The Hop Yard

I really can't remember the circumstances behind the decision to construct a hop-yard but I'm pretty sure the idea was born after a couple of home brews with friends sometime around Christmas, 2012. The actual construction project began in late March when the pond that would eventually provide irrigation was still frozen over. The Bobcat struggled to remove the grass and grade the area due to the frost infected ground. We finally got three posts in the ground shortly after 9:30pm one Saturday, and it was dark. The next morning we decided to postpone the project until it became a little nicer outside. What a mess!

The project continued in early May when we rented a tiller and conditioned the ground. This was the most manually labour intensive part of the operation because after the tilling was complete, we created two hills the length of 80' with nothing but a couple of shovels.

The final piece of work for that weekend was to string the 27 lines from one hill to the next. As we pushed through exhaustion, the beginnings of a hop-yard began to take shape. It was a good thing that we persevered because a couple of days later, the Cascade and Hallertauer plants arrived.  

The plants were planted immediately but the next 30 days would deliver significant blows to the project. The first problem happened during the couple of weeks following the planting. It seemed that as soon as our plants were in the ground, frost alerts became a real concern. We ended up keeping the plants covered at night and we were successful in sustaining only minor damage. The second problem happened shortly after we began training the hops to climb up the guides in June. The sisal twine broke and most of the beautiful twine structure fell to the ground. The emergency fix was to get some plastic twine and double up on the structure to get us through the season. The third problem that we encountered was of the animal variety following the application of blood meal to the soil. We lost 2 of the 54 plants after raccoons thought they would dig up the smell.

Controlling the weeds was a constant struggle throughout the growing season which we overcame by laying down some hay around three of the plants in August. We will probably do something similar for the 2014 growing season, although we might experiment with other techniques.

We had a few problems with insects however the plants withstood what was in hindsight pretty minor problems. We may have lost a couple of leaves this year but looking back this was fairly trivial.

The hops began to appear towards the beginning of August and multiplied quickly. Although the hops did not all make it to the top of the trellis (19' after the settling), I suspect that next year they will.

Picking is currently scheduled for the week of September 9th but I'm not sure if the hops will be ready, although they are getting closer and closer every day. In addition to the harvest, the hop yard will be going over some substantial renovations as my team will be prepping the land for an additional 300 hop plants for the 2014 season. It is going to be one busy September so stay tuned!

September 6th 2013 Update:

We arrived at the hop-yard Friday night at around 9:00 pm all raring to go. As the team stood around the campfire enjoying a few beverages, the roles and order of events that would transpire the following morning were discussed. We decided on two hop harvesters, one Bobcat operator for clearing and grading, and two drying rack fabricators. The clouds on Saturday morning were dark and a few threatening hours later, the hard rain showers began. The rain threatened the whole operation so we were forced to change tact. We cut down all of the bines and brought them into the garage where we could continue processing while the weather carried on. The rain eventually stopped at around 3:00 and the picking finished a few hours later. By around 7:00, the Bobcat finished roughly grading the land (the hard clay land was softened just enough by the rain). It was time to call it a day.

We had beautiful weather on Sunday and we ended up clearing out a lot of rotten trees with the Bobcat to make room for future hop plant additions. Altogether, we ended up clearing approximately an acre. This is far more than we need next year but if everything goes well, we will be able to make use of the additional space by year three.

We managed to secure 10 bales of hay which should have arrived on Monday. I'm going back to the farm this Friday to spread the hay on the hop hills so that the plants are protected against this coming winter cold. The team will return to the yard with the Bobcat in early spring to finish prepping the land and to expand the trellis system to support the new plants. I'm hopping to add Nugget to our current line-up next year to increase the breadth of varieties we will have. Cheers to a successful first year!

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