Nothing but Flowers

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stringing Part 3 - Now We're Done @hawksbillhops

Farm dog Tess hunkered down in the shade. least, now we're done stringing!

When Mary and I went over to the hop yards on Sunday, we took Tess the border collie with us.  Tess is a rescue, and she grew up in a rural situation - we've heard they even made a go of turning her into a working dog - but it didn't work out.  So far, by having her at the farm, I have learned about some of her stronger instincts:  she's very good at finding some shade to hang out in.

Since it was already too hot to do any farm chores, we settled in to getting a count of what plants are up, and then Mary took to training bines.  On that first one, there was pretty good news all around - while some of the plants are still just breaking through, we've had 95% success on the rhizomes since planting them on May 2! There's a chart at the end of this post with the results.

We went back over to the hop yards on Monday to see if we could make some progress on hops stringing.  This activity has been the bulk of the work at the hop yards since May 9, with several folks putting in time on the effort.  We learned a lot from the experience and it's fair to say we have a decent process that we'll get quicker and better at next year.

With about two hours of effort on Monday, Mary and I finished clipping the remaining two rows.  David, Eric, and Grayson had finished the stringing activities earlier in the week, so our focus was to set the anchors.  After we finished that, we started to train the young bines onto their ropes, and ended our work session by pulling the tails of the ropes out of the drive rows so that David can seed a cover crop in them for the balance of the summer.

Pano of the strung and clipped acre of hops!
That puts us at the end of this stage.  We've finished stringing and clipping the hops, so growing season is officially on!

To close out the post today, I've updated the table below to include the counts and a comparison with the first week, which I counted on May 9.  Some of the varieties are at 100%, but I'm pleasantly surprised that we are at 94% and 93% respectively on the CTZ (Columbus) and Goldings - varieties we've been warned may not do so well in the Virginia climate.  Now that we're in growing season, we're going keep an eye on the threats we know about, and to steward the whole shebang into fruition later this summer!

Here is a final count of the plants we got from our rhizome planting on May 2.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 24 Check-in @Hawksbillhops

On Sunday, Mary and I drove over to the hop yard for a look at how things were going.  We arrived too late in the day to take on actual farm chores, so I decided to walk through row by row to check out how our plants are doing - I'll post those results tomorrow.

All of the stringing has been done, and what's left to do with this task is to anchor the ropes so the plants can find them and begin climbing.  If we'd been there a little earlier, I would have gotten started on this, but as I mentioned we were already into the hottest part of the day, so I  postponed that for Monday.

While I was making counts, Mary went around and trained the bines that were ready to the ropes.  We have a good number that have found their ropes on their own, and a few others that have put out a long bine or two so they are ready to begin their climb.

A couple of the Fuggles (red flags) and Chinooks (orange), which are shown in these two photos, have already made it up to four feet - I think that is pretty good for just three weeks.  It's remarkable how much energy there is in this crop!

Now to see how far up the trellis they'll make it before the equinox!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May Check-in - Backyard Hops

For the last six weeks or so I have been very focused on all the activities involved with getting Hawksbill Hop Yards up and running - from working with David to select the site, get it cleared, build the trellis, etc., all the way through training the bines.  I'll have an update on Hawksbill Hop Yards next week, but for today I wanted to check back in on the three bines I have in the backyard in Alexandria.

These plants served as a pilot of sorts, combined with the experiences neighbor Dan and fellow "home gamers" Kevin and Bill have going on.  Learning from them inspired me to try growing hops myself - and eventually led me down the path of starting a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley.

I have two varieties here - a Willamette and two Goldings bines.  The Goldings have struggled in Alexandria, in part because I moved them and they needed to re-establish themselves.

The first series of three photos above is the Willamette.  This plant is thriving - it is growing out of a five-gallon pot, but it has sent a feeder root out into the garden.  Because of that, I can't move it, and because it is in a spot where there is a power line overhead, I can't put up much of a trellis for it.

Instead, I'm treating it as a decorative plant, and it is taking over our fence.  It's even climbing the Leyland Cypress.  It's determined to find a way to get the altitude it needs, and there are already little burrs on it everywhere.

The Willamette is a variety that used to be very popular, but that has faded in recent years with the advent of high-alpha varieties.  Meanwhile, the Goldings is a variety that I am more interested in using for my home brewing, and things are looking good for it now, in its second year of re-establishment.  There's another not in frame here, but it isn't doing quite as well, possibly because it gets less sun.

The Goldings has a trellis, and it can climb as high as 10 feet on the set-up I provided.  I expect a small harvest this year, and if I get that, I may brew a small "harvest" porter off of it using the fresh hops.  I'll need a pound of fresh hops off it for that - we'll see.

My next check-in on these bines will be around the equinox, which is when the plants will typically cease their vertical growth and start pushing out sideways branches, followed by flowering...even though the Willamette is not following that timeline!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

They Slept in the Space Shuttle - Follow-up

A of weeks back, our friend Nancy posted about the night she and Mark stopped by Hawksbill Cabin on their cross country trip last summer.  They'd set out in their Airstream mobile home from San Diego for a 120-day trip that took them to many of the lower 48 states, and into the eastern Canadian provinces.  I guess it was somewhere around day 106 or so that they pulled into our driveway.

Unfortunately Mary couldn't join us that weekend - she was on deadline for an exhibition or something, but Nancy, Mark, and I made the best of it.  They parked in our driveway, which had a little more slope than their usual stopping places - I offered them the guest bedroom, but nothing doing.  Mark explained that sleeping inside would break their streak of sleeping the "space shuttle," which they managed to do for the entire trip.

Nancy's blog posts are here and here - we managed to get in quite a few Valley highlights.  They were here right at the time where the one invasive grass is seeding, and their dogs Trixie and Dax found a patch of them with their hitchhiker seeds.  But despite that incident and the sloped parking space, we had a good reunion.

My post on the topic from last September is here.  Nancy's blog is linked in my blogroll list over to the right, if you'd like to read more about their amazing trip!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hops Stringing - Part 2

David's photo from the tractor - the sunroof allows him to
keep an eye on all the stringing action...and creep backwards.
Practice makes perfect. That's what they say, and it's hitting home as we work our way through the hop yards stringing so the bines will have a way to climb the trellis.

David and I worked on figuring out this task last weekend, an investment of time that  he was able to build upon over the week.  We had a team come out and untangle the coir rope, and then he recruited some labor to run a row to master the technique.  Finally, on Saturday, Eric joined him to motor through as far as possible with a nearly perfected technique.

Preparation for the second row - 60 or so ropes are tied
to the basket so they'll trail with minimal tangles.
Those guys were out early and were checking out some trellis maintenance to be sure everything was in order with the new stresses the stringing activities are adding to the structure.  I joined them at around 8, and we were quickly getting to work setting up the tying platform with the 60+ cords needed for each row.

Down the row - the second row of Cascades - they went, David in the cab and Eric tying off the coir, with me following behind to straighten tangles so that the ropes quickly settled into place, without the "drapery" effect we had experienced on the first day out.

The team powered through seven rows of hops by quitting time on Saturday morning, so there are only three out of 12 left to do.  We also have four of the rows anchored - so that is the next big process we'll take on.

A number of the bines were already training themselves to go vertical, using the little marker flags as a guide.  Once the yard is strung, we'll go in and start moving them onto the ropes - and that will be prime growing season for the new plants, so they'll really take off at that point.