Slowly but surely (we hope)

It is turning out to take forever to get the trellis system in the ground.  We have now completed 3 rows (60 hop plants) which is half way.  We have been able to use the locust trees harvested on our property, but we are mostly out of them now...we will need to source at least 7-8 more to complete the yard.  We are, however, getting pretty good and quick at putting in the trellis system.  It takes me about 15 minutes to hand auger a hole  and about 15-20 minutes to rig and set a pole and each time I get a little faster.  Some of our poles aren't the straightest and it takes an odd skill to align a pole to take positive advantage to the twisty ones.  I bought a couple of wire cams that tighten onto the cables in order to pull them tight.  I have one on each end of a come-along that allows me to pull the cables really tight before I clamp them.

I can tell you that I am already looking forward to not having to build the trellis system again next year.  The idea of only having to string and train the hops is appealing, though we will probably be dumb enough to expand and do the same thing over again.

We now have three rows that look good.  I have installed a drip irrigation system that is making a difference.  We have also mulched a couple of the rows with straw.  We are holding off a bit to finish because the price of straw is really high right now, and will drop in a week or two when people start harvesting around here.

It is interesting how different some of the plants are in terms of their growth.  I can't tell, though, if it is from slight differences in the soil, quicker stringing and mulching, or plant genetics.  Some are really taking off and several have hit the top wire on the trellis.  We decided to go with a 15' foot trellis instead of 18', based on the advice of other growers.  Seems to be ok.  When I am on a ladder rigging the last pole of a row I am certainly glad for being 3 feet closer to the ground.

I actually have an idea I am going to try on the next row.  When it is time to harvest we have a choice of getting the pickers close to the hops (ladders, lifts, etc) or getting the hops close to the pickers.  Commercial yards do this by cutting the bines and twine along the top and they load up the full length of the bine for picking in the mechanical picker.  An advantage to picking without cutting the bine at harvest time is that the plant spends more time storing energy for the next season.  I have also read that you can phase your harvest to get a greater yield at prime "ripeness" because all of the cones are not at their peak at the same time.  It is also possible to get a second, smaller harvest before season is gone.  My idea is to attach the top cable via a pulley system that will allow me to drop the whole top cable to pick a row, then hoist it back up.  The down side is that pulley that can handle the cable strength (~800 lb) are about $8 each, so it adds $24 per 100' row.  I will try one and see how it does.

I have photos for another post that will come very soon, but I am off to buy more cable to rig row #4.  I will give a preview of the next post by mentioning that we have discovered the pests we will face as hop growers in our region.  The first invasion was in the form of japanese beetles.  There really are not many options for them.  There are the pheramone based traps, but a study by USDA concluded that they likely attract as many as they catch.  The only real method we see as effective is developing a good population of milky spore in your soil, which kills them in the larvae stage.  However, to derive benefit from it all of your neighbors must do it as well and it takes a few years to really be effective.  In the mean time, we are using the pluck and dunk method.  The photo above shows our current system, the four legged, 20 fingered beetle plucker.  It currently cost us $0.10 per beetle to operate.

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